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24.07.2019 Feature Article

Learner Assessment At The Basic Level, Sine Qua Non – Political Shenanigans, Wash Off Your Hands

Learner Assessment At The Basic Level, Sine Qua Non – Political Shenanigans, Wash Off Your Hands
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“If I were to ever get the chance to reincarnate, I would do xyz”- a common utterance that abound in our society, day and night, since time immemorial. Many a time, I have actually harboured thoughts of the like, mostly, in moments of distress and sometimes reincarnated into much better conditions and destinations that will forever remain mere imaginations and a mirage until the devil repents from his sins and worships God. Fortunately for us, there are many opportunities for reincarnation upon reincarnation of policies in governance and economics. We are not powerless to change policies and issues of administration, management and systems since they are all changeable and controlled by people. By virtue of this opportunity, we have constantly changed governments; changed economic and development policies; swapped leaders; reformed our education system many times; reviewed curricula for teaching and learning in our schools; etcetera. We are set to implement a brand new standards based curriculum to meet the demands of the modern education regime. Several other changes have been audaciously rolled out by the sitting government, as part of reforms and wholesale changes to our education system. There is, however, this niggling issue with the way and manner in which assessment is conducted at the basic level of our education. It still lingers on. Will this carefully thought through curriculum also finally and automatically put to bed the confusion and controversy surrounding our mode, means and media of assessment in the basic schools? Time holds the answer.

Ideally, educational policy issues/decisions are usually technically inclined and under normal circumstances must be managed, controlled and directed by a team of politically independent experts whose recommendations on same should inform decisions by government and all other stakeholders in the system. That is what established economies do to retain a formidable education system. In our case, we cannot confirm the existence of any such independent body responsible for providing direction and advancement of educational goals of the economy. The effect is that there will be no tangible result for the constantly changing direction of our education system. In some cases, the same crop of education leaders have in the past made decisions and rescinded same within a short period of time; signs and symptoms of indecisive leadership. No serious economy will condone such irresponsible attitude from any group of public servants. It means, this can never happen elsewhere where business is the order of the day. Here, a Director-General of Ghana’s Education may bastardise and threaten to take on his subordinates for organising common internal exams for schools within their jurisdiction, and swiftly do a U-turn, in less than 2 years of making that move, to order same subordinates to conduct exams in the same old mode. Is it not an interesting episode? Well, that is the dimension our basic education assessment policy has reduced to. Per his directives, our Kindergarten and Primary Pupils should, this term, be assessed for the purpose of in-school placement decisions via an externally organised(district wide) exam. I hope this will help move the education system of our country to the next level.

Recently, Singapore, a world education heavyweight, which has consistently retained its place at the apex of global education system assessment rankings, was reported to have done away with examination rankings of their children in the primary and secondary levels of education. There will also be no examinations for primary 1 and 2 pupils. The Singaporean Ministry of Education made the move in a bid to allow each student to focus on their learning progress and discourage them from being overly concerned about comparisons. It is noteworthy that another established and highly successful education system in the Finnish education system does not do external exams until after Upper Secondary School which is equivalent to our SHS. "One task of basic education is to develop the pupils’ capabilities for self-assessment. The purpose of this is to support the growth of self-knowledge and study skills and to help the pupils to learn to be aware of their progress and learning process."- Finnish Education in a Nutshell. Also, in Japan, another country with a highly efficient education system worth emulating, there are no external exams (assessment) for children until they have received certificates from their Elementary Schools. Cumulated internal assessment by the elementary School's teachers is enough for them to be awarded certificates to mark the completion of the level. They however, write entrance exams at various Upper Secondary Schools of their choice to gain admission into such schools. Elsewhere, "Most middle schools in South Korea conduct regular assessments twice a semester. These assessments comprise the students’ summative evaluations and are used as base data for entrance to high school. ....teachers collaborate with their colleagues in a CoP to develop assessment items and determine scoring."- Min et Al (2016)

While top performing educational systems are eschewing the practice of assessing children at the very foundation of the educational system via external exams, we are rather making the exams, which are most effective when internally conducted, an external affair now. Honestly, I do not think it is advisable to ever try to shoe- hone any country’s education system in our own country, but it is very much advisable and necessary, for that matter, to pick a leaf out of the book of every good policy that we can reproduce here. The fact is that, all the highly successful education systems that have become the reference points for many educational policy makers were coined to fit into unique societies. The cultural backgrounds of these societies for which the policies were formulated also influenced the formulation of policies. That is why it will be irrational to replicate exact policies in our culturally diverse country. However, there are some critical areas of an education system that runs through all the successful systems thereby making them automatically best practices, by convention. Such policies are adoptable, and assessment practices are one. The way and manner of handling assessment which has been, effectively, centralised in our country, these days, virtually leaves us with no alternative than to begin to wonder when the teacher, who has been working with the child all this while, will finally get the opportunity to assess them based on their abilities- which also determines to a larger extent, the amount of content that they have covered? So, based on the above score, is it appropriate to conclude that, Hosea 4:6 of our Christian Bible which bemoans the lack of knowledge of a people leading to their destruction can be likened to our situation? I doubt it. I see a deliberate, and clearly set out strategy to score cheap political points and secure the grounds for the impending 2020 election. When will reality be called upon to take its full course in our education system? Our commitment, as a country, to progress is too limited. The pursuit of ephemeral glory is too powerful to such an extent that it has overshadowed our quest to seek the eternal good of our people. The bright future of these beautiful promising kids too must be shamelessly compromised for the sake of political expediency? That is too cruel.

I can imagine the confusion going through the minds of a lot of people, especially non-educationists, now regarding what I have been nagging about, all this while. I will heal the confusion in a moment. Early on, in the year 2017, the GES management discovered that basic public schools pupils were constantly being assessed by means of externally organised exams, sometimes by the mother districts of schools. They rightfully made it clear to all players in the sector that such exams were inappropriate and therefore illicit. They went ahead to seriously clamp down on it despite the fierce resistance from some MMDEOs. They won the battle, in the end; to the admiration of some of us. Fast forward to 2019, July, the same GES management issued a release via the whole Director-General of the Service outlining, among other things, modalities for the conduct of End-of-Term Examination to draw curtains on the 2018/2019 academic year. Some sections of the release, though highly ambiguous, virtually returned power to MMDEOs to conduct exams for pupils in basic public schools in their jurisdictional areas. These directives stocked flames for various reasons. First, many schools, because they have become used to organising and running exams on their own, were done with securing exams questions and materials by the time this directive came up. Secondly, some MMDEOs refused to be “sensitive” to the individual needs and challenges that confronted their schools causing apathy among junior ranks of the service. Also, monies initially mobilised by some basic public schools via PTA collaboration and intervention for the purpose of organizing exams was, by order from the D-G, to be refunded to PTAs and/or individual parents. In some cases, the money had been spent either fully or partially and making the issue of refunding monies an uphill task. Finally, the appropriateness of assessment in basic schools, a critical component of the education system which must not be taken for granted on any day, has been compromised. The reference point of this view, I hold exclusively, has to do with earlier directives that controlled the exercise from 2017 until lately.

My suspicion of political underpinning is grounded on an interview supposedly granted by the Chair for the GES Council- Mr. Michael Nsowah Adjei. He insisted in the interview that the directive from D-G never empowered MMDEOs to conduct common exams for their jurisdictional schools. Granted that his comments were not for the purposes of damage control, there were no supposed statements from the D-G either, as he did in the first instance, clarifying his own directive. No MMDEOs were taken on for conducting common exams for their schools. Meanwhile, I am privy to the conduct of common exams in three different districts from three different Regions of the country. Mind you, the position of GES Council Chair is both advisory role and politically appointed. It means that he could easily be “swayed” to the side of political leaders, and I expect most of his views do reflect the position of government of the day. Note, as I have said before, key professional and technical decisions pertaining to education of which assessment is prominent, and must not take political twist. They must be professionally inclined as much as possible. You are still not convinced? You still don’t understand the whole issue? Grab a cup of tea and pay attention to me, with more money oo.

Government insisted via the Ministry of Education that no fees of any sort should be charged any pupil at the basic level of the public education sector. Teachers and schools followed this directive religiously by resorting to writing exams questions on chalkboards for terminal examinations in April, 2019. This caused a nationwide stir with the GES and MoE, at the receiving end subjected to ridicule and criticism by the general public for the development. The GES Council Chair, in an attempt to control the damage, opined that teachers had failed to comprehend the directive which rather, according to him, enjoined them to arrange with PTAs to agree on fees for exams in their various schools. This assertion was however debunked by the Minister of Education who solidified the stance of government that no fees should be paid at the basic level. He brushed aside the idea that writing exams questions on chalkboards was inappropriate by claiming it was not a new thing, after all. Well said. That was classical contradictory defences by two political giants in the education system, both seeking to defend the government of the day. After a long period of silence, the D-G finally found his lost voice and returned to announce it in the media by revealing that the GES was in the process of securing Printers for every MMDEO in the country to enable them print exams questions for the schools. He again went missing and never made any comments on exams until news broke on 2/07/2019 (2 weeks from commencement of end of year exams) that the GES management wanted basic public school headteachers to print exams on credit from local printing press while awaiting monies from the Base Capitation Grant to arrive so they use part of it to defray the debt. This suggestion was met with open opposition from teachers before the D-G finally issued the directive that led us to where we find ourselves at the moment. I hope you are with me now?

So from all indications, there is manipulation and interference by government. I think from the angle of bearing the cost of exams or assessment, it is in line with the FCUBE policy but I have reservations about its appropriateness at this time- a broad subject to be digested some other time. However, planning and execution of the directives (initiative), or whatever it is, by the GES has been shambolic leading to a lot of setbacks that have long term effects on the output of quality educational outcomes. Indeed, when I brought this up in my discourse with a colleague somewhere, the other day, he was adamant that no harm will be done. That is actually a mentality borne out of ignorance. Obviously, my friend had forgotten that the adage: “Little drops of water make a mighty ocean” does exist, and means a lot. He was copiously referring to the BECEs, GCEs, SSSCEs etcetera which are all external exams, anyway, to justify his stance that having some other people set questions to assess pupils in an internal exam is inappropriate. In this case, the GES has presided over assessment (exams) that has technically yielded no foreseeable dividends for modern day pupil per empirically established facts. It is yet another case of public resources recklessly plundered in pursuit of a political target while the main rationale behind the initiative is effectively relegated to the backdrop. For how long will the people suffer the consequences of ignorance while the enlightened few continue their habit of bamboozling them into worshipping mediocrity? The very policies that can enlighten the ordinary citizen are being poorly implemented so the effectiveness is compromised. It is another sad day in the history of Ghana education. May God continue to guide us!

Written by:

David Angangmwin Baganiah

Educational Practioner|Advocate|Volunteer

[email protected]