“We need the genius, but if all we do is ‘chew, pour, pass and forget’, how can we be genius? We need skilled people to propel our economic aspirations and the school system that can help foster that is technical and vocational education.”-Dr. Prince Armah (Executive Secretary, National Council for Curriculum and Assessment -NaCCA). The aforementioned statement by the NaCCA, formulator of the New Basic Curriculum, goes to confirm the fact that all is certainly not well with learning in the schools at present. It is also imperative from same statement that the very cause of this country’s failed education system may be anything but unclear to the NaCCA. The issues identified as the short falls in the antiquated curriculum, I believe, have most likely been adequately addressed in the soon to be operationalised New Basic Curriculum. While my aim is to expound on deep rooted issues in relation to learning in our country, it is important to remind all and sundry that “schooling is not the same as learning“-World Development Report (WDR) 2018. Once everyone coming onboard my vehicle today understands this core principle, there is a solid premise to preach the sermon. For those who have not yet come to terms with it, please, kindly remain onboard, for I am poised to conjure all the prevailing magic I can ever muster to get you to understand the principle. In the meantime, I will like to emphasize once again, albeit, for the first time in today’s piece, that the NaCCA did a great job with the quality of the curriculum designed for the foundations of the country’s education system. It is a feather in their cap. Notwithstanding the legendary nature of the New Basic Curriculum, there are deep rooted issues that influence, affect and lead to great or poor outcomes of education systems. Are we better prepared to confront, tackle and conquer these issues, this time round, for our system to finally claim the long awaited victory?
"Technological change makes it harder to anticipate which job-specific skills will thrive and which will become obsolete in the near future. In the past, shifts in skill requirements prompted by technological progress took centuries to manifest themselves. In the digital era, advances in technology call for new skills seemingly overnight."- WDR 2019. Indeed, Ghana as a country has failed itself largely due to a lack of commitment in making the appropriate adjustments required to remain relevant in present times. Our education system which was once regarded as one of the best in terms of its effectiveness, relevance and consistency has clandestinely fallen short of the benchmark lately. A lack of vision, foresight and commitment to long term goals geared towards ensuring learning at the very foundations of our education system has been largely accountable for the huge fall from grace. In other words, there is little or no learning taking place at the basic level of our education system these days. This was revealed in “assessments in Ghana and Malawi”, where “more than four-fifths of students at the end of grade 2 were unable to read a single familiar word such as the or cat”-WDR 2018. What this means is that we, as a country, are producing illiterates and innumerates since it is scientifically proven that it is particularly difficult for children to catch up and become literates when they have gone beyond the grade (basic) 2 level without being able to read. Aside the startling low levels of literacy and numeracy that our schooling is yielding, we also have too many all round low quality products of the system who lack cognitive skills, socio-emotional/socio-behavioural skills, digital literacy and sadly, are too indisciplined to change anything in the present society. Only few people come through the system equipped adequately for the demands of modern employers- a situation that has a negative impact on economic growth in the country.
Again, the system is so frivolous that it rather causes an appreciation of the gap between the rich and the poor due to the manner in which early childhood education is handled in the country. The majority of Ghana’s poor citizens are found in rural areas where there are few economic activities or opportunities, hence less empowerment for such citizens. This group of people are the less privileged who need quality education more than anything else yet they are rudely deprived of same due to litany of factors including: poorly implemented programmes and policies, no access, poor management, no logistics and resources, etcetera. Worse of all, these people are at the receiving end of shabbily implemented programmes and policies leading to bodged success; a situation which is causing the nation all kinds of problems, in the long term, including: high rates of infant mortality, crime, drug abuse, unemployment, migration and more. According to the WDR- 2019, poorly implemented early childhood development programmes make children emerge worse off than their counterparts with no early childhood education at all. This revelation is compatible with the findings that a whooping chunk of our children - four-fifths, after leaving P2 are unable to read, considering the fact that we have over 22,052 Kindergartens in the country. It means only 237 primary schools are without KGs. Hence it is an endorsement of the research findings that discourages the operating of ineffective KGs- the very practice which we find ourselves in right now. All these empirically proven facts point towards one thing- learning is not happening in our classrooms and schools. It means that the education system is either ineffective or not working. Of course, if these facts are anything to go by, then it goes without admitting that the situation cannot change by merely changing curriculum; no matter the standard and quality of the curriculum we are switching to.
In the course of the past week, I came across a comment that sort to drum home the point that curriculum implementation is a process but not an event and hence requires time to fully take effect. I couldn’t agree more with the point. In fact, curriculum implementation “involves helping the learner acquire knowledge or experience. It is important to note that curriculum implementation cannot take place without the learner. The learner is therefore the central figure in the curriculum implementation process”- Chaudhery 2015. Since it is a process, it requires us to put in place a series of activities, structures and measures to effectively prepare the grounds for enhanced learning to happen. Is this the case at present? If any preparations are ongoing at all, are they visible, relevant, detailed and tailored to oil the process and ultimately promote effective learning? How have we planned to prepare learners who arrive at school unprepared for learning? Have we planned adequately to pull along such learners until they, at least, attain required levels of preparedness for learning? I think, there should be some form of remedial activities lined up squarely for the purpose of aiding struggling learners from the previous regime to reach prescribed standards of their grades. Is the content learner friendly? Will it be easy for teachers to present subjects in a concise and precise manner to get learners to develop their cognitive competencies, acquire Socio-behavioural competencies, and become scientific and digital literates? Standards based curriculum develops competencies, obviously, but we need to ask these questions because our country is gifted in the art of designing outlines and plans but has also gained notoriety for a failure to translate such beautiful plans to practice. This time around, we will set out early to demand what is rightfully ours- the right thing. The early bird catches the early worm, you remember?
By the way, have we put in place measures aimed at assessing the progress of learning? I hope we are not going to merely rely on the periodic ritual of schools and districts measuring the extent of learning progress via termly exams? We cannot rely on that. Besides, those forms of assessments are for the purposes of making formative decisions pertaining to the progress made by the learner. We, however, need assessments that will seek to diagnose the health of the system we will be running and to determine the impact it is having and whether it is going as planned or otherwise. In fact, its long term impact on the economy can even be predicted with such diagnostic assessment programmes. Random assessment programmes must be frequently administered to measure and track how learning is happening, and determine whether required competencies, skills and attitudes are being acquired by the learner. As a matter of necessity, we must devise a reliable matrix for the purpose of tracking the progress of our New Basic Curriculum. There is a need to retain a strong commitment to measuring learning so as to “improve equity by revealing hidden exclusions”-WDR 2018. It is not prudent to just allow the system to flourish with underlying shortcomings without taking the necessary steps to plug up the loopholes. I am convinced that a lot of thinking, innovation, borrowing and ingenuity gave birth to the New Basic Curriculum. Therefore, I expect a religious commitment to measures and principles that will make it work effectively to achieve learning and ultimately realise the promise of education.
Of what use is it if we commit our resources and energies to measuring learning yet refuse to act on the evidence that will be garnered from such assessments? Ultimately, it is for the improvement of the goals achievement and learning process. Hence, spotted shortfalls in the New system need to be fixed in a timely fashion, when fished out by the structured mechanisms. Acting on the evidence of learning is the surest way to boost our chances of sustainable progress of learning. But how can we effectively act on evidence? We need to first commit to acting on it by making the identified challenges and adduced interventions public, as soon as possible. The necessary steps must subsequently be taken to immediately implement interventions. This way, all stakeholders would be in the known as to the prevailing issues and also how they can help facilitate the adjustments necessitated by the diagnosis made. As already established, the implementation of any curriculum is a process. Like most processes, this one too will require active participation of all stakeholders to make it successful. If a particular stakeholder is left in the dark as to the progress of the process, how then will such a stakeholder be of assistance to the implementation? We need all hands on deck to make the learner receptive to the process of learning. We may not be able to get every single learner prepared for the process of learning, no matter what. But no learning system and process can achieve that either. The unpreparedness of some learners is caused by some other intrinsic factors which our strategies can hardly help eliminate altogether.
Therefore, let us focus on the needful to make learning happen in the classrooms in our schools. Remember, it is only when the food is tasty that the hungry man conveniently consuming aroma alone may not be enough. Making our learners learn is the only reason why we run an education system which is a worthy investment. The curriculum, though may have a huge influence on the system, it is not the sole determinant of learning. Meanwhile, the object of the curriculum is to achieve learning. Let us, therefore, activate all the parts of learning, make it sound and change the status quo for good. Ghana must work again to push her beyond aid. Good luck!
David Angangmwin Baganiah