Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Making Ghana's education work again

There is no doubt that education is one of the pillars of development in any country. Over the years, successive governments have implemented policies aimed at developing the country’s education system, but there still remains a lot to be done. Some experts have argued that the country’s education system is not delivering what its citizens expect and industry needs. There are issues of corruption, low examination performance and the lack of accessibility bedeviling the country’s education sector. The educational sector has been heavily politicized by various political interest groups. It seems the country is over-doing its party politics since the opposition finds everything wrong in what the party in government does in the education sector.
Notable among them is the increase in the duration of Senior High School (SHS) education from three to four years; the initiative was short-lived as it was reversed back to three years when a new government came into power. Though most people have said the 4-year system is better, the government of the day found every reason to bring it back to 3 years, simply because it had promised in its manifesto that it will do so when voted into power.
Again, the previous government criticized the free SHS policy when the New Patriotic Party used it as a campaign message. But when the Mahama-led government retained power, it decided to introduce something that it had criticized previously. It did well to introduce what it termed as ‘progressive free SHS’ which covered selected day students across the country. When the NDC administration began building community day Senior High Schools (SHS) across the country, the then opposition NPP criticized the initiative. However, now in power, the NPP government is seeking to rollout comprehensive free SHS policy across the country, which is expected to benefit about 1.6million students. There is no doubt that these community schools will be of great help and ensure that the government’s free SHS project succeeds.
Basic education
It is everybody’s wish that their children will attend a private school at the basic level. Why? This is because there is quality tuition at private basic schools. Parents see the training at private basic schools to be better than that of public schools, otherwise known as ‘syto’–meaning it is nothing to write home about. Ironically, at the secondary level, all those who went to private schools finally come back to the public SHS to continue their education. So, the question that begs answers is: ’what have we not got right at the public basic schools that people don’t attach respect, but the same government schools, at the secondary level, attract large numbers. But successive governments have neglected basic education. Head teachers now struggle to acquire learning materials to aid teaching and learning in their various schools. There is also the lack of effective supervision in most of the basic schools. Teachers go to classroom and do little for the pupils in terms of teaching. Public school buildings don’t look appealing; some have huge cracks and best described as death traps.
Secondary education
The current issue with the secondary school level is the free SHS policy, which has generated a national discourse on how the government intends to implement it. The free SHS will also include technical and vocational institutes. SHS level of education consumed the largest proportion of government expenditure on education within the 2014/15 academic year. The 2015 Education Sector Performance report revealed that the subsector accounted for 22.2 funds budgeted for the entire education sector, followed closely by primary education with 22%. The Education Ministry said the increase in secondary education budget is a result of a number of policies it took within the period. The Progressively Free SHS programme, introduced in September last year, for example, saw the release of 12.1 million Ghanian Cedi by government for same. Additionally, the Community Senior High Schools Project (CSHSP), meant to increase Secondary school enrolment, and to decongest existing schools, has also seen a lot of capital injection over the period under review.
If successful, the free SHS policy is arguably going to be the major policies any government has embarked in the country’s education sector in ensuring that no student is left out in the education sector. There are several opinions as to how government should go about it. While a section Ghanaians believe that the country has what it takes to implement the policy which is enshrined in the 1992 constitution others believe we have not gotten there yet. Imani Ghana, a policy think tank, in its State of Education Report argued that government has a non-negotiable primary responsibility to ensure that it provides accessible and quality public education for all Ghanaian youth. However, the issue of parental contribution to the cost of education, even within the public sector, must be a subject of critical analysis. According to the policy think tank, there is never ‘free education’, even within the public sector. The question, therefore, is whether we will fund it fully, and collectively do it via a tax system or through a combination of state funding and parental contribution. In a report titled: “Free SHS Education: Should the Debate Only Be About Feasibility?” Dr. Yaw Ohemeng, an educationist, argues that Free SHS needs not necessarily translate into abolition of the BECE or the absorption of boarding fees. Rather, he recommended, free SHS should mean the free availability of a school place for all who are qualified and willing to take up such a place.
He said the introduction of free post- JHS education should, therefore, be accompanied by reforms and additional investment to improve the quality of basic school education whilst also expanding access to tertiary institutions. “With these, eventually the BECE could be replaced by national assessments (conducted by WAEC but without issuing certificates) to be able to measure quality improvements at the basic level. Such assessments could also be used to measure equity in opportunities by monitoring performance in all regions of the country (both rural and urban) and amongst girls and boys and to stream children into the different types of post-JHS institutions,” he added. I think since the government was able to do it at the secondary level and even tertiary level, where it is a ‘prestige’ to gain admission a public secondary school or a public university, it should be able to do it at the basic level too, because it seems we are collapsing our basic education year-in and year-out.

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