Category: General News

Salvaging Ghana’s Ailing Education System: Proposed Structural Reforms

Dr Prince Armah

 

Few days past, the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) released the provisional results of candidates who wrote the May/June 2014 (WASSCE) Examinations. Out of the 242,162 candidates who wrote the examination, a little over 28 percent (n=68,062) qualified for admission into tertiary institutions.

These candidates obtained grade A1 to C6 in at least six subjects including English Language and mathematics (Core). By extrapolations, the remaining 72 percent of the candidates (n=174,100) who sat are either not qualified to gain admission into tertiary institutions or had their result cancelled and withheld. Since then, awareness, concerns and debates regarding the quality of the present education in Ghana have reinvigorated.

Many notable people, including the Minister of Education, Prof. Jane Nana Opoku-Agyeman and the Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, have questioned whether it is the students who have failed or the failure emanates from the education system itself. In a recent forum organized by National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT), Prof. Jane Nana Opoku Agyeman attributed the awful performance of students in the WASSCE to what she termed as overcrowded curriculum.

According to the Minister, “students are compelled to learn too many subjects when the curriculum is overcrowded”. Her concerns are consistent with similar ones Professor Howard Gardner of Harvard University expressed at the 1997 WEAC Convention in Milwaukee, USA: “the greatest enemy of understanding is coverage. If we try to cover everything, by the end of the day people will have learned very little and will have understood nothing”.

Otumfuo Osei Tutu II in the recent GJA Awards night also questioned whether we are getting real value for the huge investment and effort in education, particularly when the nation sinks 18-27% of public expenditure (or 5-6% GDP) into the sector. His analogy could best be akin to Kwashiorkor infected education system where more resources are injected into the system with deficient results.

The stark reality
More disturbing is the worrying trends at basic education front where huge chunk of students who sit the BECE ‘fail’ each year. If we conceptualize basic education as the minimum formal education to which every Ghanaian child is entitled, as of right, to equip him/her to function effectively in the society, then can we say a student has failed BECE? Who has failed? Is it the students who have failed to attain the basic education, which is their right? Or is it the education system that has failed to provide adequate opportunities for them to attain this basic right?

Recent results from international comparative studies such as Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) have further deepened the concerns regarding the quality of education in the basic schools. Since 2003, Ghana has been raked among the bottom group, although some improvements in scores have been recorded. TIMSS which is conducted every four years measure mathematics and science performance for 4th and 8th (JHS 2) grade levels with Ghana participating in the later grade level only.

Aside these, 98% of basic school pupils can’t read and write English, the 2014 National Education Assessment report has revealed. The National Education Assessment scores (NEA),which is conducted every two years, is used as a measure of quality at the basic level. Results for 2005, 2007 and 2011 in English and Mathematics have all indicated a deplorable performance at both P3 and P6. When many students fail an examination, we may blame the students, the teachers or both.

We seldom question the system including examination which failed the students. If one synthesizes all these issues, the plausible conclusion is that all is not well with our education system. No mention has yet been made on the tertiary education front because the least said about it the better. Besides, I believe I have laid a solid foundation upon which monumental and structural reforms could be aggressively pursued to salvage the sinking educational standard.

Systemic Weakness
In general, whilst some education system (eg Scottish) at secondary school level emphasize breadth across a wide range of subjects, others systems (e.g. English, Welsh, Irish) have emphasized greater depth of education over a smaller range of subjects. Yet the Ghanaian system appears to emphasize both breadth and depth at the detriment of our students! Yes the Minister is right, our curricular are too loaded and Kofi Mereku , JophusAnamuah-Mensah, Ghartey-Ampiah (Professors in Education) and many others have raised similar concerns about these loaded curricular. Not only are students required to study broad array of subjects, but also the breadth of topics in each subject area are too deep and loaded with relatively limited instructional time.

Having taught the Ghanaian, English and Scottish curricular for some years coupled with my background in education policy analysis and research, I humbly make few proposals for the consideration of relevant authorities. These proposals are located within four broad thematic areas: education system and school management, teacher education and professional learning; curriculum, pedagogy and assessment; educational qualification and accreditation.

I chose to publish these proposals in the media because the process of educational change should draw on the perception of people in the whole society, not just those of government officials, politicians and professionals. In the light of scarcity of space and time, I’m unable to discuss each thematic area extensively but hope to do so when further opportunities are afforded.

The way forward
First of all we need a comprehensive education system where after primary 6, the student can progress to six years Secondary education or high school from SS1 to SS6. By this arrangement BECE which has become a major impediment to access to secondary education could be cancelled. Expanding access to secondary education is not only a matter of building new schools, or rehabilitating and expanding existing ones. Neither is it about providing free secondary education. It is conceptually about removing barriers to secondary education which BECE has been widely acknowledged. For if we build more new schools, and refurbish existing ones without a corresponding increased enrolment in these schools, of what sense is it?

From S1-S3, the students will write several internal exams for progression and placement. These exams may largely be not graded; pass or fail. Teachers would be expected to help students pass through remediation no matter how long it takes. A National Assessment Bank could be set up which contain various tests samples for such purpose. Various authors and educators could be encouraged to submit voluntarily, questions to National Assessment Bank and the current National Assessment Unit of the GES could help in this direction as well. The internal exams may be moderated by a proposed examination body to be called the Ghana Examination and Qualification Authority.

The proposed Ghana Examination and Qualification Authority could perform, among others, the function of the current WAEC and provide accreditations for pre-tertiary schools who write their exams as well. This also means we would no longer be under the over 50 years WAEC treaty where examination does not reflect the needs of Ghanaian society. WAEC was established to inter alia, “award certificates, provided that the certificates did not represent lower standards of attainment than equivalent certificates of examining authorities in the United Kingdom”. Yet certificates WAEC issue to secondary school graduates appears to be sub-standard as holders are required to take a foundation programme before entry to undergraduate degree courses at UK universities.

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Between S4-S6, the student could write various examination including presenting coursework leading to entry to vocational education and training ( i.e. NVTIs etc), further education ( i.e. Nursing & Teacher Training Colleges, Polytechnics etc), higher education (i.e. Universities). Our appetite of grouping all post-secondary education in one homogenous entity should be abandoned as they have different roles to play in training the human resource needs of the country. The implication for this arrangement is that, we need to set up a National Credit &Qualification Framework (NCQF) that clearly specifies each qualification and it level, which would feed into the whole education system.

I recommend that the present National Technical and Vocational Education and Training Qualifications Framework. (NTVETQF) be reviewed and integrated into the proposed NCQF. The NCQF could be developed by the said Ghana Examination and Qualification Authority in collaboration with the Council for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (COTVET), Association for Ghana Industry (AGI), National Council for Tertiary Education (NCTE), National Accreditation Board (NAB) and other relevant stakeholders. The Qualification Framework could help make the relationships between qualifications and credit transfers clearer and easier respectively. It can clarify entry and exit points and routes for progression within and across education and training sectors. Under such framework, a person may not hold a university degree but progressively obtain vocational training qualifications equivalent to a masters’ level qualification at a university.

On the Teacher Education front, we are currently introducing the National Teaching Council which is a long awaited policy direction from the Education Act of 2008(Act 778). We must make that council truly autonomous to regulate and set professional standards for teachers. I propose that, all teachers training institution must collaborate with the NTC on development of their teacher education programme so that they produce teachers who meet the NTC’s professional standards. In fact accreditation of the teacher education programmes must be the responsibility of the NTC. Relevant provisions of the Education Act of 2008 and the National Accreditation Board Act of 2007 (Act 744) should be amended accordingly.

 

Dr. Prince Armah is the Founder & Executive Director of VIAM Africa 

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Niger Delta Fracas; Ghana Ignoring Early Warning Signals?

 

By: Bernard Kwame Tomo

 

It is an undeniable fact that the presence of oil wealth in developing countries presents them with a huge paradox of both positivity and negativity. On the one hand, the discovery of oil and gas creates an atmosphere, strong, efficient and effective enough to eradicate poverty and build stronger economies. On the other hand, the presence of oil and gas only tend to make an economy worse than before; shoddier of all, create a very uncomfortable human environment characterised by civil wars.

Such has been the experience of countries like the former Republic of Sudan, Angola and Nigeria. Nigeria’s oil rich Niger Delta, for instance, has been embroiled in crises between some militant elements and government forces on several occasions. Recent reports1 appear to suggest that the aggrieved militant groups have not only vigorously fought the government forces, but also taken foreign oil workers hostage, sabotaged oil installation and staged pipeline bombing attacks. Some of these groups, which include Movement for the Emancipation of the people of the Niger Delta (MEND) have carried out severe, destabilizing attacks on the oil industry with view to generating fear within the oil community, significantly affecting supplies and forcing the government to respond to the socio-economic pressures they are confronted with. After witnessing the failure of most of their registered grievances, the group in January, 2006 kidnapped oil workers and demanded that Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) pays $1.5 billion to local communities within the region, resulting in the killing of at least 17 people and reducing operations by 106,000 bpd [2].

A major cause of almost all the crises in the Niger Delta region points towards the inability of the state to meet citizens’ expectation. Although the production of oil in Ghana is just about six years old, could the country pride itself with meeting such expectations which could gradually aggravate tensions in its western region as seen in the Niger Delta case? Historically3, the Niger Delta, just like Ghana’s current Western Region, was one peaceful place to live. The place was characterised by very strong social and cultural tides, with agriculture being the backbone of their economy. From this perspective, both past and recent development in relation to crises could, potentially, be related to oil find in the region. What went wrong? Which signs show that Ghana is seemingly heading same direction?

One common characteristic found in the Niger Delta and Ghana’s Western Region is the fact that there seem to be mismanaged perception about the potentials of oil benefits to indigenes in these regions. In both instances, people appear uniformed informed about the realities a country is faced with after discovering oil. They are rather made to believe that the discovery of oil could be the beginning of an end to their economic woes. In Ghana, although the government has denied making similar promises [4], there is some evidence to suggest that people’s expectations have been raised by some political figures in their attempt to deliver their campaign messages [5].  However, such expectations if not properly managed could potentially trigger violence because the reality may not have been truthfully communicated. For Ghana to avoid similar situations in the Niger Delta in which people vent their frustrations and grievances through violence means, the government must be more transparent on the budgetary allocations of oil revenues and with all activities that are related to the country’s oil and gas sector.

Another major factor, seemingly ignored in the Ghanaian context, which is a cause of these tensions is ineffective Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) by oil and gas companies in the Niger Delta Region. Whether philanthropy or corporate strategy, most companies appear to engage in CSR for the sole purpose of making profit. The challenge however, points toward the effectiveness of their CSR strategies, in respect of the benefits inhabitants of oil rich regions derive. SPDC and other oil companies in the Niger Delta region, in the past half of a century, have embarked on strategies which are more ‘philanthropic’ than pure CSR – some of which include agricultural projects, schools, scholarship awards, hospitals and roads. However, these CSR approaches are fraught with several challenges rendering the resulting interventions ineffective in the long term, for the following reasons.

First, a qualitative report6 on CSR in the Niger Delta region suggests that the CSR approaches adopted by SPDC and other oil companies were seemingly predicated on fulfilling only the most minimal ethical obligations and premised on achieving business objectives. This approach to CSR by most businesses is underlined by the assumption that business goals are incompatible with the development

aspirations of local communities. From this perspective, CSR practices in the region, appear not to be community-focused and/or take account of what the people really needed. Thus, despite the millions of dollars invested in community related projects, the communities and other observers perceived these projects as some cosmetic attempt for the companies to protect their reputation. This usually renders the sustainability of such projects questionable.

Second, lack of coordination in the strategic CSR projects in the Niger Delta resulted in unbalanced outcomes that had very minimal impact on real poverty alleviation and the socio-economic development of inhabitants in the region. Oil companies failed to help address real community expectations and rather adopted a ‘slavery strategy’ of imposing projects on community members in the name of building capacity. Ghana’s case has not been much different. Some oil companies in Ghana (including the country’s own GNPC) spend not less than £2 million yearly on offering scholarships for students to study abroad. The questions this raises are numerous; are these real community expectations? Can we not build such capacities in Ghanaian universities?

In relation to strategic community development, how relevant are some of these projects to communities which are directly affected by oil production (i.e. communities whose livelihoods are currently at stake because of oil production)? A collective analysis of some of these issues gradually compounded the displeasure registered by the people of the Niger Delta. To avoid this in Ghana, CSR projects by oil companies are to be designed to address urgent environmental, economic and social needs and not imposed on local communities, especially when it has no direct implications for community development.

Apart from these, Nigeria’s experience on perceived unfair rules governing revenues from oil and gas exploration reveals that significant conflict and tensions could arise. Inappropriate institutional design for oil revenue distribution could also be a major source of conflict and tension, one which could potentially extend between oil producing communities and national government. Nine out of the thirty-six states in Nigeria produce oil and gas, contributing to over 35% of the country’s GDP, per OPEC’s statistics7. Despite setting aside 13% of oil revenues for the development of oil-producing states, as stipulated by their constitution, these states have decried

the derivation formula as iniquitous and unfair, considering the fact that their land sustains the country’s economy.

The current case in Ghana has been seemingly closer to this. Ghana’s western region, despite contributing to more than 50% of the country’s GDP is somehow experiencing this unfair treatment. Worse is the fact that almost all the headquarters of the oil companies are located in Accra. Even ‘Cocoa Clinic’ is built in Accra where a single cocoa tree cannot be found. At least Takoradi, with the discovery of oil and gas could have somehow seen a facelift. What is currently disturbing is the fact that people’s livelihoods are at stake, confirming the Akan proverb ’’if you don’t get anything for your in-law, you don’t also call him a thief’’.

Although some government officials have denied8 the existence of the Cape Militia (a suspected young militant group believed to have existed in Cape Three Points), Ghana still needs to be very precautious and take the early warning signals very serious. A lot of lessons, as mentioned earlier could be derived from the Nigerian case before it gets too late.

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The Teacher Trainee Allowances Conundrum: Driven by Partisan Politics or Policy Imperatives?

Prince Armah, PhD

Few weeks ago, myjoyonline.com reported that “more than four-hundred qualified applicants have been turned down by the Tamale College of Education due to lack of infrastructure”. Interestingly, applicants were previously refused admission into the Colleges of Education (CoEs) due to the quota system – but now they are being turned away due to infrastructure. For instance, in 2013, prior to scrapping the trainee allowance, Tamale Training College admitted 288 students comprising 160 males and 128 females. Today, they are able to admit 529; with 400 more unable to gain admission. That is good news? In supporting the scrapping of the trainee allowance, VIAM Africa, an education and social policy think tank, argued that lack of access should be on the basis of infrastructure but not on an unfair quota system that does not even take account of the number of teachers needed annually in the country. The allowances had rather created a perverse set of incentives for applicants and an artificial ceiling on student intake.

Whilst VIAM Africa was of the considered opinion that the policy decision to abolish allowances for teacher trainees needs to be maintained, opponents of the policy largely argued that removal of the allowances would lower enrolment into the CoE since it would increase the cost of education for applicants. The current reports of widespread enrolment at the CoEs, thus, vindicate VIAM Africa’s position that scrapping the trainee allowance would not impede college access as the critics of the policy, especially the New Patriotic Party (NPP), wanted us to believe. The NPP, Ghana’s largest opposition party, in particular, has promised to restore the policy if it regains power in 2016, arguing that scrapping the allowance “makes education a preserve of the rich”. The implication is that students who attend the CoEs are from poor socioeconomic background for which reason scrapping the allowances will disadvantaged them, and favour people who can afford to pay.

However, empirical evidence to support or deny such a claim remains sparse. Rather, the evidence appears to point towards an expanded access to CoEs across the country, even though at an increased cost to the students. So what is accounting for this phenomenon? To answer this question requires Government to find out who are benefiting more from the expanded access including the replaced student loan scheme. Are the beneficiary students of the scrapped teacher allowances policy and the replaced student loan scheme from disadvantaged backgrounds or from seemingly affluent backgrounds? Conversely, what are the socio-economic backgrounds of the people gaining admission into the CoE as well as those accessing the student loan scheme? Answering this research question could facilitate the formulation of pro-poor intervention programmes targeted at people who genuinely need financial support. An empirical research with secondary data from the National Council for Tertiary Education, the CoEs and the Student Loan Trust could help answer the above question and provide better evidence in identifying people from low income homes who genuinely need additional financial support. To the extent that, wholesale education financing policy ( such as teacher trainee allowances) does not take account of need-based assessment of beneficiaries and raises equity and social justice issues, no government including a future NPP government should encourage it. By this argument, I am suggesting to the government and all relevant stakeholders that restoring teacher trainee allowances is unsustainable and unfair to people who genuinely need it. Generally, I support the notion of providing financial support for people to be trained as teachers but any such arrangement must not be automatic but must be applied for under laid down criteria. For instance, government could provide grants for teacher trainees form low income backgrounds, who are disabled or have children.

At present, we are at the point where rising enrollment should compel authorities to deal more comprehensively with infrastructural deficit issues. And this is where VIAM Africa would continue to ask government to set up a fund specifically for the money being saved from scrapping the allowances and encourage the CoEs to submit proposals for specific infrastructure projects they (the CoEs) deem necessary. In doing so, not only are we undertaking need-base assessments of infrastructural requirements at the various CoEs, but we are also developing their capacity to identify, develop and manage funded projects within the context of their new status as tertiary institutions. My previous called on government to invest the accrued GHS282 saved from scrapping the teacher trainee allowances into the education sector, particularly at the CoEs was informed by the foregoing perspective.  However, the responses from the government on this call appears to lack clarity on the specific projects that the money will be (or has been) used for. On the one hand, President John Mahama pontificates that government will be able to plough back the Ghc282 million that would have been paid to teacher trainees in expanding education so that we can employ more teachers”. On the other hand, the Deputy Minister for Education, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa claims that the money that would have been spent on paying teacher trainee allowances has been invested in “massive infrastructures” in the CoEs across the country, resulting in increased enrolment in training colleges by 63.8 percent. But the data available suggest that the increase in enrolment at the CoEs is not entirely attributable to any investment in infrastructure; it is because the colleges were previously operating beyond their full capacity (estimated at 40% according to the Government). For instance, official figures quoted by President Mahama and the Minister for Education, Professor Jane Opoku-Agyemang seem to suggest that by merely removing the quota system, there has been a significant increase in enrolment at the CoEs from 9,000 students in 2013 to 15,000 students in the 2014 academic year (60% increase). In addition, merely saying that the savings made from scrapping the allowance regime has been invested in “massive infrastructure” without given specifics is not enough. It makes it difficult for us to track, in specific terms, what infrastructure would the government have provided if the allowance was not scrapped.

In conclusion, whilst the discourse around opposing the scrapping of the trainee allowances tends to point toward emotional arguments with limited substance, the government appears not to demonstrate transparency, and accountability about what exactly it has used the monies accrued from the scrapped policy for.  So one may ask: is the scrapping of teacher trainee allowances and its concomitant lack of accountability (or the subsequent proposed restoration by NPP) driven by partisan politics or policy imperatives?

The Author is an Educational Consultant and the Executive Director of VIAM Africa Centre for Education & Social Policy

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Towards A Better Financing Pathways For Quality Education For All: A reflection of a 2-day Stakeholders’ Consultations

Prince Armah, PhD

In 2015, the United Nations officially recognized and commended Ghana for meeting the millennium development goal on universal primary education and gender parity in primary schools. Two major primary education improvement policy interventions initiated in 2004/05 academic year namely the Capitation Grant Scheme (CGS) and the National School Feeding Programme (NSFP) might have significantly contributed to this success story.  The CGS is a school tuition fees abolition policy that seeks to facilitate the attainment of universal access to primary education. The NSFP, on the other hand, was initiated in collaboration with the Dutch Government with the immediate objectives of reducing hunger and malnutrition among school pupils, and increasing school enrolment, attendance and retention, which have a relationship with improved pupils’ learning outcomes. Despite this remarkable feat, there appeared to be a significant number of school-age children who were not in school (approximately halve a million), resulting in the government’s formulation of the complementary education policy with the view to teaching out-of-school children at designated centers so they can subsequently be integrated into the formal school system at primary 3 or 4.

However, there is still considerable evidence to suggest that children typically from the poorest rural and hardest to reach communities in Ghana are more likely to be kept out of school due to financial issues, lack of proper school facilities and quality teachers, raising public concerns about limited school access to and quality of education for disadvantaged children. This comes at the back of considerable investment in education with the Government committing up to 20% of its annual budget and around 6% of GDP to education. In most cases over 80% of such budgetary allocations have gone into payments of emoluments for staff and officials (including ‘ghost workers’) as well as inefficient public financial management practices, leaving very little funds to be invested into infrastructure and instructional resources to improve access and quality especially in the deprived communities.  This has potentially rendered the cost of education quite expensive in Ghana, and with the poverty gap widening, children from seemingly low-income backgrounds appear to be the most affected ones. Unemployment issues among graduates are also high on the table with many parents questioning the returns on education and potentially providing basis to show little interest in their children’s basic education.

A stakeholders’ consultation exercise VIAM Africa conducted in April 21-22, 2016 tends to point towards these views, in addition to other concerns raised about pupils’ retention and success, and quality of education in the country. The main purpose of this consultations was to support ongoing steps, by the United Nations Education Commission, to improve financing of education through the development of a renewed and compelling investment case, and financing pathways for achieving equal educational opportunity for children and young people. VIAM collated the views of over 50 participants comprising technocrats and consumers of public education at selected communities in Accra, Ghana. Consultation sessions were held at three different locations, of close proximity to the settlement of participants. The first two sessions were in the afternoon and the last session, in the evening. Each session began with an overview of the Commission’s work as required, after which discussions around key questions ensued. Owing to differences in literacy among participants, some of the discussion questions had to be rephrased in a local language (predominantly Ga, Twi and Ewe) semi-literate and illiterate participants can understand.

From interactions with participants, it was obvious that parents and guardians were very much interested in the education of their children. For some, it is an issue of giving their children a privilege they [the parent] never had. For others, it is about preparing their children for future demands and opportunities. Their interest is however attenuated by economic and socio-cultural considerations. Unemployment, poor family planning, broken homes as a result of divorce, among others were some reasons parents found it difficult to educate their children. A more pervasive constraint was the skepticism in the importance of education due to the prevailing condition of graduate unemployment in Ghana. This was, however, an expression of frustration than an outright devaluation of education. Participants further highlighted poor community involvement, retrogressive socio-cultural norms, outdated and loaded curriculum, harsh economic conditions, and poor parental supervision, among others as obstacles to raising educational quality in Ghana.

They projected that, by 2030, school fees will skyrocket beyond the reach of parents especially those from low-income background, confidence in public schools will plummet, private schools would outnumber public ones, technical and vocational education will gain momentum, and wholesale education finance for both the rich and the poor will cease. The skepticism and negativity can however be assuaged if requisite reforms and financially viable alternatives for the funding of public schools are developed and implemented, they argued. Participants also perceived that across board financing of education has proven expensive and ineffective over the years, thus government should cross-subsidize and develop a special programme for people to received quality education. This includes especial grants to students from disadvantaged backgrounds or low income homes, especially in a country like Ghana where about 24 percent of the people, measuring some 6.4million are living below the poverty line, and cannot afford to spend GHS3.60 (less than $1) on food a day.

In conclusion, although there are many barriers to school access and success, cost is widely acknowledged as a major impediment. Given the present high cost of education in Ghana relative to family incomes, the Government of Ghana will have to intervene with more appropriate and effective financial support arrangement for most families, but in a way that would not suffer political abuse as previous schemes have experienced.

The Author is an Educational Consultant and the Executive Director of VIAM Africa Centre for Education & Social Policy

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Towards a Better Educational System: Are we All Involved?

By Ernest Armah

Crucial to the realization of inclusive and equitable quality education and promotion of lifelong learning opportunities for all (SDG 4) is decentralized participation involving community members and other important stakeholders.

Education is among the top priorities by governments across the world. In the United States, both Policy reform advocates and Politicians are concerned about how to revive and enrich public education to maintain economic competitiveness and world influence. In china, efforts to consolidate status as the world’s manufacturing hub has received considerable support through significant education reform and investment. In Ghana, the discussion is gradually migrating from getting more people into school to improving the quality of the learning experience.

The task to ensure quality outcomes and quality investment into critical areas at the basic, secondary, technical, vocational and tertiary educational levels is however beyond the government; hence the need for community ownership and participation in facilitating a successful educational reform in the country.

VIAM Africa Center for Education and Social Policy undertook a consultation exercise on behalf of the Education Commission, a global initiative under the chairmanship of Gordon Brown, United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education. VIAM organize sessions in selected communities in Accra, the capital city of Ghana to gather input of key education stakeholders, including technocrats, policy makers, relevant stakeholders and consumers of education, around stipulated research questions to support the Commission’s development of a strong and comprehensive final report. This falls in line with VIAM’s commitment to serve as a resource for government departments and agencies, education institutions, philanthropic foundations and others committed to improving access, quality and management issues in education.

Over 50 people participated in this exercise. Consultation sessions were held at three different locations; first two sessions in the afternoon and the last session in the evening. These locations were of close proximity to the settlement of participants. Each session began with an overview of the Commission’s work as required, after which discussions around key questions began. Owing to differences in literacy among participants, some of the discussion questions had to be rephrased in a language semi-literate and illiterate participants can understand. Questions were also translated into the main local dialects for some participants to understand (Ga, Twi, and Ewe).

From my interactions with participants, I observed that parents and guardians are very much interested in the education of their children. For some, it is an issue of giving their children a privilege they never had. For others, it is about preparing their children for future demands and opportunities. Their interest is however constrained by socio-cultural and economic factors.

Unemployment, poor family planning, broken homes as a result of divorce, among others are some reasons parents find it difficult to educate their children. A more dangerous constraint is skepticism at the importance of education due to the prevailing condition of graduate unemployment; “what is the point of spending millions of cedis educating my child, only for her to graduate and sit at home because there is no job”, a parent lamented. This however is an expression of frustration, than an outright devaluation of education.

According to participants, poor community involvement, backward socio-cultural norms, outdated curriculum, bad economy, poor parental supervision, to mention a few, are obstacles to raising educational quality in Ghana.

14 years from now, participants project school fees will skyrocket beyond the reach of parents, confidence in public schools will plummet, private schools would outnumber public ones, technical and vocational education will gain momentum, and wholesale education finance for both the rich and the poor will cease.

Education finance remains a vexed and contentious matter. The discussion on the extent to which government, the private sector and parents should be financially involved is useful for building consensus and deploying much needed reforms. Just as important is the involvement of those at the bottom of the pyramid which comprises consumers of public education, mostly the poor, in the discussion. Also, the skepticism and negativity can be put to rest if requisite reforms and financially viable alternatives for the funding of public schools are developed and implemented.

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Ernest Armah is the Programmes Manager of VIAM Africa Centre for Education and Social Policy.

Contact: e.armah@viamafrica.com

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Is The Ghana Education Service Becoming A Private Recruitment Agency?

By: Prince Armah, (Ph.D) & Selete Avoke, (Ph.D)

Few weeks ago, the Ghana Education Service (GES) extracted an amount of sixty-two Ghana cedis (GH¢62.00) from about 4,570 graduate teachers/applicants shortlisted to take part in an aptitude test conducted on 21st May 2016. The GES had previously posted on their website an advertisement seeking to recruit graduate teachers to teach English Language, Maths, Science and Geography at the Senior High School level. Graduate teachers/applicants who were shortlisted were subsequently required to make this payment to GES before they could be even considered to take part in the aptitude test/examination for their recruitment into the education service.

Respectfully, we together with many likeminded Ghanaians vehemently opposed this directive given by GES. We thought that, GES is a public institution funded with the taxes of taxpayers and these taxpayers include the graduate teachers who applied. It was therefore unjust, unfair and discriminatory for GES to extract the said amount from these desperate graduate teachers.  Truth be told, the prospective candidates are unemployed.  How could GES ask unemployed graduates to pay a fee so that they may be considered for employment? Is GES becoming a private recruitment agency?

For GES to demand this amount from these desperate job seekers was crude exploitation, pure and simple. Who benefited from these fees? When did it become a norm to ask unemployed individuals to pay a fee in order for them to have the opportunity not to be even employed but to take an aptitude test? These questions went unanswered. But we asked because these graduate teachers are unemployed and desperate for jobs, and that is the more reason why they availed themselves to be employed by GES.

What even made GES’s action more questionable is the fact that, with companies and or institutions specifically set up to make profit, employers do not charge job seekers a fee for an aptitude test. In the first place when did GES require that prospective teachers should sit for an examination or an aptitude test? We have tried hard to locate which international teacher recruitment best practices the GES opted for. We found none, but the closest we found was that of the United States of America (USA). If GES is attempting to copy what prevails in the USA, whereby prospective teachers take the PRAXIS exams, then they are definitely doing a rather miserable job at copying. Within the USA system, students who plan on teaching after graduating know from the beginning of their studies that they have to take the PRAXIS before they complete their program of studies.  Additionally, students have learning aids and practice materials available to them as they prepare for the PRAXIS exams. With regards to the GES, granted that this innovative test taking is in order, why did they not require as part of the university curriculum that students must pass an aptitude test, with accompanying information about the validity of and philosophy underpinning the test?

Again, there was no guarantee that all the graduate teachers who took the test would pass in order to be employed. Besides, research clearly indicates that a person’s total capabilities cannot be hinged on one single aptitude test. Additionally, such tests alone are not an absolute predictor of effective teaching and learning. The logical conclusion therefore is that the state have unjustifiably benefitted at the expense of students who need to be taught so badly and ripped off desperate graduates looking for employment.

GES was set up to provide service and thus, not a profit making entity. The services to be rendered by these graduate teachers are practically a selfless one and thus a contribution to the development of this country. Charging them for an examination/aptitude test was unfortunate, sad, and a tragedy. This should not be repeated. These unemployed graduate teachers/applicants rather need to be motivated not discouraged. Regardless of the fact that we did not receive any response from the Minister of Education on our petition to her on this matter, we will continue to appeal to her good office to take immediate steps to halt this unholy policy that is being implemented by the GES.

 

Dr. Prince Armah, is the Executive Director of VAM Africa

Dr. Selete Avoke, is an Expert in Education and Disability, USA

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Are we Ready for Ebooks?

By: Ernest Armah

With almost 30% illiteracy rate among 15 year olds and above, Ghana is still grappling with ways and means to accelerate literacy in the country. Whilst the conservative approach involves among others resourcing the Ghana Library Authority to provide static and mobile library facilities at the regional, district and community levels, consideration of ebooks is fast becoming a viable alternative. But is the latter an option worth investment in our context?

In developed parts of the world, people are reading more on computers and other electronic devices (such as smartphones, pamphlets, feature phones). Underlying this progression though is a strong foundation in reading in print. A recent study conducted in the United Kingdom showed that 62% of 16-24 year-olds prefer traditional books over their digital equivalents. Two main reasons justifying their preference were value for money and an emotional connection to physical (print) books.[1]

The emotional connection bit is something I can relate to. I can vividly picture my younger self wide-eyed and animated at the sight of printed books. Back in Primary school, we had a library period where everyone in class had an opportunity to read any book of their choice. My favorite books, at the time, were comics. They appealed to me because of their aesthetic properties – beautiful paintings, sketches, drawings, calligraphy and creative settings all wrapped in one fascinating print. But then, some of these books were bulky and carrying them around came with some inconveniences, a challenge ebooks easily solves.

David Risher, President of Worldreader has embarked on a literacy crusade to deliver 1 billion ebooks to Ghana, Uganda and Kenya. As exciting as this may sound, socio-cultural, financial, content development issues are first requisites to driving the ebook agenda. Early Grade Reading and Mathematics Assessment in Ghana showed that approximately 90 percent of pupils in basic schools cannot read or understand what they read.[2] Familiarity with print reading and basic comprehension are essential necessities for ebook reading. This is one extreme. The other is a growing trend I’ve noticed.  I have heard some parents boasting of how their children, below six years, are doing amazing stuff on tablets. The unforeseen cost of this fledgling tech-savvy parenting is over-speeding of the cognitive development of their children. To put it graphically, these parents are teaching their children how to run before learning to walk. In their formative years, children should be trained to develop an emotional attachment to books; through print books first; just as they need a working knowledge of alphabets in order to understand literature.

Morever, we will need indigenized content to scale-up the production of ebooks in the country. Currently, there are 3 e-book publishers in Ghana. Though inadequate, it is a good start for testing the effectiveness of ebooks to accelerate literacy in the country. Funding and generation of contextualized content are equally important. What is of greater necessity is the promotion of reading.

Ernest Armah is the Head of Programmes Unit at VIAM Africa

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Sustainable Natural Resource Management; could Ghana be ‘Resource-Cursed’?

By: Ben Tomo

Where is the Wealth of Nations?’ This question is asked by the World Bank in its 2006 Report because it admits revenues generated from natural resources in many countries have escaped the people; those who see and bear the negative consequences of natural resource extraction. Similar to this are the words of Edward Zwick who asserts that ’’It seems that almost every time a valuable natural resource is discovered in the world-whether it be diamonds, rubber, gold, oil, whatever-often what results is a tragedy for the country in which they are found. Making matters worse, the resulting riches from these resources rarely benefit the people of the country from which they come’’. Could Ghana, one of Africa’s most stable democratic countries’, be afflicted by any of these plagues?

Although it may seem too early to determine the trend of the resource-curse phenomenon in the region (which contributes to more than half of the country’s GDP), in relation to its oil and gas extraction. Mining in the region has proven that the extraction industry has not really been fair to the region. In a recent UNICEF District League Report (which measures progress toward delivering development and key basic services in each of Ghana’s districts, based on global practice of developing indices for measuring and monitoring progress), the Prestea-Huni Valley District and the Tarkwa-Nsuaem Municipality where gold has been mined for over 100 years are placed at 172nd and 32nd respectively and currently count as some of the poorest areas in the country. The Ahanta-West and Nzema-East Districts which are close to the Jubilee Field rank 161st and 95th respectively.

A recent study by VIAM Africa showed that the high influx of people to towns like Tarkwa and Obuase from other parts of the country and even beyond, with the hope of making life better through the mining industry, for example, has turned into disappointment. Most indigenes in these towns are no longer able to afford housing and have been forced to move to live in the outskirts since they can no longer afford high standard of living, coupled with drinking polluted water because of the mining industry. There have also been recorded incidences of high crime rate, prostitution and increased drug culture. Cocoa farming, which used to be the main sources of livelihood, is no more attractive. Most of the youth are now into illegal mining, popularly known in Ghanaian parlance as galamsey. Large reserves of forest (2 percent of forest cover destroyed annually) and countless number of river bodies have been destroyed, in the quest of digging for gold. The Bonsa, Pra and Ankobra rivers which are the three main sources of water to the region are gradually losing their significance. Considering these negative consequences, can we say natural resources have been a blessing?

Drawing lessons from other countries, key issues to explore include whether we are adequately prepared enough to reverse the resource-curse phenomenon. Are relevant institutions in the sector strong enough to deal with issues pertaining to corruption? What measures have been put in place to meet the expectations of the citizenry? Which lessons have been drawn from other countries that have experienced it and how exactly is Ghana making those lessons applicable? Anyone who wants to understand how Ghana can deal with all these can refer to how oil-rich Botswana dealt with all these, although arguable that the Ghanaian and Botswana contexts appear distinct.

With over $2bn made annually by the government of Ghana from Jubilee Field and other offshore fields, one would then conclude that the sudden transition of the country as an oil importer to oil and gas exporter would uplift the economy and ensure development which would positively impact the lives of its citizens. However, anecdotal evidence adduced, through everyday discussions with people suggests that the opposite prevails, especially in the lives of those who are directly affected by the oil find and its production. There are currently life threatening challenges in the region which includes unemployment and fisher folks being prevented from going deep sea fishing. Although the Ghana Heritage Fund has been established to;

’’Provide an endowment to support the development of future generation when the petroleum reserves have been depleted; and receive excess petroleum revenue’’ (MoFEP 2012, PRM Act 815 2011), the government of Ghana is seemingly struggling translate the oil money into development gains.

What is equally problematic about the legislations on the country’s oil revenue allocation is its failure to address the needs of the people directly affected by oil production activities through a comprehensive Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policy document. This inability of the legislations to establish how much the Western Region has to enjoy led to 10 percent demand of oil revenue by the chiefs in the region (based on Article 108 of the 1992 Constitution to amend clause 23 for such a bill to be passed). The case of Nigeria reveals that some amount of tension could arise if legislations governing oil and gas revenues are considered unfair. Nigeria’s case started with such similar demands by local authorities. Understanding the power of chieftaincy authorities should inform government and Trans-National Corporations to meet their expectations.

Although the country has received several advices, it however remains uncertain whether Ghana’s oil will play out positively or negatively. Hence the question remains, where is the wealth of resource-rich nations like Ghana?

Source: CSR Unit, VIAM Africa

For further information contact b.tomo@viamafrica.com

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GES Exploiting “Desperate Unemployed Graduate Teachers”

Few months ago, the Ghana Education Service (GES) posted on their website (www.gespostings.net) an advertisement meant to recruit teachers to teach English, Mathematics, Science and Geography at the Senior High School level. As part of the application process, applicants were requested to submit a passport picture and scanned certificate. They were also asked about their teaching experience when filling the online application form. All these were supposed to be submitted before 21st March, 2016. Given the recent recruitment scams that have been recorded in the country, using technology-oriented recruitment approach appears laudable and novel. This also affords every qualified teacher an equal chance of applying and being potentially selected for any vacant position in the GES.

However, the exercise has turned out to be a nightmare for graduate teachers who applied. VIAM Africa’s investigations revealed that, the Ghana Education Service has released a list of applicants who have been shortlisted to undertake a test in English Language and their respective subject areas on the 21st May, 2016 at various centres communicated to the applicants.

A notice on their recruitment website (www.gespostings.net/jobapplications/shortlisted) reveals a rather worrying demand from the GES. It reads:

NB: Prospective applicants should note the following,

  • Candidates should write the test at the venue allocated to them
  • Candidates should pay 62 Ghana cedis as examination fee. Purchase banker’s draft at any bank in the name of Director General, GES.
  • Candidates must write their index number at the back of the banker’s draft before entering the examination hall.
  • Candidates must present banker’s draft on the day of the examination.
  • Candidates must report to the examination centre by 7.30am

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A total of 4,590 applicants have been shortlisted from various parts of the country and each of these applicants is supposed to pay GHS 62 to take part in a test conducted by GES. This is not only unfortunate but very ridiculous to say the least. The questions that beg for answers are:

  1. Does GES doubt the qualifications of these applicants who have been shortlisted? If yes, what does this mean to the country’s teacher education programmes run by the universities? If no, what then is the use of the test?
  2. Do corporate institutions take money from prospective applicants before they organize aptitude test for them in their quest to reduce the number of applicants? If no, why is the GES taking money from these prospective applicants before they take part in a test?
  3. What is the guarantee that all those who take part in the test would be appointed by the GES? If there is no guarantee, then why take money from them?
  4. What is the correlation between a prospective applicant’s performance in such a test and his/her ability to teach? The extant literature on teacher effectiveness shows that there is no established relationship between a prospective applicant’s performance in a test and their ability to teach.
  5. What is the use of the 62 Ghana cedis? Examination fee?

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An interaction with some of the applicants indicated that, they are very surprised at the turn of events. To some of these young unemployed graduate teachers, they thought this was an avenue to give each one of them an equal and unbiased chance to get employed by the GES.  However, the prevailing arrangement indicates that, the GES appears to be taking advantage of the unemployed teachers’ desperation to finding a job. It may be an avenue to exploit desperate and innocent unemployed graduate teachers. VIAM Africa equally holds the view that, this action of the GES questions the credibility of certificates awarded by universities such as University of Cape Coast and University of Education (Winneba). Beyond that, there is no guarantee that those who pass the so-called test would be effective teachers consistent with a plethora of empirical evidence. Teacher knowledge has often been found to have limited predictive power over their classroom decisions and behaviour( interested readers may refer to the seminal works of Frank Pajares, Albert Bandura, Isaac Ajzen and Matin Fishbein, Paul Ernest).

We are therefore earnestly urging the Ministry of Education to halt this process as soon as possible. In these hard times that we all find ourselves in, no unemployed graduate should be made to pay any amount in their quest to get employed by a public institution. This seems not only insensitive but also very callous on the part of the GES.

 

Source:

Research Unit

VIAM Africa

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VIAM Urges Government to Account for the Ghc282 Million saved from the Scrapped Teachers’ Allowances

VIAM wishes to commend the government of Ghana for remaining steadfast on its policy decision to abolish allowances for teacher trainees. This is a follow-up to a press release issued on December 22nd, 2015 on scrapping the teacher training allowances. The withdrawal of the allowance has ultimately led to the cancellation of the quota system, thereby increasing enrolment rates from 9000 to 15000. Hitherto, the allowances had created a perverse set of incentives creating an artificial ceiling on student intake. The limitations on student enrolment at the Colleges of Education (CoEs) should be on the basis of available facilities and not quotas.

In our previous publication, we estimated that, the abolishing of the allowance system would help government to save up to Ghc12 million monthly to improve educational infrastructure across the country (see https://tinyurl.com/zpu5gcp , https://tinyurl.com/j5damka). Per this estimate, the introduction of the student loan scheme, which replaced the allowances, and consistent with what pertains in all other tertiary institutions that train teachers, has created the opportunity for Government to save over GHC 280 million over the last two years that would have been paid to teacher trainees.  President John Mahama confirmed this when he addressed a cross section of students of the University of Education, Winneba as part of his ‘Accounting to the People tour’ in the Central region.  In his speech, the President revealed that “government will be able to plough back the Ghc282 million that would have been paid to teacher trainees in expanding education so that we can employ more teachers”. We are happy to see VIAM Africa’s recommendations being implemented. We are however requesting that government states clearly the specific projects that the money will be used for.

Currently, the only major policy intervention at the CoEs appears to be the Transforming Teacher Education and Learning (T-TEL) project funded by the United Kingdom Government through its Department for International Development (DFID) at cost of £17 million over four years (2015-2018). Although this project seeks to reform and improve the teacher education sector, it has limited focus on providing physical infrastructure at the 38 CoEs to meet the demands of tertiary institutions. In addition, Government has absorbed five private CoEs into the public stream which has wide implications for the T-TEL project especially in relation to funding for the five additional CoEs, a position the project’s quarterly report of August 2015 tends to support. A lot of the training colleges, especially those in the Northern region, do not even match up to a standard secondary school. We therefore urge the Government to plough back the Ghc282million accrued from the scrapping of the teacher trainee allowance into infrastructural projects particularly in the 38 CoEs and the five private CoEs it has absorbed into the public stream. To ensure accountability and sustainability, VIAM Africa recommends the setting up of a distinct fund into which the accrued savings can be deposited.  The CoEs can subsequently apply for funding for specific infrastructural projects with view to fostering public interest accountability.

Beyond this, VIAM Africa contends that prospective teachers must be offered the opportunity to live their own life and take responsibility for their action, in order to develop the requisite attitude and values they would need to succeed as leaders of their classrooms. They must be afforded the opportunity to experience the social life that their colleagues in other tertiary institutions and in particular teaching universities enjoy. After all, they have always demonstrated their ability to live independently during their one year off-campus teaching practice. We therefore recommend the provision of hostel facilities and halls of residence instead of the present boarding system as in the case of all tertiary institutions in Ghana. This should also mean that, wearing prescribed school uniforms, taking exeats, responding to school bells, weeding and cleaning compounds, among others, which presently pertain in the CoEs, should be abolished.

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