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SONA 2016: Six Key Issues in Education the President Got Completely Wrong –VIAM Africa.

VIAM Africa

 

In accordance with Article 67 of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana, the President, Mr. John Dramani Mahama, delivered to Parliament a message on the state of the nation on Thursday 25 February, 2016. Following the release of the President’s State of the Nation Address, we have critically examined the paper and highlighted six major issues we think the President could potentially have been misinformed. In each case, we have quoted the President and juxtaposed that with a critical appraisal of available policy documents, the NDC 2012 manifesto, and empirical evidence, and drawn implications on policy and practice. We do not think this is exhaustive of all the issues inherent in the address, but we believe this could be a starting point to engaging in a critical discussion of the President’s speech with the view of enriching the discourse on the state of Ghana’s education.

Issue 1
“Ghana has been commended by the United Nations for meeting the target of the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on achieving universal primary education with gender parity. Despite that achievement, there are still a significant number of school-age children that are not enrolled. These children are now being targeted under the Compulsory Basic Education (CBE) programme of the Ministry of Education. In the last year, a total of 54,800 out of school children in four regions have been enrolled into schools. These are 54,800 children who would not have received an education. These are 54,800 children whose lives will now have much different outcomes as a result of this programme.” (SONA 2016, p 3).

At present, there is no such government programme known as Compulsory Basic Education (CBE) of the Ministry of Education. It would appear that the President was referring to the Complimentary Basic Education (CBE) programme, which seeks to provide learning opportunity to disadvantaged Out-Of-School-Children on how to read and write within a nine-month period so that they could enter primary school at class three or four. The CBE programme has since 1995 been a flagship programme of School for Life (SFL), a non-governmental organisation in the Northern Region. Having recognised its success, demonstrated by significant impacts at the individual, family, and community level, the government decided to replicate the programme nationwide through the Complementary Basic Education Policy with funding from the DFID over a 4-year period (2012-2016) at the cost of some GBP 18 million. One would have thought that the President would cease the occasion to commend SFL for the initiative rather than surreptitiously taking credit for its introduction, especially when SFL appears to hold copyright over some of the CBE teaching and learning materials.

Issue 2
“Secondary education was plagued with a number of challenges, notably lack of access, leading to a poor transition rate from JHS to SHS. We are vigorously confronting these challenges. Under our programme to establish 200 Senior High Schools, I can report that 123 are currently being constructed”. (SONA 26, p. 4)

Firstly, the President was quite vague when he touched on progress being made to establish the promised 200 Community Day Senior High Schools. In a speech delivered in August 2015 at the Agbleza Festival in the Volta Region, the President indicated that work was ongoing on the 123 out of the 200 Senior High Schools.[1] Six months later, he only repeats the same line without providing specific rates of completion and specific locations for these schools unlike his report for other sectors. This does not only leave room for his sincerity to the people to be questioned but also makes his address potentially unreliable. We do know of the availability of funding for only 23 SHS under the World Bank’s $156 million grant facility for the Secondary Education Improvement Programme, but cannot ascertain the source of funding for the remaining 100 SHS. That notwithstanding, we contend that the Government cannot meet its campaign promise of establishing 200 Community Day Senior High Schools before January, 2017. Given that a broken manifesto pledge massively undermines people’s trust in a political party, we urge government to be transparent on the progress of work on the Community Day Senior High Schools.

Secondly, the President appears to narrowly conceptualise access to secondary education as mere provision of infrastructure, without taking account of the broader issues of policy imperatives. In the training colleges for instance, the repeal of the quota system policy extended access from 9,000 to 15,000 according to official figures, a demonstration of expanding access to education through removal of a draconian policy. Agreeably, existing secondary schools have a capacity to absorb only 60% of the students who qualify from Junior High Schools; therefore expanding infrastructure could potentially increase access to secondary education. However, given that the pass rate of BECE is roughly around 60%, only this proportion of students can gain access into secondary education even if there are adequate facilities. That is, the present policy regime imposes barrier on 40% of JHS graduates to proceed to SHS. The government can expand access to secondary education, or increase the transition rate from JHS to SHS by scraping BECE, and establish a six year continuous secondary education system. Although, transition to the secondary school should be automatic, students must write a lower secondary school examination to enable schools place them into different upper secondary school programmes (e.g. academic or technical) at either the same institution, or they may transfer to another institution of their choice. The implication is that, we must redefine basic education to include secondary education in order for us to remain relevant to the present highly competitive global economy.

Issue 3
“In our determination to improve quality education, we have also introduced two new programmes – the Teacher Professional Development Initiative and the Provision of Teaching and Learning Materials programme. The Teacher Professional Development initiative aims to achieve a target of 95% trained teachers at the basic level by 2020 as set out in the Education Strategic Plan (ESP)” (SONA 2016, p5).

The ESP stipulates a target of achieving 95% trained teacher by 2015 as illustrated in page 7 of the document. At the end of the 2015 academic year, the government had missed this target and it would appear that the President wanted to extend the timeline to five more years, or he, probably, might have been misinformed.

Issue 4
To fulfil the policy of providing Colleges of Education in under-served areas and to expand access to teacher training, Government is absorbing into the public stream the following colleges – Saint Ambrose College of Education, Dormaa District, Al-Farak College of Education, Wenchi District – this will become our first ever Islamic College of Education, Gambaga College of Education, East Mamprusi District, St. Vincent College of Education, Yendi Municipality, Bia Lamplighter College of Education, Bia District” (SONA 2016,p.3) .

At Present, training of teachers in the 38 public Colleges of Education (CoEs) has been tied to the GBP 17 million DFID funded project, dubbed Transforming Teacher Education and Learning (T-TEL), at least until 2018. The President acknowledged this in the last paragraph of page 6 of his speech. Therefore attempting to absorb 5 private CoEs into the public stream has wide implications for the T-TEL project especially in relation to funding for the additional COEs, a position the project’s quarterly report of August 2015 tends to support. Regrettably, the 2016 budget highlights this policy but appears to ignore the funding issue, casting doubt on the government’s intentions.

Issues 5
It should be recalled that the government had in its 2012 Manifesto a promise of establishing “at least 10 new Colleges of Education in the medium term to be located in areas not well served currently in anticipation of the increase in student numbers on account of our increased access to education programme” (2012 NDC Manifesto, p. 19). During the last budget statement to Parliament, the Finance Minister stated that “ as part of the pledge to establish 10 new Colleges of Education in areas that are not well served, government absorbed five existing private” (pg 127, para 671), a quotation repeated in the President’s speech (Pg 6, para 3). The question is; how does the absorption of existing private CoEs becomes part of an agenda to establish new Colleges?

Issues 6
Beyond absorbing the five CoEs, the President and his Finance Minister appear uncertain of the number of new CoEs to be constructed in 2016, and have contradicted themselves. Whilst the Finance Minister mentioned that the government in 2016 will “commence the construction of two new Colleges of Education in the Central and the Greater Accra Regions to improve access” (pg 127, para 671), the President also said in his speech that “work will begin on three new Colleges in the Greater Accra, Central and Northern Regions” (SONA 2016, p.6). There is every reason to believe that the government will miss its election promise of constructing 10 new colleges of education.

Conclusion
We have demonstrated several inconsistencies, misinformation and lack of sincerity in many areas of the President’s speech specific to the education sector and urge the government to exercise circumspection and transparency in reporting such matters to the people.

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Poverty Eradication in Ghana: An Unfinished Business

Ernest Armah

 

Storytelling is a powerful tool. We have inspiring stories to tell the world – about how we crushed the six childhood killer diseases, how we kept Ebola away, and gave more girls access to education. These narratives have the potential to erase Western stereotypes and revive the faith of Ghanaians in the country. But we also have to take a step back to reexamine the transformation happening to our story. Because there is a troubling remnant – widening poverty.
The milestones we made in the attainment of the millennium development goals can result in complacency which can trigger inertia and neutralize genuine commitment to the fight against deep, rooted poverty. Notable social protection schemes to tackle poverty in the fourth republic include the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), School Feeding Programme, Livelihood Empowerment against Poverty, capitation grants, Ghana Youth Employment and Entrepreneurial Development, microfinance schemes and emergency management schemes.
Before the 2015 deadline, Ghana eradicated extreme poverty by half in 2006 when the population of the extremely poor dropped from 36.5 percent in 1991 to 18.2 percent. This is insufficient to overshadow the harsh realities of 7.5m Ghanaians who live on GHS 3 daily. And worse still, the 2m Ghanaians still trapped in extreme poverty. Even if we imagine the lives of the poor by virtue of monetary deprivation alone, we will miss out on other crucial aspects of their deprivation.

 

If the Misery of our poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin - Charles Darwin, 1836

If the Misery of our poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin
– Charles Darwin, 1836

 

According to the Centre for Policy Analysis (CEPA), poverty can take the form of the following states of deprivation:
• Material deprivation – lack of income, resources and assets
• Physical weakness – malnutrition, sickness, disability, lack of strength
• Isolation – illiteracy, lack of access to education and resources, peripheral locations, marginalization and discrimination
• Vulnerability – to contingencies which increase poverty (eg. War, climactic changes, seasonal fluctuations, disability)
• Powerlessness – the inability to avoid poverty or change the situation
The ramifications of material deprivation is clear. Poor parents cannot afford fees of their wards. Poor farmers cannot attract loans to acquire sophisticated farm implements to increase yield. Powerlessness coupled with vulnerability to all manner of risks conflates into a state of helplessness. Eventually, these people have to fall on government for the desired leg up. But then they end up becoming the needed capital for white elephant projects. And often benefit less from programs which seek to ameliorate their plight and offer the necessary springboard to a better life. Despite several poverty mitigation measures, poverty still remains a sweeping phenomenon in the three Northern regions where the incidence of poverty is quite acute.

Source: Ghana Millennium Development Goals 2015 Report

Source: Ghana Millennium Development Goals 2015 Report

 

But it might be argued that the poor are also to blame. They are scattered under Ghana’s informal sector which comprises 85 percent of the country’s workforce. This sector is invisible to the government and difficult to tax. The downside of this invisibility is forfeiture of social protection benefits. So should it remain like this?
Of course not. Though not captured in the formal, government-led social protection schemes, these poor people rely on a certain form of protection largely traditional such as family and church safety nets. The Ministry of Children, Gender and Social Protection has to take steps to collaborate with theses informal groups at the grassroot level especially in the rural communities and build the capacity of staff at these places to coordinate programs. This is essential for data gathering and proper targeting purposes.
Also what is the connection between the various social protection programs? In a paper to research the linkages between social protection and children’s care in Ghana , the Center for Social Policy observed that “non-biological children in particular are likely to be disadvantaged in comparison to their biological peers and household members. Although LEAP is not a cause for the creation of such inequities, the additional resources made available within the household can reinstate and compound existing differential treatments”.
The poor shall always be with us. But the poverty in our part of the world is an insult to the intellect of our leadership and suggests institutional paralysis or perhaps indifference. The sustainable development goals prioritizes poverty elimination in all its forms. This is clearly a global effort we can take advantage of to boost and intensify the fight against poverty in the country. In so doing, we should be more conscious about bringing dignity and better living standards to the millions of Ghanaians in abject deprivation than meeting indicators that will make us look good in the eyes of the international community.

 

Ernest Armah is the Programmes Manager of VIAM Africa.

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Government Touts Achievements in Education, but the Attributions are Misleading

Prince Armah, PhD.

 

The Deputy Minister for Communication, Mr. Felix Kwakye Ofosu, writes on his Facebook wall, sharing two pictures:

“The two pictures below on pages 6,7and 8 sum up the progress made so far. The first picture shows a table which compares figures in the sector between the 2008/2009 Academic year and the 2014/2015 Academic year. It shows that the number of educational institutions for all levels has increased from 45,447 in 2008/2009 to 57,270 in 2014/2015 representing an increase of 11,823 or 26.01%.Total enrolment from the Basic to Tertiary level has increased from 7,038,738 to 8,891,892 representing an increase of 1,853,154 or 26.33%.This means that roughly 36% of our population is in school. It also means that access has been created for an additional 1,853,154 students. The second picture shows the Community day senior high school at Ekumfi Otuam”
For someone who often uses figures from the Ministry of Education’s EMIS data, it would be pretty difficult for me to dispute these figures, especially when I have no other means to falsify them. In general, I absolutely agree with the Deputy Minister for Communication on this monumental achievement in expanding access to education, particularly at the basic education level. However, it has to be said forcefully that there has been colossal donor funding and other credit facilities towards access, equity and quality of education compared to the NPP era in respect of meeting the targets for universal basic education (Millennium Development Goal 2) by the end of 2015. And now that we are in the period of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), more funding is expected to be made available to the education sector soon to facilitate the SDG 4 imperatives (i.e. improving learning outcomes). In other words, the quantum of funding in the education sector from 2008 remains unprecedented, especially post 2010. At all material times in Ghana’s development agenda, a large chunk of funding for education projects has come from DFID, USAID, and The World Bank, and other international development partners but it appears that this government has benefited the most.

As we speak, there is the Secondary Education Improvement Project (SEIP) to increase access to senior secondary education in underserved districts, being funded by The World Bank at the cost of US$ 156.00 million (read more https://tinyurl.com/h4plbg7); there is the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) project to improve equity, access, and quality in 57 deprived districts being funded by the GPE at the cost of US$ 75.5 million, the highest ever awarded to Ghana since it joined the partnership in 2004 ( read more https://tinyurl.com/hwzpdfd); there is the Complementary Basic Education (CBE) Programme being funded by the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) in collaboration with US Agency for International Development (USAID) with the view to addressing access to education in some of the deprived communities. The DFID and USAID have made available € 18 million and $16million respectively towards this project (read morehttps://tinyurl.com/gpbtpgb). There is also the Partnership for Education: Learning Project being funded by USAID as its flagship programme to improve and sustain learning outcomes, costing $71 million (read more >>https://tinyurl.com/z7pvm6o). There are several other projects ongoing such as the T-TEL to improve pre service teacher education being funded by the DFID at the cost of more than £17 million (read morehttps://tinyurl.com/j5vhrgz). These projects, among other similar ones such as the Ghana Education for All Fast Track Initiative, have helped increased access, effectively contributing to the figures the Minister is happily quoting. In fact, 23 of the government’s Community Day Senior High School (GCDSHS) project are being funded under the World Bank’s SEIP mentioned earlier.

So in touting the government’s achievement and juxtaposing it with what the erstwhile NPP government did, it would have been helpful if the Honourable Minister had included the cost and funding sources. In this way, one could be able to evaluate how well these two governments have done in this critical sector of the economy. In particular, we could judge which of them has efficiently used the resources at their disposal, thereby enriching the debate and shaping public opinion in sincerity and honesty. It is however critical to point out that, the ultimate impact of these initiatives on improving learning outcomes, particularly at the basic schools, in both international and national examinations, still remains unsatisfactory. For instance, the National Education Assessment (NEA) which is used as a measure of quality at the basic level has always indicated a poor performance at both P3 and P6. More importantly, a large proportion of students drop out before reaching the basic education certificate exam (BECE) and about one-half of those taking BECE do not successfully pass the exam.

 

Dr. Prince Armah is the founder and Executive Director of VIAM Africa.

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Stop English from obstructing Ghanaian children learning

Prince Armah, PhD.

 

An online report published on www.myjoyonline.com regarding the language policy for Mauritius education system has reinvigorated the need to stop language from obstructing children learning in Ghana (see “Mauritius: Complex education; speak Creole, read English and learn in French”, 01/09/2015). In this article, I attempt to highlight some of the implementation setbacks to the current language policy for schools, specific to the mathematics curriculum.

Although Ghana has not yet developed any national language apart from English, the official medium of instruction in the primary school, particularly the lower ages, is the children’s first language (i.e. mother tongue). Given that there are no readily available words in most Ghanaian languages for many mathematical terms and symbols, teachers have been advised to blend the English and local languages when teaching, consistent with what pertains in other countries (such as South Africa and India).

In this situation, they can use a language that will facilitate the development and acquisition of mathematical concepts and subsequently exposed children to the mathematical ideas fully in English at later years. Consistent with this assumption, the upper primary curriculum makes specific recommendations that encourage children to express and articulate their explanations, thinking and reasoning in English so that their mathematical communication skills may be developed and strengthened.

However, in practice, many public or private schools in Ghana exclusively use English languages for teaching, including at early grades due to a number of impeding factors to implementation fidelity (the degree to which a policy is delivered as planned). Given the great multiplicity of Ghanaian languages, the most obvious of these factors is how to provide for a class of children with diverse home languages as is increasingly the case in both urban and rural school settings.

Most children, from birth, often speak one or more of the 78 or so local languages at home, their community, and even at the playground, with limited exposure to English until they enter school. Yet, once at school they are expected not only to understand what their teachers are teaching them in a language that they do not understand, but perhaps more importantly learn to read and write in this language including learning mathematics. The consequence is that they will learn to copy and often memories the words and numbers, but won’t understand them and can’t apply them meaningfully. Under such circumstances, many children might usually drop out of school entirely, while others might even fail their examinations and/or spend years repeating classes. This has a huge implication for developing the critical mass of young people with the requisite attitudes and skills to contribute to national development.

Indeed there are situations in which the mother tongue of a child is different from the local language being used as the medium of instruction in the school. This can be quite complex and challenging for classroom teachers particularly during instructional sessions. It would appear that children transferred from one local area to another might have to learn different Ghanaian languages at different times in their schooling, which seem very unsustainable in the long-term. The same can be said of teachers too, each time they are transferred to other locations, they must endeavour to understand the local language in the area to be able to implement the local language policy to the latter.

This has the tendency of breeding teachers who have limited ability to communicate in the local language of their posted schools, undermining the developmental rationale of the language policy. For instance, evidence from a limited literacy intervention programme in Ghana (such as the National Literacy Acceleration Program) suggests that there are unacceptably high percentages of teachers in lower primary classrooms who are unable to read or write the local language to be used for instruction in the schools, whether in public or private schools. This therefore calls for a coordinated literacy intervention programme to help teachers overcome these instructional impediments. In my own PhD thesis, I found this language problem as a big deal for teacher’s instructional decisions particularly in relation to adopting learner-centred teaching approaches.

A large body of studies have suggested that such, inappropriate use of school language works against efforts to strengthen the quality of education, thereby wasting limited resources. However, in light of the fact that there are major ethnic and politics differences associated with each of the local languages written and spoken in Ghana, it might not be advisable to recommend an adoption of one national local language as a medium of instruction in schools. The fundamental issue that need to drive this language policy discussion must emphasize the need for flexibility in the choice of language for instruction to ensure that either language (Ghanaian language or English) does not obstruct children from learning mathematics.

 

Dr. Prince Armah is the founder and Executive Director of VIAM Africa.

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Re: Over 300,000 Day Students to benefit from free SHS policy

Prince Armah, PhD.

 

The Ghana Education Service (GES) has revealed that only about 60 percent of students who write the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) make it into Senior High Schools (SHS). Beyond that, figures from WAEC suggest that over 1.6 million students have failed the BECE over the past decade. So where are those who the system ‘failed?’ In addressing this problem of access to secondary education, the Government has introduced a progressively Free SHS Policy starting this 2015/2016 academic year. According to the Government, “the need to make SHS progressively free was to help vulnerable groups by removing financial barriers and improving access to SHS and addressing inequalities in opportunities to transition from JHS to SHS” (Daily Graphic, 28/08/2014).

As I have mentioned in earlier publications, the solution to access to secondary education does not lie in paying fees of day students or boarders as the government proposes. Instead of paying the fees of 313,000 senior high school (SHS) day students under the so-called progressively free SHS policy, invest the earmarked budget of GHC 42.7million in the provision of the teaching and learning resources/items that goes into the price build of school fees.
The schools are charging parents levies that the state ought to bear. By this approach you will address inequity issues that the current policy imposes in respect of providing support for only day students. If more parents decide in 2016/2017 academic year to withdraw their children from the boarding houses to qualify for this intervention, what happens? How would the government fund that?

In the medium to long term, the government (the current or any future one) should endeavour to scrap the BECE in favour of a 6- years secondary education (S1-S6).

At the end of S3, students choose which subjects they wish to specialise from S4-S6. At this point, they could write WEAC accredited exams to guide student placement. In other words, merge JHS and SHS as the objective of the JHS concept has even failed. All we need to do is to look for a cluster of JHS around a particular SHS and merge them under one management and administration, which could improve efficiency in the education service delivery.
Free SHS is not the panacea to an improved access to and quality of secondary education. Having read the government’s Secondary Education Improvement Programme (SEIP) policy document, I remain convinced that the underlying problems of secondary education are not being addressed properly and our nemesis is far from over.

It is the life and health of our future as a nation state we talking about here!

 

Dr. Prince Armah is the founder and Executive Director of VIAM Africa.

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Ghana Must Urgently Reform Its School System To Improve Quality and Equity

Prince Armah, PhD.

 

When I read the BBC news around 2.00am Thursday concerning Ghana’s bottom spot on the OECD’s global school rankings, I was not quite surprised. Perhaps, I am used to the outcome of such international rankings including TIMSS, PISA, PIRLS, EIU and so on. In all these international rankings, the top five spots have been largely occupied by Asian countries, and sometime one European country represented by Finland. Where Ghana took part in these international assessments, specifically TIMMS, we have often trailed. However, I have previously critiqued the results of these rankings particularly because several contextual factors are largely ignored and my position has not changed. For instance consider a sample TIMSS problem: “How will you use 3-litre and 7-litre containers to obtain 5 litres of water from a well?” Our pupils would have linguistic difficulty in respect of the concept of litres, because we are used to measuring liquids including water in gallons. Consistent with my 3-year research work in mathematical problem solving, using indigenous language could help pupils’ performance better on such tasks in TIMSS.

Nevertheless, some of these international rankings provide good insights into tracking the impact of reforms and informing curriculum improvements. In Australia, Scotland, Singapore and I believe a number of other developed countries, findings from these international comparative studies have occasioned major reform agendas. In Scotland for example, the results from two major surveys including TIMSS in 1997 led to significant reforms by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Education, local authorities and schools to improve pupils’ mathematics performance.

Pupil tracking was one of many interventions arising out of the TIMSS report. This involved tracking pupils performance in every assessment so that patterns established thereof can be used to predict future performance of other similar groups. In the case of Australia and Singapore, they totally overhauled their mathematics and science curriculum and made problem- solving as its central focus. Similarly, Finland has used results from TIMSS, PIRLS and PISA to mount progressive education programmes that has seen many countries including United Kingdom traveling to Finland to learn their success story.

Consequently, as long as these international studies emphasise problem solving, these countries would always be ahead of us, unless considerable change in our curriculum is invoked. However, it is still unclear whether decisions based on Ghana’s TIMSS results have had a positive impact on students’ achievement levels. Disturbingly, Ghana will not participate in the 2016 TIMSS programme since previous funding from World Bank is no longer available. This is why we need to carefully study the full report published today by Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

As you may be aware, the OECD’s study compared the results of mathematics and science tests among 15-year-olds around the world including countries in Africa and Latin America. Although, education in Ghana goes beyond Mathematics and Science which formed the basis of the conclusion of OECD’s reports, the study appears to be quite insightful. What makes the findings interesting is the attempt to connect education and economic growth to explore the long-term economic gains from improved quality in schooling for participating countries. I found that quite intriguing and innovative. It estimates that Ghana’s GDP could grow up to 3,881% if all 15 year olds achieved at least basic level of education.

The implication is that our current GDP could balloon up to 38 folds if we achieved basic skills for all our 15-year-olds, over the lifetime of today’s children. These findings have demonstrated that education system performance transformation and institutional improvement are not esoteric; they are within Ghana’s reach. In an interview with BBC, Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s education director, contended that, “If you go to an Asian classroom you’ll find teachers who expect every student to succeed.

There’s a lot of rigour, a lot of focus and coherence”. Mr Schleicher’s contention is consistent with several years of empirical findings that, failure to put teachers at the centre of any reform agenda is a recipe for implementation disaster. The most instructive aspect of this study is the finding that the top performer, Singapore, had high levels of illiteracy and low quality of education in the 1960s perhaps than Ghana. Indeed when Singapore became independent in 1965, it was a poor, small (about 700 km2 ), tropical island with few natural resources, little fresh water, rapid population growth, substandard housing and recurring conflict among the ethnic and religious groups that made up its population. During that period, there was no compulsory education and only a small number of high school and college graduates and skilled workers compared to Ghana. In just one generation, Singapore is a shiny global hub of trade, finance and transportation and a beacon of hope for Ghana, its compatriot.

We have largely failed to improve our school system despite several reform agendas in recent years. A more ambitious, national reform strategy is now urgently needed to improve quality and equity in our education, which I have previously written about copiously. Importantly, a comprehensive education reform is required to restore the country’s system to its previous glorious standards and even better. This include a range of measures such as higher salaries, better training, and tougher entry requirements for the teaching profession; more centralised efforts to integrate nonprofessional teachers into the system; and a more active approach to improving performance from the National Inspectorate Board. Similar measures have been prescribed for Sweden whose education standard is in its all time low.

The rest include scrapping BECE and merging JHS and SHS for a 6-years Continuous Secondary Education with 7 years primary schooling. Others include insulating the proposed National Teaching Council from the Ghana Education Service and any other governmental influence with a mandate to regulate all activities and programmes of Teacher Education Institutions in Ghana; withdrawing from the WAEC treaty and setting up an independent National Credit and Qualification Authority for that purpose with additional responsibility to design and manage a National Qualification Framework; and of course a complete overhaul of our national curriculum. Finally, we must completely devolve our education system at the local authority level by allowing them to run and manage the schools as prescribed by the Local Government Act( ACT4362). These reforms could be undertaken with timelines spanning a period of 10-15 years under a specific legal framework that bind successive governments to continue its implementation.

 

Dr. Prince Armah is the founder and Executive Director of VIAM Africa.

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58 Years of British Colonial Education System in Ghana: Structural Challenges and the Way Forward

Prince Armah, PhD.

 

This paper is a continuation of my series of education policy suggestions as we prepare for Ghana’s 58 independence anniversary on 6th March, 2015. Read the previous article here >> https://tinyurl.com/lf385jf
In the previous publication, I highlighted some of the structural weaknesses of Ghana’s education model and offered suggestions about a structural reform, capable of delivering quality lifelong learning to all citizens. I argued that the current education system in Ghana has been characterized by three key features namely disjointed curriculum strands, lack of access or unequal access to education and lifelong learning at all levels of the system and a weak and incoherent administrative control within the education system, particularly at the district levels. In this paper I turn my attention on the need for an integrated education and lifelong learning policy.

In my considered opinion, the lack of integration of education and lifelong learning has contributed significantly to the situation where most of our people are undereducated, under skilled, and underprepared for full participation in social, economic and civic life. Most of the unemployed lack the basic education on which to build, and many of those in work are locked into low skilled and low paying jobs. A vast proportion of students leaving the school system, either before or after completing the final year, do so largely unprepared for the rest of their lives. In order to begin addressing this legacy, urgent attention should be given to the development of a National Credit and Qualifications Framework (NCQF) through which a much closer integration of education and life Long Learning can be achieved. The need to emphasize Lifelong Learning provided a distinctive opportunity to recognize and highlight the learning that takes place everywhere including the work place, often informally, to encourage employee learning.
The NCQF could be Ghana’s Lifelong Learning Framework. This nationally integrated system will link one level of learning to another and enable learners to progress to higher levels from any starting point in the education and lifelong learning system. Learning and skills which people have acquired through experience and informal training should be formally assessed and credited towards qualifications. The NCQF 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. Through this Framework people of all ages and circumstances can get access to appropriate education and training so they can meet their full potential. As in the case of the United Kingdom, a NCQF can also provide an extremely important way of recognizing ‘outcome-based learning’ (learning that is related to things that a person can do) and ‘quality assured learning’ (learning that has been assessed and checked by someone else) in a wide range of settings (for example, learning in the workplace). It is therefore suggested that the present National Technical and Vocational Education and Training Qualifications Framework. (NTVETQF) be reviewed and integrated into the proposed NCQF. The establishment of a national Ghana Examination and Qualification Authority (GEQA) should be a priority to underpin and develop the progressive integration and qualitative improvement of the education and lifelong learning systems.
Qualifications at the secondary school and post-secondary (further education) level could be provided by the Ghana Examination and Qualifications Authority, which would be the national awarding and accrediting body in Ghana, and delivered through various schools, colleges and other learning centres. The intention is to bring logic to the various post-compulsory education qualifications which are offered by various providers. Almost all school candidates should gain GEQA qualifications in the fourth year of secondary school, and the great majority obtains further qualifications in fifth or sixth year or in further education colleges. By implication, Ghana could withdraw from the 60 years WAEC Convention since its examination has largely not reflected the unique needs and identity of the Ghanaian society. Every country chooses, at any stage of nationhood, what development agenda to pursue which is then aligned with the kind of education its citizenry experience. Grouping five sovereign countries as homogeneous entity to write the same examination both in content and form is very questionable. If a relatively small country like Scotland has a distinctly different education system from the rest of the United Kingdom, why must Ghana tie its educational aspirations with that of Nigeria, The Gambia, Sierra Leon or Liberia? In any case, the Nigeria students, for example, have opportunity to choose between WAEC and NECO. The National Examinations Council (NECO) is an examination body in Nigeria that conducts the Senior Secondary Certificate Examination. It was established in April 1999 by then Head of State Abdulsalami Abubakar to deny WAEC the exclusive right to conduct examinations in Nigeria. Several empirical studies have acknowledged the reliability and validly of NECO’s exams, suggesting the capacity of individual countries to have their own independent examination body. As I have argued before, the Ghana office of WAEC, if possible, can simply be converted into the office the Ghana Examination and Qualification Authority (GEQA) whilst the staff could be maintained and retrained for a for their new role.

 

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

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58 Years of British Colonial Education System in Ghana: Structural Challenges and the Way Forward(I)

Prince Armah, PhD.

 

Ghana’s education system has undergone many transitions dating back the colonial and post independent eras of our history. To save time and space, I consider the major changes that have occurred since the late 1980’s with emphasis on the pre-tertiary level of education (see Akyeampong, K. (2010). 50 years of educational progress and challenge in Ghana). Following the 1987 National Educational Reform Program (NERP), a new structure and content of education for Ghana became operational with initial focus on the implementation of the Junior Secondary School (JSS) programme. The policy decision on the new structure was based on the then PNDC Government’s White Paper entitled The New Structure and Content of Education. Under the new structure, the 6-3-3-4 system was adopted. The new system which sought to increase access, improve community participation and ultimately enhance the quality of education comprised 6 years of primary education, 3 years of junior secondary education, 3 years of senior secondary education and a minimum of 4 years of tertiary education. This culminated in the reduction of the age at which many pupils write the University level qualifying examination from 23 to 18 years. The six years of primary-school and three years of junior secondary-school education constitute the basic education level which is supposed to be compulsory and free for every Ghanaian child of school-going age. However after nearly two decades of its implementation, it became clear that the reform had failed to achieve quality targets, thrown many young people out of school and exposed the education sector to public ridicule and opprobrium.

The New Patriotic Party Government after assuming office in 2001 reinvigorated earlier efforts to expand access in education, improve education quality and streamline education management and in particular meet the UN’s Education for All (EFA) agenda relative to the Dakar Framework of 2000. Although improvement were evident in several areas particularly the rapid expansion of infrastructure at all levels; increased gross enrolment and teacher-pupil ratios; the introduction of the School Feeding Programme; Capitation Grant; and free Metro Bus ride for children in basic school, the fundamental structure of Ghana’s education system remained largely unchanged. Little structural reforms were however observed at the pre-tertiary level where basic education was redefined to include 2 years of kindergarten, whilst the senior secondary school was renamed and extended to four years, following Anamuah-Mensah’s committee work. Teacher training colleges were also upgraded into diploma awarding institutions. In 2009, the NDC Government which took power in the 2008 general election reverted the four year SHS duration to its original three years, although a stake holders’ forum on the SHS duration ended inconclusively. Nevertheless, these changes appear cosmetic as it has largely failed to address many critical issues, particularly, of access, retention and success at the basic and secondary schools and lifelong learning generally.

For many years, attempts have been made to understand the underlying causes of this phenomenon. Findings have been very common, revolving around lack of infrastructure and teaching and learning materials, inadequate instructional time, overcrowded curriculum, teacher pedagogical content knowledge and lack of in-service training opportunities, among others. In recent time however, official reports have identified a particular concern regarding the obsolete and immutable structure of the education system. I remain convinced, therefore, that a better and more effective ways to educate our people than the current school model is needed in order to reverse the downward trend in the quality of education. In this article and the subsequent ones to follow, I highlight some of the structural weaknesses of Ghana’s education model and offer a vision for a structural reform, capable of delivering quality lifelong learning to all citizens. I start by arguing that the current education system in Ghana has been characterized by three key features as suggested by international evidences. First, the system is fragmented along academic disciplines and levels, with overcrowded curriculum. With no systematic attempt to harmonize all the different subject-oriented curriculum strands, the Government’s approach is to merely reduce the number of subjects, particularly, at the primary schools. Whilst this is laudable in terms of realigning the thematic areas of students’ experiences and outcomes, the absence of a composite National Curriculum has largely occasioned a lack of clarity and focus about the key principles and concepts underpinning the education system in Ghana. This raises important questions about what the underlying values, purposes and principles of the Ghanaian education system are and how these fit into a broader National Development framework. The Anamuah-Mensah’s committee recommendations have been overly cherry-picked and largely misapplied in this regard. To address this fundamental problem, there is the need to develop a National Curriculum (3-19 years) that brings under one roof early years, primary education and secondary schooling and post-compulsory education, tied up to a National Credit and Qualification Framework (NCQF). Details of these are discussed in the subsequent article some of which can be found in my previous publications.

Second, there is lack of access or unequal access to education and lifelong learning at all levels of the system. Vast disparities exist between rural and urban provision and large numbers of people, in particular, adults, out-of-school youth and children of pre-school age, have little or no access to education and lifelong learning. The Government has since 2009 generally missed its own targets in respect of improving equitable access to and participation in quality education at all levels and would not likely meet those set for 2015 as well, in spite of narrowly defining its policy objectives and key indicators. More disturbing is the worrying trends at the basic education front where huge chunk (over 40%) of students who sit the BECE ‘fail’ each year. The mass failure of BECE which obstruct access to secondary education has been largely occasioned by the application of the widely criticized Stanine Systems employed by the West Africa Examination Council (WAEC). Given the current conceptualization of 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, it is questionable to categorize and label any student as ‘Fail’. Is it the students who have failed to attain the basic education, which is their right? The answer rest in the fact that the education system has rather failed to provide adequate opportunities for them to attain this basic right. In other words, the problem lies with the exam, not the pupils. A particularly concern in this respect, and in the broader context of post-compulsory education provision is the huge section of young peoples of 16-20 years old or more Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET). Although, accurate data on this segment of the population remain largely sparse, it is conservatively estimated that the NEET proportion in Ghana is roughly 40% of this population. To meet the challenges of the 21st century and fully-fledged middle income society, access to education must embrace the concept of Lifelong Learning, defined as the overall learning activities undertaking by the Ghanaian population from age 16 onward. By Lifelong Learning, I also mean the whole range of learning: formal and informal learning, work place learning and the skills, attitudes and behaviour that people acquire in the day-to-day experiences. Such definition seems broadly consistent with academic conceptualization of the learning society.

Third, there is a weak and incoherent administrative control within the education system, particularly at the district levels, although both the education act and the local governments act mandate the district assemblies to provide and manage schools under their jurisdictions. The government policy of decentralizing education management as captured in its education strategic plan (2010-2020) is inadequate and incoherent particularly the proposed coordinating role of the Ghana Education Service. The organizational structure itself appears clumsy and unclear, which potentially could affect the implementation process. I remain convinced that the Ghana Education Service should be completely scrapped and staff redeployed to the Ministry of Education and the Local Education Authorities within the district Assemblies. Alternatively, their role should be redefined to allow the local authorities autonomy to manage schools as enshrined in the local governments act (Act 462). In other words, a complete devolution of education planning, provision, management and delivery is suggested instead.

In conclusion, these three major factors, inter alia, have had profound effects on Ghana in relation to nation building and socio economic development. It has resulted in the deterioration, distortion or neglect of the human potential of our country, with devastating consequences for social and economic development. The latter is evident in the lack of skilled and trained labour and the adverse effects of this on productivity and the international competitiveness of the economy. For instance the high stake-examinations such as BECE and WASSCE have destroyed the culture of learning for understanding and promoted rote memorization within large sections of our school population, leading to production of students who lack critical thinking and problem solving skills as evident by several international reports. The challenge that we face as we work towards a full middle income society is to create an education and lifelong system that will ensure that the human resources and potential in our society are developed to the full. It is a challenge which we can only meet collectively and in a partnership with all sectors of the Ghanaian society.

The policy proposals I have advanced or intend to advance further are wide- ranging in their scope and profound in their implications, presenting a vast and complex challenge for structural reforms of the Ghanaian education system. In my next articles, I attempt to expatiate each of these challenges identified, its implications on our national development agenda and suggest pragmatic policy solutions to address them. But I must admit that it will take more than these articles to achieve the ultimate goal of reforms and that much stronger advocacy strategies would need to be adopted.

 

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

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Scrapping High-Stakes BECE: A Leap Towards Transforming How Ghanaian Students Learn.

Prince Armah, PhD.

 

“It is recognized that the type of assessment employed by the system dictate the type of pedagogy used by the teachers”

(Anamuah-Mensah committee report, 2002, p. 28)
In recent times, the awareness, concerns and debates regarding the best way forward for the ailing Ghanaian education system have reinvigorated. This is indicative of how passionate we feel about the dropping standards of the quality of education in the country. It is pretty obvious that, the current weakness of our education system and its concomitant joblessness is a source of worry and concern to all.
Personally, I feel encouraged by the widest coverage accorded to my recent proposals on the need for a structural reform of the education system and the ensued discussions in the media. I have monitored discussion closely the passion, candour and alacrity with which people have shared their thought on the need to scrap the BECE. We’ve got only one objective for this crusade which is to transform the way students are taught and get assessed in Ghana.
My previous article outlined various structural education reforms needed to improve our education system. For I believe these reforms, when properly executed, are crucial to our future, and to a new economy that allows Ghana to compete with the rest of the world. In that paper, I shared similar sentiments by prominent people of our society regarding the overloaded Ghanaian curriculum. This is because, not only are our students required to study broad array of subjects, but also the depth of topics in each subject area is too deep and loaded with relatively limited instructional time. I reiterate the widely held notion that “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”.
Evidence in support of this theoretical position abounds. For instance, a recent study reports that high school students who study fewer science topics, but study them in greater depth have advantage in college science class over their peers who study more topics and spend less time on each (Science Daily March 10, 2009). My considered opinion is that there are certain fundamental concepts that are more important or beneficial to master than others and that spending focused time, at the expense of covering many other topics, is a far more productive venture.
It is therefore heartwarming to learn that, the Ministry of Education has considered the proposal to reduce the number of subjects studied at basic schools to not more than five subjects as reported by Deputy Minister Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa. What remains outstanding is how the transition into a “depth-oriented” curriculum would be managed. This could be a subject for discussion sometime later. But for now, I intend to reinvigorate the advocacy for the scrapping of the current Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) by providing more compelling reasons to do so.
First of all, if the Ministry of Education subscribe to the popular depth-of-study philosophy of curriculum coverage, then we’ve got to address the twin issue of assessment. Assessment issues are as important as all other ingredients that come with quality education. This is because it the only medium to measure and evaluate educational experiences and outcomes. Generally speaking, assessment may be categorized as having two main purposes, which in some cases could be combined in the same assessment process: assessment to support learning (assessment for formative purposes) and assessment of learning outcomes (assessment for summative purposes). The latter is the nature of the high–stakes BECE and WASSCE which are used to established students eligibility to progress to the next level of the educational ladder.
Whether an assessment is for formative or summative purpose, the result may be evaluated by measuring a candidate’s performance against their peers who sat the same test (i.e. norm-referenced) or against a pre-defined criteria/standard (i.e. criterion-referenced). WASSCE is an example of a criterion- referencing as grade A1 and F9 is awarded to students who obtain 75% – 100% and 0% – 44% in a particular subject in the exams, respectively. The grade boundaries have descriptors which indicate the meaning of each grade such that 75% and above may be considered “Excellent”.
Therefore, it is theoretically possible for all students within a particular cohort to receive A1 (or F9) grades depending solely on the levels of individuals’ performances against these established criteria. Particularly, criterion-referencing is transparent for students, and the grades derived are defensible in reasonably objective terms. By this system, a student must make a specified score to earn the appropriate grade. This system of grading challenges students to study harder to earn better grades. Our tertiary institutions largely use this grading system to calculate our GPAs/CGPAs. Criterion referencing is also the current policy direction of the Ghanaian education system from primary 1to SHS3. When you find your child, brother, sister or any relative with say grade B in their examination results, it’s an example of a criterion referencing.
In contrast, BECE is of norm-reference nature and is designed to compare and rank students in relation to one another. What BECE does is to report whether our students performed better or worse than a hypothetical average student using a Stanine grading system. The word “Stanine” is short for “standard nine” and it represents standardized grading system that transforms raw scores into single digit scores ranging from 1 to 9 with a mean of 5 and a standard deviation of 2. This is how it works. When our ninthgrade (JHS3) students write BECE, we define a priori how many should pass or fail as well as set the number of students who should be described as average or above students. The objective is to model-fit the raw data to achieve a normal distribution of the results as shown in the figure below. In simple terms, what WAEC does is to arrange all the raw scores of the students who sat an exams, say mathematics, from the highest to the lowest.
The number of students who obtained each score (i.e. frequency)are used to rank these raw scores from 1 to 9(see figure below). The upper 4 percent receive a score of 1, the next 7 percent get a 2, the next 12 percent get a 3, the next 17 percent get a 4, and the next 20 percent get a 5. Then, follow the ratios downward as you move downward from 5: the next 17 percent get a 6, the next 12 percent get a 7, the next 7 percent get an 8, and the bottom 4 percent receive a 9.In other words, the Highest (4%) = Stanine1; Above average (19%) = Stanine 2 (7%) and 3 (12%); Average (54%) = Stanine 4(17%), 5(20%) and 6(17%); Below average (19%) = Stanine 7 (12%) and 8 (7%); Lowest (4%) = Stanine.
Figure 1 Distribution scores which fall into each of the Stanine
Consequently, irrespective of how all students perform at BECE, 4% of them would obtain 9 (complete fail) with certainty. In another way, no matter how poor students perform at BECE, 4% of them would still get aggregate 1(Excellent pass). Theoretically, a student may score 40% in BECE mathematics and obtain grade 1 because such score may be among the best when compared to that of the student’s peers in that exams.
It is equally possible for a student who scored55% at BECE mathematics to obtain grade 9(fail) because that year they had high scores. Form the diagram above; we note that only 60% of the candidates can obtain Grades 1 – 5 in every subject which is usually the minimum competency.

This is fixed and unchangeable! Thus, irrespective of the highest mark or lowest mark in a subject, this percentage pass would be obtained yearly which affects the set qualification for placement in senior high schools. No doubt that over 40% of students fails to enter senior high school, not because of lack of vacancies. More worrying is the fact that, these students have limited alternative avenues for further development and progression, particularly into technical and vocational education training.
Obviously the current BECE does not properly reflect students’ actual achievements and have seemingly failed to provide opportunities for students to develop their interest, aptitude and potentials. Particularly because, relying on relative performance results is inaccurate, unhelpful, and unfair, especially when making important educational decisions for students such as their senior secondary education. In a previously published article, Professor Kofi Mereku who was part of the 6-member BECE Grading System Committee vehemently challenged the validity of the BECE Stanine system and recommended both criterion-referenced testing and grading system instead.
Professor Anamuah-Mensah’s committee report also observed that “the Stanine system of grading in BECE currently being used is plagued with technical and operational difficulties, which render it ineffective as a measure of students’ ability level and as a means of monitoring progress”. Several other notable persons have expressed similar concerns. Besides, since the policy direction is to use the BECE to test minimum competencies of the JHS leaver; it cannot at the same time be potent in determining students’ next level of academic pursuits. At best, it can help differentiate students and identify those who may have specific educational needs or deficits that require specialized attention, especially in the classroom settings. These reasons, in my candid opinion, are compelling enough to cancel BECE.
Significantly, the BECE has not seen any comprehensive evaluation since its inception some 24 year ago. In a recent interview on Citi FM Breakfast Show, the Acting Director of the GES, Charles AhetoTsegah, revealed that “the Ghana Education Service has rather looked at the performance of candidates and the outcome of the examination.” I suggest to the GES that, the evaluation cannot be done comprehensively if we are unable to compare results of this year’s cohorts of JHS students to that of last year.
For these reasons, various stakeholders including the Ghana National Education Campaign Coalition have also called on government to put up a committee to review the BECE education system. Regrettably, the BECE certificate has been rendered useless over time as it cannot be used for anything aside placement into second cycle schools. Indeed, the JHS system including the BECE certificates issued thereof are not serving its original purpose.
My position is simple and practical. We must completely scrap the BECE system in favour of a continuous secondary education where after primary 6, students sit for an entrance examination for admission into a 6- year secondary education.

 

Such a system would redefine our current conceptualization of basic education in Ghana and provide a strong platform to leapfrog the chasm that the current system has created. We don’t need rocket scientists to help us on how the numerous secondary schools in Ghana, both JHS and SHS, could be structured to accommodate students from Secondary 1 to 6.But I do acknowledge that, change is difficult to be effected by those who are unwilling to embrace it!

 

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

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