Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Education: A total failure?
· JOHN ATTA-QUAYSON, a former Acting Director-General of the Ghana Education Service, reminisces on our educational system from the colonial era to date.
OVER the past years and presently, the failure of Ghana’s Educational System to satisfy the aspirations of its graduates and to serve the manpower needs of the country for meaningful economic growth has been evident.
This failure has commonly been conceived as stemming from a system which was originally fashioned to serve a specific purpose, but for which no appropriate measures were taken to ensure that it had the capacity to adapt to changing situations and new circumstances.
It has often been assumed that the large number of unemployed youths (JSS, SSS, and Technical / Vocational School leavers) and more recently university graduates is due to the failure of the educational system to fulfil the aspirations of its graduates.
For this reason educational reforms in Ghana, starting from the colonial era to the time when the first nationalist government was installed in 1951 in the then Gold Coast to the post-independent Ghana up to the present day have tended to be formulated and implemented under the assumption that an educational system with a structure and content which reflected the socio-economic environment and the manpower needs of the country (even when such needs had not been assessed) would solve the unemployment problems and propel the country towards economic prosperity. Most educational reform initiatives since the colonial period had been instigated by the charge that the education delivered in the schools was too “bookish” in nature or academically oriented.
As early as the 1850s, concern had been expressed about the “bookish” nature of education in the Gold Coast. As a result of such criticisms, the two major missionary churches, namely, the Wesleyan and the Basel Missions which were then engaged in the expansion of education (which was manifestly academic in nature) attempted to introduce changes by the development of trade and agricultural institutions or by incorporating practical and agricultural elements into the existing curriculum.
THE Wesleyan Mission has concentrated its educational activities in urban areas along the coast by establishing a system of day schools, which used English as the medium of instruction and worked within it a framework of the curriculum comprising reading, writing, arithmetic and sometimes history and geography.
In response to criticism of this type of curriculum, they started to experiment with agricultural education by establishing a model farm school at Beulah, near Cape Coast in 1850, where work on land was closely related to classroom instruction. Two other such institutions were established at Dominase and Napoleon where experiments were made in the cultivation of crops such as coffee, cinnamon, mangoes, ginger, olives and grapes – crops which were considered ideal for cultivation by African farmers. The surprising thing is that, although these experiments were enthusiastically embraced at the beginning, each one of them has become a total failure within 10 years due to lack of support. The Wesleyan Mission also established in the 1880’s a small industrial school at Cape Coast where instruction was given in carpentry, blacksmithing and printing, but it also met a similar fate.
The Basel Mission went even further with their programmes for agricultural and industrial training. Because they were operating in inland areas where communities were mainly rural, they based their educational development upon agricultural and industrial training, using the vernacular as the medium or instruction.
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Early schooling comprised intensive programme of agricultural and manual instruction, which went hand in hand with classroom work given in the vernacular. Boarding schools in which agricultural and industrial education formed the core of the curriculum were created for older boys while girls had programmes which emphasized courses in domestic science.
An advanced industrial training institution was established in Accra in 1877 where skilled carpenters, joiners and ironworkers were turned out after a three-year course. Like the attempts by their Wesleyan counterparts the efforts of the Basel Missionaries did not meet with success.
Again, by the early decades of the 20th century, the persistent problem of establishing a suitable type of education for the people of the Gold Coast led the British administration at various times to attempt to infuse agricultural and industrial training into the school system.
Thus, in 1908, the governor of the territory appointed a committee “to revise educational rules, establishing a training institution for teachers, to establish a technical school and to introduce hand and eye, industrial and agricultural training into the schools”.
The educational rules of 1909 which resulted from the work of the committee tried to introduce industrial education into the school system, starting with simple crafts and making agricultural instruction compulsory in schools receiving grants-in-aid.
… Each one of them had
become a total failure within
10 years due to lack of support
A government technical school was established in Accra. The appointment by Governor Guggisberg in 1920 of another “Committee of Educationalists” to look into the education of the Gold Coast gave agricultural and technical education a further boost, for this committee recommended a spate of manual activities such as woodwork, metalwork, clay work and gardening to counteract the predominantly academic curriculum in schools.
It further advocated the establishment of a secondary school with technical bias where gardening and carpentry were given emphasis, as well as junior and senior trade schools where courses form blacksmithing to net-making could be undertaken.
The effort to alter the basis of primary and secondary education in the direction of agricultural and technical studies resulted in the opening of four government trade schools in 1922 at Asante-Mampong, Kibi, Asuansi and Yendi to supplement the work of the government technical school in Accra.
DESPITE all the efforts put in during the first three decades of the 20th century by the administration, particularly under the governorship of Sir Gordon Guggisberg, to transform the school system in the direction of agricultural and technical education, the results of the policies pursued were by no means rewarding.
By 1951 when the first nationalist government was installed in the country to begin internal self-rule in preparation for independence, the educational system consisted of a growing, albeit a limited primary school sector, buttressing a relatively very small group of highly selective secondary schools.
The British colonial administration itself had not been keen on the provision of grammar schools. The administration was rather enthusiastic about the creation of agricultural and trade training schools as the type of higher grade education institutions suited for the education needs in the African environment.
The pressure for the creation of higher educational institutions of the academic type had come from educated Africans like John Sarbah, J.P. Brown, W.E. Pieterson, A.W. de Graft Johnson and J.E. Casely-Hayford, who through voluntary subscription and their untiring efforts had supported a tottering school for boys opened a Cape Coast by the Wesleyans in 1876 which later flourished into the now famous Mfantsipim School, Adisadel College, also opened at Cape Coast in 1910, and had its origin in the same African efforts and support.
In their quest for the establishment of secondary schools of the academic type, the educated Gold Coast leadership at the close of the 19th century were motivated by the fact that training in such institutions offered the avenues into professional occupations and could prepare students for entry into British universities.
Besides this, the educated Gold Coast Africans were always seeking the same type of education as offered in the metropolitan country, because to them the European minority represented qualities which they considered worthy of emulation, and such qualities, it seemed to them, had been acquired through that type of education. Thus, quality education was equivalent to what pertained in the metropolitan country and no deviation from that would be countenanced.
Be that as it may, the new nationalist government installed in 1951 under Dr. Kwame Nkrumah as the Leader of the Government Business began with a programme of educational expansion. The urgency and the necessity for making provision for more school places was seen to be in the need to replace many expatriates, mainly British Civil Servants, Teachers in higher institutions, technical staff and other professionals who would leave the country after the attainment of full independence. The educational expansion was started with the promulgation of the “Accelerated Development Plan for Education”. Between 1952 and 1960 the total enrolment in primary and middle schools was increased by half.
Not unexpectedly, the expansion in the provision of primary and middle schools was reflected later in pressure for demand in secondary school places. Where there were only 13 highly selective Government Assisted Secondary Schools plus 49 Private Schools in 1951, the pressure for more places had led the number of these institutions to increase to 59 and 52 respectively in 1960. This resulted in the total enrolment at that level being more then tripled. This increase was the opening of six new day secondary schools in 1952 under the “Accelerated Development Plan for Education” to serve local communities and the policy of absorbing private schools into the public system.
From 1960 onwards, the tremendous expansion which had taken place in primary and middle schools exerted even more pressure on the demand for academic type secondary schools. In 1960 the government through the Ghana Education Trust (GET) funded with proceeds from the Cocoa Marketing Board, opened 16 new secondary schools dotted in various parts of the country, while private individuals and voluntary organizations established Proprietary Secondary Schools which depended solely on students fees and in the case of voluntary organizations such as the churches, also on sources from their respective organizations, for finances. The demand for secondary education has persisted up to the present time.
HOWEVER, with introduction and implementation of educational reforms, first in 1974 and a later one commenced in 1987, the curricula of the Junior Secondary School (JSS) as well as of the Senior Secondary School (SSS) were vocationalised, bringing elements of agricultural, technical, vocational, business education into the curriculum alongside, at the SSS level, the usual Arts and Science subjects, the bedrock of academic oriented curriculum.
Although the SSS curriculum was in a way vocationalised to bring in elements of technical and vocational education in the 1987 education reforms, Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) which leads to Craft and Technicians qualifications was not given much attention. It is, therefore, gratifying that the Report of the President’s Committee on Reviews of Education Reforms in Ghana – “Meeting the Challenges of Education in the Twenty First Century” has made recommendations for rectifying that deficiency which the government has accepted for implementation.
One major factor which seems to have underpinned all the efforts at reforming the education system of the country, from the colonial era through the period of the first nationalist government to the post-independence era to the present time, is the assumption that if an appropriate type of education was given to the youth it would naturally lead to the generation of employment, solve the unemployment problems of the country and therefore lead to economic development. Our experience with educational reforms over the past several decades, from the colonial period to the present day has proved otherwise. The problems of unemployment in the country cannot be solved by the type of education given to the youth alone. While it is recognized that scientific and technological education forms the bedrock for the modernization of agriculture, industrialization and the modernization of a country’s economy as a whole, it is the concerted effort by governments to expand the economy which will lead to job creation and the reduction of unemployment in a country.
In the period immediately proceding independence and after independence, job avenues were created by departing expatriates in the civil service, the education sector and other professional and technical sectors of the country’s economy and also by the state-sponsored corporations and other organizations such as the Builders Brigade, established by the government then for the employment of school and college leavers.
The failure of many of these corporations and organizations to survive is not the subject matter of this article. But thereafter and since then, the problem of acute unemployment has been with us because of the absence of much effort to expand the economy to create jobs.
The virtues of technical, vocational and agricultural education for national development have been incessantly extolled as that which will lead our youths into employment and thus reduce the phenomenon of unemployment.
However, the preceding paragraphs have demonstrated that efforts in the past by the colonial and post colonial administrations to encourage and install technical/industrial and agricultural education in the country have proved futile.
While providers of educational facilities and governments have thought that the creation of avenues for technical/industrial and agricultural education will be accompanied by economic growth and prosperity for the people, the people thought otherwise, and looked for other types of education as that which would best serve their interest. This can largely be explained by the occupational structure of the country from the colonial era to the present time.
The occupational structure of the country gives limited opportunities for people with technician qualifications as against the superior conditions of service and income provided in jobs requiring academic training. Technical jobs provide inferior opportunities for social mobility and have not from the past to the present effectively met the people’s expectations regarding what education should do for them, nor the economy in general.
It will therefore seem that there has been a constant tendency to overestimate the “prestige” element in the vocational expectations of Ghanaians. One should, however, add that had the provision of technical/industrial and agricultural education in the past been accompanied by an expanding economy within which graduates of the technical schools were able to earn incomes and conditions of service that were equivalent to those of white collar employment, these schools would have attracted much more patronage.
The agricultural sector of the economy provides the largest proportion of employment to Ghanaians, estimated to be providing over 60 per cent of the occupations. Yet, agriculture as practiced in Ghana is largely peasant.
The sector is plagued by problems of land acquisition and land preparation for cultivation, under developed scientific and modern husbandry practices and difficulties in the marketing of produce. It is my belief that if these problems are tackled in a consistent, creative and structured manner, the sector will stand the chance of being modernized and expanded to create employment avenues for the youth.
FOR example, district assemblies in collaboration with the Chiefs the Custodians of land in the traditional areas and other land owning families within their respective districts through negotiations can create farmland banks from which reasonably large farmlands could be made available to the youth, mainly JSS and SS leavers from within the particular district or traditional area who wish to take up farming as occupation.
Arrangements could then be made by the central government to provide credits through the rural banks for the acquisition of farm inputs, preparation of land for cultivation and the adoption of scientific husbandry practices by such farmers. Assistance could then be given for the marketing of the produce front the farms.
Income from each farmer’s produce would then be shared with part going to the owner of the land, part in payment for credit and other assistance provided and part to the farmer, in accordance with reasonably and accepted equitable proportions that may be arrived at.
THIS proposal may appear quite simplistic, but if it is properly translated into technically workable project, it would lead to the modernization of our agriculture, provide avenue for employment of a large number of our unemployed youths and increase patronage for our agricultural training institutions.
The ripple effects of such projects implemented in every district through the provision of technical and other services to the farms and the ancillary food processing industries arising therefrom, would be tremendous, especially in job creation. Persistent and intractable problems require creative approaches to their solution, and this is the time to adopt such approaches.
The issue of creative approaches to problem solving brings me to another defect that has not been adequately addressed in our educational change strategies over the years.
One of the stated aims and objectives of the New Structure and Content of Education for Ghana approved by government in 1973 and whose implementation started in 1974, for example, is “the development of the qualities of leadership, self-reliance and creativity” and in other reform programmes since these sentiments together with the development of the spirit of enquiry have been stressed.
But the traditional Ghanaian attitude towards authority by which children or persons in subordinate positions are not expected to ask their elders or subordinates what might be considered impertinent questions, act independently or even do things in their own way or for themselves, has led to the development of the same attitude in teachers towards their pupils and students.
This attitude is precisely the opposite of what encourages the spirit of enquiry and creativity in students. Thus, the absence of programmes of what might be termed normative re-education, as part of our educational change strategies, would seem not to advance the cause of having such aims and objectives achieved.
Such normative re-education will require to put in place activities to develop in teachers and school administrators competencies in new interpersonal relationships with their students and subordinates which will encourage the latter group of people to freely ask questions, exercise initiative to do things for themselves in their individual ways and generally to be independent-minded.
This is the surest way to develop in the youth the spirit of self-reliance, enquiry and creativity for national development.
Daily Graphic - Wednesday, February 21, 2007 Pages: 16, 33 & 34