29 April 2008

Ghana: We Can't Give Free Uniforms to 'Daft' Students

At a time the Ghana National Education Campaign Coalition (GNECC) is emphasizing quality education for all children to end exclusion, the Ministry of Education, Science and Sports (MOESS) has taken an entrenched policy position to foster the menace.

According to Hon Mrs Angelina Baiden-Amissah, Deputy Minister in charge of Pre-Tertiary Education, government will continue to provide school uniforms to only 'poor but brilliant' primary school pupils as a means of ensuring primary education for all.

Therefore, poor but not brilliant pupils whose parents cannot afford school uniforms for them cannot benefit from the initiative unless they can prove their worth academically.

Hon Baiden-Amissah said these when she addressed a national durbar held in Accra last Thursday to draw the curtain on the 2008 Global Action Week (GAW), a world wide campaign on education.

Her remarks have, however, raised concerns about government's commitment to the attainment of the Education for All (EFA) goals.

Concerns are that by refusing to give uniforms to the 'poor but not brilliant' pupils the ministry was in effect discouraging these children from being in school - an act that was tantamount to exclusion, which GNECC was seeking to end.

On the platform of the 2008 GAW, the GNECC, comprising several civil society groups and public institutions like the MOESS, has called for more concerted effort towards delivering quality education in order to end exclusion, especially in the three northern regions.

To justify this call, GNECC outdoored the national durbar the findings of a research project on "The Impact of Rural-Urban Divide on Quality Basic Education in Ghana" which was conducted by Mr Gideon Hosu-Porbley, a Development Researcher.

Among the issues raised was that some pupils in rural communities went to school bare-chested. This was supported by a photograph of a group of pupils.

But Mrs Baiden-Amissah did not think this was possible because government was providing uniforms for poor but brilliant pupils though she admitted poor but not brilliant ones were not taken care of.

Having set aside her prepared speech because "it contained the same issues" raised by earlier speakers, the minister in speaking to those issues ridiculed the research because of the photograph of the bare-chested school children, pointing out that the researchers had faked the scene portrayed in the photograph.

In defending her point, she argued that government had instituted the free uniform policy for poor but brilliant children to encourage other pupils to strive for academic excellence.

To her, it was therefore impossible to have the scenario painted in the research anywhere in the country.

But this did not go down well with a lot of the participants who mumbled in disapproval. Some of them, seated close to this reporter, raised questions such as: how do you determine brilliance, is it by practical or theoretical ability?

Nonetheless, the minister maintained that parents should be able to provide uniforms for their wards while government continues to take care of fees and teaching and learning materials through the capitation grant.

In her view, "Parents should be more responsible; they should give birth to the number of children they can cater for."

A major problem highlighted in the report had to do with the pupil-teacher ratio in deprived schools. It was established that several vacancies existed in deprived areas for teachers but most teachers were not motivated enough to go to such areas.

Thus, Odenehene Gyapong Ababio II, President of the National House of Chiefs, called on government to provide better motivation for teachers in public schools in order to place them at par with their colleagues in private schools who are better motivated.

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