19 November 2012

Ghana: On the Education Debate - Is It Free Vs. Quality?


In my article entitled, "THE NDC ON NPP's FREE SHS, and published in this column on Monday, November 5, 2012, I quoted the positions of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC) on the free Senior High School concept.

Dear reader, at the risk of boring you, permit me to quote the two positions from their respective 2012 manifestoes.

The Election 2012 Manifesto of the NPP states: "We are fully committed to making secondary education free for every Ghanaian child." (Page 23)

The Election 2012 Manifesto of the NDC states: "The NDC education programme seeks to address these challenges of the FCUBE, and continue the programme for the progressive introduction of free secondary education." (Page 14)

Dear reader, is the NDC opposed to the provision of free secondary education to every Ghanaian child able and willing to take advantage of the provision?

If not, why does the NDC appear to take up the position that free secondary education is not only impossible to achieve, but also, that free secondary education is poor quality education?

On Tuesday, November 13, 2012, Joy FM played the voice of Dr. Ekwow Spio-Garbrah, one-time Minister of Education. I heard Dr. Spio-Garbrah say, "If you don't pay for what is important, you don't get the right quality."

As someone who fully benefitted from a policy of free education, I find the idea that free education is synonymous with poor quality education as strange, ridiculous, nonsensical and offensive.

My father paid for my elementary school education at the Adansi Brofoyedru Methodist Primary School all the way to the T. I. Ahmadiyya Secondary School in Kumasi. He paid my examination registration fee.

To enable me go to the then Kumasi College of Technology (now Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology) for the Post Secondary Teachers' Certificate "A" course, my father bought me a trunk and clothes, and also gave me money.

From January 1956, when I started my teacher training course, up to January 1978, when he died, my father did not have to pay one pesewa for my education.

The two-year course was completely free. I was the beneficiary of free tuition, free accommodation, free use of such facilities as water, electricity, transportation to the school where I did my teaching practice, three highly nutritious meals, plus a 4:00 p.m. snack.

In addition to all these free things, the government also gave me a monthly allowance for the two-year duration of the course. It is savings from this allowance that enabled me to start life as a trained teacher, starting in January 1958.

These conditions were replicated when, after teaching for five years, I entered the University of Ghana. I was on study-leave with pay. By the Grace of God, I earned an Honours Bachelor's degree in English.

Can Dr. Spio-Garbrah, or anyone else who thinks like him, tell me that I and my mates at the teacher training college, and/or the University, had sub-standard education because we did not have to dip our hands into our pockets to meet the cost of our education?

Look, there is no iron law which states that something given out as free must, of necessity, be of very low quality. Almost on a daily basis, we read or hear of acts of charity by individuals and organisations.

Individuals and organisations pay to save the lives of little children needing medical attention. They go to Children's Homes to donate food and other necessities of life. Who, in his right senses, will say that such acts of charity should be disregarded, because of perceived poor quality?

Dr. Spio-Garbrah thought that if parents and guardians take their children to private schools, where they pay the full cost, instead of public schools, it was because public schools provide poor quality education. Why? It is because public school education is free.

What a pity. Dr. Spio-Garbrah was a Minister of Education. Was that his diagnosis of the problem besetting public school education? Why did he not suggest to the government at the time to abolish the public schools and introduce the paying of full fees? Is it because he is connected now to a fee-paying private university?

If we have reason to question, or even deplore the quality of education in our public basic schools, can we say that making parents pay the full cost of education will automatically raise the standard of education at the basic schools?

What are some of the ingredients that make for a successful teaching and learning enterprise? First, there will always be children available as the "raw material" for the educational enterprise.

However, these children must be ready and willing to take advantage of the opportunity offered by the State. If they are not psychologically ready, no teaching and learning can take place.

Secondly, there must be parents, able and willing to support their children, by giving them food, uniforms, books, pens and pencils, and other materials that aid learning.

Thirdly, the school environment must be conducive to teaching and learning. Dilapidated buildings with roofs ripped off cannot provide ideal conditions for learning.

The teaching staff at our basic schools should not only be properly trained, but they must be academically qualified for the subject or subjects they teach. Above all, our teachers must be ethically qualified, so that they can always think of the well-being and interest of the pupils.

Of course, there must be proper motivation: good pay, availability of good accommodation, medical facilities, etc.

A condition, in which school children sit two at a mono desk, and three at a dual desk, does not make for good teaching and learning. Where are the books for the teaching and learning enterprise? How can teaching and learning take place in the absence of reading books?

Effective supervision is another ingredient in the teaching and learning enterprise. I am talking of supervision by the head of the school, circuit supervisors, and, ultimately, the Ministry of Education and the Ghana Education Service.

Private schools primarily exist to make money for their owners. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that. The question we should ask ourselves is what all of us can do to ensure that the standard of teaching and learning in public schools, especially basic schools, improves.

Those who think that access, affordability and quality are mutually exclusive, and that one can be attained only at the expense of the others, must think again.

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