Ghana, like many other developing countries, appears to lag behind towards economic progress and prosperity because policy formulations and implementations are often not evidenced-based or underpinned by any relevant empirical findings and information. In most cases, changes in policy imperatives do not evolve from a process of generating research, examining policy options, choosing between alternatives, and evaluating the implementation of the selected option. Neither does it go through an iterative process of defining the problem, suggesting solutions, and obtaining political consensus, resulting in difficulties for policy makers to undertake optimal strategy, policy or programmes choices. These appear to be the fundamental underlying reason why we continuously grapple with problems identified during Governor Guggisberg’s era.
On Tuesday 13 September, 2016 the Flagbearer of the governing National Democratic Congress (NDC), who doubles as the President of the Republic of Ghana, undertook an exercise that sought to highlight the key components of their manifesto commitments for the 2016 elections. It comes at the backdrop of several on-the-spot promises such as the infamous progressively free tertiary education. As part of our Manifesto Watch programme launched in May 2016, this paper seeks to discuss the NDC’s education manifesto commitments of the 2012 elections as well as the recently presented highlights of the 2016 one. It presents a critical policy appraisal that elucidates the potential misalignment between the NDC’s manifesto commitments of these two electoral cycles and current education policy imperatives of the Government. The paper argues that, although the government has made significant progress in the education sector, most of the policy targets and interventions appear to lack clarity and focus, uncoordinated and do not align with neither our long to medium term development aspirations nor the UN’s sustainable development goal four (SDG 4) of promoting inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all.
To start with, the system of education in Ghana appears to fall along two pathways. Some students go through Grammar/General Secondary Education (GSE) to prepare them for higher education, though in reality only a small selection enter tertiary institutions. Others go through the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) with the expectation of ending up in the polytechnics, where they are trained to acquire specific skills to provide the needed middle manpower human resource for the economy. It is too often the case that the TVET at the secondary-level is seen as the domain for people whose academic capabilities are considered inferior. In their 2012 manifesto, the NDC government expressed its intention to build 200 community-day secondary schools across the country, especially in the deprived communities. Till date, the basis of arriving at this 200 figure or the criteria for selecting the communities for the project appears scrumptious and nebulous. Significantly, there are about 500 public secondary schools in the country with only 47 GES technical and vocational institutions (a large proportion of them are in very deplorable conditions). If we add the private senior high schools, the figure will be inching towards over 800 grammar/general secondary schools. A well-calculated and comprehensive secondary education policy formulation, developed through a systematic process of diagnosis, response and action within a carefully planned programme would have informed the government not to construct more general/grammar-oriented senior high schools at the expense technical and vocational schools. Constructing more technical and vocational schools instead (although we think both grammar-type secondary education and technical and vocational education should be delivered at the same school compound under a comprehensive secondary education system) would have aligned with the government’s subsequent policy to convert the polytechnics to technical universities. In order words, more science and engineering students would be produced to feed the technical universities thereby addressing the present imbalance in the science and humanity enrolments ratio of 33% and 67%, respectively, at these institutions. Indeed, this has been our arguments from the onset and one of the fundamental arguments underlying our policy proposal for the government to hasten slowly on the polytechnic conversion. We have previously urged government to convert at least 60% of these community day schools to technical and vocational institutes. It is therefore welcoming that the government now intends to convert 30% of the community day schools into technical and vocational education. In as much as we welcome this idea as it is a direct response to our policy proposal, we wish to advise the government to go further to deliver our proposed comprehensive education, where children of all backgrounds and abilities would be educated in a single secondary school on a pilot project basis. However, we would want to remind the government that the present E-Blocks of the community day schools were designed without the requisite workshops and other infrastructure required for technical and vocational education. This is understandable given that the conversion is clearly an afterthought. Consequently, we are urging the government to embark on an immediate redesigning of the remaining community day schools which are under construction to make them suitable for such purpose and meet the infrastructural demands of a technical and vocational education and/or comprehensive secondary schools.
We at VIAM Africa are exceedingly excited about the present policy direction and the commitment of the government to technical and vocational education as espoused by the President in yesterday’s NDC manifesto highlights. We do so with pride given our intense advocacy, through our previous publications, radio interviews and public fora with ministers of state, urging a focused-attention on the technical and vocational education subsector in line with Anamuah-Mensah’s education review committees report.
The government appears to be responding positively to our policy proposal of addressing the structural deficiencies in Ghana’s secondary education system. However, appointment of a deputy minister for the TVET is unnecessary, would further segregate TVET from general/grammar type secondary school and would not in any way solve the problems at the TVET subsector. We contend that, secondary education, whether TVET or SHS, must be conceptualized as a homogeneous entity, although with different career pathways. Thus, the presentDeputy Minister for Education in-charge of pre-tertiary can still function effectively under the new system at a much lesser cost to the state. Instead, what the government needs to do going forward is to address the progression challenges associated with the National TVET Qualifications Framework (NTVETCF). Currently, there are eight levels of progression for those who go through the TVET stream. Level 1, covering the traditional apprenticeship, is the lowest and the least demanding and Level 8, Doctorate in Technology, being the highest and the most demanding. Whilst the career progression at the TVET subsector appears long and winding, that of general/grammar education appears pretty straight forward, making it more attractive for people to opt for the latter.
To address this inequity and social injustice, 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 lifelong learning can be achieved, consistent with the UN’s SDG4. 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 for both the TVET and general/grammar education streams. It can clarify entry and exit points and routes for progression within and across education and training sectors. For example, a person may not hold a university degree but progressively obtain vocational training qualifications equivalent to a masters’ level qualification at a university. We suggest that the present NTVETQF be reviewed and integrated into our proposed NCQF. The establishment of a National Qualification Authority (NQA) should be a major priority to underpin and develop the progressive integration and qualitative improvement of the education and lifelong learning systems. This could potentially rebrand and strengthen TVET with the view to extirpating the stigma these institutions have suffered over years and achieving parity of esteem with their general/grammar education counterparts.
The establishment of a college of education (CoE) responsible for training teachers in early childhood education is superfluous. This will just increase government expenditure on our scarce resources. Currently, the University of Cape Coast and the University of Education, Winneba run programmes in Early Childhood education to train teachers for the early grades. In addition, some CoEs including Holy Child College in Sekondi train teachers for the early grades. Apart from these, there are sandwich programmes which offer training in early childhood from certificate level to the bachelor’s degree. To set up a CoE for the purpose of training teachers in Early Childhood is not only wasteful and unproductive but also a misplaced priority. Best practice will require the strengthening of departments that offer these courses in the two teacher education universities instead, resource them and urge them to redesign their curriculum to reflect the contemporary ways of training Early Childhood teachers. These include emphasis on Montessori and Reggio Emilia approaches to early grade education which have been adopted by some of the private early grade schools in the country. Again, the Ministry of Education and the Ghana Education Service should coordinate with the private education service providers that train teachers in Early Childhood by affiliating them to teacher education universities in the country for supervision and curriculum alignment purposes.
It is interesting that the next NDC government if voted into power will continue to “take bold initiatives to improve access, affordability and quality at all levels” as stated by H.E John Mahama. The twin issues of access and affordability become immaterial if the end products of those (the people) who can readily access and afford these institutions are of poor quality. The quality of human resource is very imperative for the economic transformation of any country. The extant literature supports a positive relationship between education and GDP growth, we therefore need to place much emphasis on quality education at all levels, we propose two major policy interventions: