Education Minister, Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh had some tough moments in Tamale last Friday when he visited some headmasters of public senior high schools in the regional capital ahead of the opening for students placed in the second batch of the double track system (Gold Track).
From verbal disagreements at some point with some of the headmasters, to commending others, the minister saw and heard first hand information about the numerous challenges of the Free Senior High School system in the region.
Dr. Prempeh was actually in the schools to have a full understanding of the over-weighing infrastructural problems of the Free Senior High School that necessitated the introduction of the Double Track System.
He was to have an open discussion with the headmasters on how to deal with the deficits in order to ensure a smooth return of students to the single track system when they enter second year.
The minister visited the Tamale Senior High School (Tamasco), Northern Business Senior High School (Nobisco), Vitting Senior High School and ended his tour at Dabokpa Technical Senior High.
The minister had an amiable conversation with the headmaster and staff of Tamasco where he started the visit but the tone and setting of the engagement changed when he met headmaster of the Nobisco.
The headmaster had started to speak after the minister asked him about the number of students he admitted under the double track system and what challenges the school faces therein, but the minister cut in multiple times before the master could offer his submission after he appeared to have blamed national education authorities for the mess at his school.
Rev. Edward Akusi was lamenting to the minister about difficulties students under the double track system are going through with regards to selection of accommodation status which he said was caused by “somebody sitting in Accra”.
The minister was not happy with that remarks and quickly questioned the headmaster if he was sure the “mistake” was committed by “something sitting in Accra”. The headmaster was asked several times to substantiate that assertion and when he failed, the minister chastised him.
Below are some of tensed moments in the dramatic exchanges between the minister and the master of the Northern Business Senior High.
Headmaster: “The status, boarding and day, the way it was determined has posed some challenges. For Instance, I think that somebody sitting in Accra and just determined,…yes, the children were guided, yet, the mistakes are there…”
Minister: “Are are sure somebody is sitting in Accra and doing this?”
Headmaster: “Well, all the status of boarding and day was determined in Accra”
Minister: Are you sure?”
Headmaster: “Well, that is what came to me.”
Headmaster: “A student who is coming from Wa, Jirapa to this school has been made a day student…”
Minister: “And you think it’s somebody in Accra who did it?, that’s my question! Have you looked at the choices, what the child is filling in the form?”.
Headmaster: “That is why i said the children were guided…”
Minister: “So you see, when a head who should know comes from a position of that, I get worried, I get worried. In this country, there’s something called choice. For starters, you can’t put a child where that child has not chosen. This year they had five choices; apart from the first three choices, choose a technical school that if you didn’t get any of your choices that they have put there, and choose a day school so that if you don’t have any of choices you can go. They chose it, that’s where parents should get involved not me and you take that responsibility”
“After the computer did the placement based on the child choices, I don’t care if the child chose Nobisco as day, I don’t care where that child leaves because that’s not my fault to decide. But then, after the computer placed, those who didn’t choose any place, the computer opens up places available and the child looks through, with the parents hopefully, and decide that I want this school, that same channel you are clicking tells you day or boarding or places available, so we did not sit in Accra, we study the choices of schoolchildren and the schools they want to go”.
Headmaster: “Well, sir I thought the big man is here, I can make my complaints”.
Minister: “No, No, No, its not about thinking the big man is here but make rights complaints with information, because, you see if you do that then you embarrass the regional director and the Free SHS coordinator, which you deal with on the daily basis. If a parent makes that statement, then I will answer that parent differently by simple question, ‘when your child was choosing where were you’? When you don’t deal with data, that is how your talk, it exposes you”.
The exchanges went on and the minister shot down nearly all the concerns and requests made by the headmaster. At a point, the minister told the master that building assembly hall was not part of his priorities but reiterated his commitment to tackling the classrooms and accommodation challenges which have become widespread following the introduction of the Free Senior High School.
The Minister moved to the Vitting Senior High School and had similar engagement, only that this time, the headmaster only presented the challenges of the school. Mr. Douglas informed the minister about the chronic congestion at the school’s boarding facilities and the lack of classroom structures.
Dr. Opoku Prempeh promised to tackle the situation and left. He took his assessment tour to the Dabokpa Technical Senior High where he was impressed by the performance of the headmistress of the school.
After touring the facilities at the school, the minister has this to say about the headmistress:
“We are at another school, where the leader has transformed the school not because she got external resources but because of her innovative and ingenuity. We want to celebrate such leaders and make sure that if we have to give them oversight of more schools, I can promised you that we will”
“My impression here is that, some of the failing technical schools should be absorbed by her for monitoring so that she can install good leadership in those schools. This is a surprise visit, what I wanted to see is what I have seen. The greatest thing is that they are using the same assets they have for themselves. Those who are doing concrete and block laying are building, those who are doing mechanical are doing doors and gates and those who are doing electric are fixing the lights of streets everywhere”.