Public basic schools in Ghana are bedevilled with numerous challenges.
These challenges precede the implementation of the 1987 educational reform. Some of these as captured in most research findings includes inadequate access, low learning outcomes (reports by EGRA), inadequate, and in some cases, lack of educational resources, inefficient teacher management and support systems, financial challenges and governance and accountability challenges.
Governments over the years have made conscious efforts to improve the quality of education at the Basic level. One of the prominent interventions was the enforcement of the FCUBE in 1995 which was targeted at improving access to Basic schools.
The major challenge then was enrolment and retention. FCUBE was therefore aimed at improving enrolment (by making basic education free) and ensuring retention (by making basic education compulsory).
In the 2005/2006 academic year, the Ministry of Education set up the Capitation Grant scheme as a measure to strengthen the free nature of our basic education. This intervention was a feather in the cap in our quest to improve the quality of basic education in Ghana.
There was also the introduction of the School Feeding Programme (SFP) (on a pilot basis) in the 2004/2005 academic year. The SFP aimed at improving retention and also reduce student absenteeism as revealed in a study that formed the basis for the intervention.
The Ministry of Education has put together a National Education Strategic Plan for the period 2018 to 2030. This document assesses the various challenges facing all levels of education in Ghana and proposes strategic policy initiatives to tackle them. An analysis of the various policy initiatives would give one an appreciation of the direction our education is heading.
One of the areas that seem to have received little attention in our basic schools is the area of school management, supervision, monitoring and accountability. This has been an area of interest for the general public since there is a paradox of parents preferring to take their wards to private basic schools which are sometimes expensive as against public basic schools which is free.
The paradox is deepened further when academic achievement of students in private basic schools vary significantly from those in the public basic schools although, in terms of human resources, the public basic schools seem to have more trained and professional teachers.
It is worth noting that, there are few public basic schools that are doing very well and are at par with private schools in the country. IFEST will like to state emphatically that, the problems facing our basic education are multifaceted and cannot be limited to a single variable. However, the interventions adopted by any manager of our educational system should be diverse and aimed at tackling the problem from all fronts: the curriculum, teacher factors, resource and infrastructure, parent and community as well as the management of the basic schools.
It is an undeniable fact that, teacher reforms are on-going in which T-TEL is playing a key role, there is a development of a new curriculum and modes of assessment, while the capitation grant has been increased by over 100% to Ghc 10 (this is not to ignore the fact that, there is a continuous delay in the payment of government subventions to the schools). Technically, there seems to be a concerted effort by the Ministry of Education to tackle all the identified challenges as espoused by numerous researches in the sector.
This should form the basis for any discussion on the Ghana Partnership Schools (GPS) Project. This is because, the project is aimed at increasing flexibility, capacity and accountability at the school level in the management of public basic schools, which seems to address the identified challenge of school management, supervision, monitoring and accountability.
That is, the GPS project is intended to give selected public basic schools which are supposed to be basically under-performing, a strong managerial support from a private operator(s) to manage these selected schools (total of hundred (100) deprived schools in four regions: Ashanti, Northern, Central and Greater Accra). These operators are to work hand-in-hand with the GES and other relevant stakeholders to improve school supervision and monitoring as well as accountability which is a critical variable in ensuring quality education; a variable that seems to work well in our private schools and some exceptional public schools. In talking about exceptional public schools, it will be interesting to analyse the governance structure of all our university basic schools (UCC, KNUST, UG etc.) and proceed to find out their learning outcomes. Piloting this project is a means to test the hypothesis that; the underperformance or low learning outcomes in our public basic schools is due to school management, supervision and monitoring. Researchers can, therefore, conduct experimental research comparing the learning outcomes of schools under the GPS projects and the others with School Management as the principal variable.
An analysis of the project document which places the project under the broader framework of the Ghana Accountability for Learning Outcomes Project (GHALOP), World Bank project reveals that the financing of the pilot project which is estimated to run for 3 years is catered for by the World Bank. We will need to further discuss the financing scheme if the project is deemed successful and have to be replicated across the length and breadth of the country. However, with the commitment of all governments to ensure FREE BASIC EDUCATION and the fact that education is a right, we will continue to advocate that public basic education is free even if the GPS project is extended to all public basic schools.
There is also the fear of undermining head teachers as well as the possible dismissal of teachers in public schools. For head teachers, working to achieve specific Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) as agreed by the private operator(s) should not be a challenge.
They also stand to improve their management skills professionally. It is important to state that, research has revealed that an improvement in stringent monitoring and supervision of instruction in basic schools leads to improvement in learning outcomes [The case of the Suhum Municipality in the Eastern region of Ghana which recorded performance in Basic schools around 40% to 42.4% and lowest 39.1% since 2005 but later improved to over 50% in 2009 serves as an evidence of what “Stringent Supervision” can lead to (Suhum Municipal Assembly, 2010)].
Teachers who are lackadaisical in the discharge of their duties might have issues with a private operator managing the school and might seek transfer to another school that is not covered by the GPS pilot project (the pilot project allows that), but then, we need to ask, what kind of teacher will this be?
Professionally, IFEST thinks no teacher discharging his or her duties diligently would be worried about a manager who is interested in achieving results, in this case, improved learning outcomes. IFEST thinks the era in which teachers clear their “arrears” lesson notes only when a supervisor is visiting the school, stay away from school or report late and sometimes do not use the instructional sessions productively will come to an end. Flipping the coin, teachers should use this opportunity to demand what is due them in terms of educational resources to enable them to teach as required. This project, is a two-way affair, for a teacher to be effective and efficient, he/she needs certain variables (textbooks, teacher's manuals, teaching and learning materials, and improved conditions of service), these, when provided, should lead to the effective delivery of the teacher’s mandate. In so far as each actor plays his/her role well, we strongly believe there should not be any problem.
There is the need to explain further the operations of the private operator vis-à-vis the role of School Management Committees (SMCs) and the government’s plan to cede the administration of basic schools to the various local governments.
IFEST believes that the private operator could work with the SMCs and the PTA to expand the levels of accountability in our basic education sector. The pride of every parent or opinion leader in any community is to see that, the students are improving academically, this explains the desire of most parents to send their wards to private schools. Hence, working with the SMCs should not be a difficult task. Finally, in the interest of transparency, the selection process for the private operators should be made available to the general public and the promoters of this policy should be ready to accept criticisms and change plan when complaints start coming during the implementation of the project. What is the essence of an educational policy if it does not lead to the improvement in the quality delivery of education and student achievement?
Finally, let's reiterate the point, policies are made for the people. This implies that continuous engagement and consultation is inevitable. The complain that major stakeholders like GNAT and NAGRAT and other units under the GES were not involved in the two years planning of the project should be condemned and not encouraged. There should be a deliberate effort to explain policies, bringing out the reasoning behind policies and encourage people to contribute to the shaping of the policies and owned them. This is because they are the ultimate beneficiaries of those policies.
In our view, the talk about stakeholder or relevant stakeholders take a different meaning when it comes to the education sector. From Akyem Abodom to Tumu, each parent has his or her ward in one school or the other.
This means, educational policies have a direct impact on the populace and should be explained to the entire nation and not selected individuals. The Ministry should make use of the PTAs and their media engagements to bring clarity to most of its policies and programmes.
The Ministry should not be reactive in terms of information on policy issues and the posture of their PR unit should not be that of adversarial but rather cordial and welcoming. Together we will make Ghana education great again with all hands on deck.