It’s that time of year, SHS results have been published, our collective disappointment is verbalised on radio, newspapers and social media, almost to symphonic melody, except for the crackling noises of political jabs.
Education is the single tool that enables a country to develop the talent and potential of its young people for its own benefit. A look at present educational outcomes is sufficient to make near accurate projections on future wealth and progress of Ghana. So why are so few young people passing the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE)?
Following that the assessment framework for Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) translates into no ‘failures’ per se, but higher, middle and lower grades. Although no one fails, issuing a low grade on a scale of high to low (and refusing to call it to fail) can only be described as semantics. There is a clear mark which means some have done less well than others.
That in itself is not troubling, however, armed with this data, how have school managers supported young people who achieved middle and lower scales of the Stanine BECE results go on to do well in school? How have these children been supported to excel? WASSCE results reveal the truth and faultiness that were conveniently postponed at the exit of BECE. So at WASSCE, all the chickens roost and the whole nation is left with eggs on its face, except half of these eggs are no good for cakes nor pancakes.
How did we arrive at this place?
The public education system is input heavy. Ministers will measure their success by interventions they introduced and not on the outcomes of those interventions. You will often hear, for example, "I introduced maths programmes for teachers". When exemplifications of achievements are better presented as - I introduced maths programme that delivered to 1000 teachers in 1000 public schools, prior to this intervention, pupils were scoring 0% in their maths midpoint maths assessments.
Following this intervention, children, most children are scoring 10% with a few scores between 0-5%. To support those children embed maths further, an extra resource has been dedicated to ensuring rapid progress is made. However, education managers do not have this breadth of information as both education policy and practice relies not on data.
In 2013 and 2015, USAID conducted an Early Grade Assessment Test to measure the progress of its interventions in primary education. Prior to this, the Ghana Education Service had not conducted any assessments at any point in a child’s educational career in the primary years. Aside from individual termly reports, there was no national assessment to measure if school going children are making progress, how deep or shallow this progress is and thinking through of steps that might be taken to ensure that learning was taking place in a structured and secure way.
The outcome of the Early Grade Assessment in maths, English and Ghanaian languages showed that of the sampled schools 90% of children had scored zero in all curriculum areas at primary two at ages 7/8 and older. It appears our education managers have created a system where education managers pretend to educate children, teachers pretend to teach and draw salaries for the job title and not impact nor the outcome of that title. Children are present, yet absent from the classroom, parent hopes their children are getting an education and believe the system will deliver the best outcomes for their children.
As an educator, I often wonder how education managers can measure progress when there is no baseline assessment at entry into KG, midpoint to measure progress and at the endpoint to form the baseline assessment for primary school. Data should inform classroom practice by supporting teachers to identify which children need extra support in their cohort as well as for identifying children who have learning difficulties for early targeted support.
Judging that we are a country with very limited resources, judicious use of the resource is critical, making data-driven decisions should inform robust and rigorous decision making. These investments should increase the higher BECE results, as early intervention can support struggling children by identifying those who are at risk. For these children, it might well be that using continuous assessment for the whole period at BECE is better suited than exams.
It will be useful to have a WASSCE that gives an opportunity to take exams and course-work suited for different ability levels - for example, high and mid-academic levels. This way, most young people can gain respectable WASSCE grades that are pitched at a suitable level avoiding young people taking exams they know from the outset they will fail.
Additionally, alternative qualifications with parity to WASSCE should be introduced for careers in health for e.g (paramedics, healthcare assistants, lab assistants etc) education for e.g(nursery practitioners, teaching assistants,), sports, entertainment, art, business, food technology, building and construction, engineering and public services (fire service police and army). These alternative qualifications can be taken jointly with WASSCE or as stand-alone. This way, young people exit secondary school armed with qualifications for multiple pathways either in polytechnics, direct employment or apprenticeships.
Rather than blame young people who are also victims of this cycle of pretence, let’s advocate for greater investment right from the foundation – early years and primary. A robust foundation is a superstructure on which all else is built. Rather than ask for a new curriculum, begin to measure learning and make data-driven decisions that are responsive and timely in delivering just-in-time interventions that support progress. Headteachers can use simple technology tools to collect, collate, report and interpret data – so knowledge is gained on who needs the most help and in which area that help is needed, why that help is needed and how that help can be best delivered.
As a nation, we must prioritise our education expenditure above all else, reduce teacher remuneration from the current 95 - 97%, to at a healthy 70-80% of the budget and 20-30% going towards resource and non-core expenditure.
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