Opinion

Elizabeth Ohene: I move, when you move

The education ministry said it would explore how to make online learning accessible to all students

We know at great cost, what it is like to have a backlog in the school system. For years, young people finished secondary school and those of them who wanted to go on to tertiary institutions were obliged to wait at home for a year before they could move.

The consequences were dire for those young people who came from homes where there wasn’t a school going tradition. Many of them who had hoped to continue to tertiary institutions gave up, some became economically active and lost the urge to go to school, some of the girls got pregnant and others got caught up in the vicissitudes of life.

The way of nature is for things to move to create space for others. The lesson is that when you create a backlog, unless the people ahead of you move on, you can’t move, no matter how desperately you might want to. We got rid of the backlog when the four-year Senior High School (SHS) was introduced under President John Agyekum Kufuor and the cohort of students who would have been at home kicking their heels spent an extra year in school.

The National Democratic Congress (NDC) government that followed the Kufuor Administration scrapped the four-year SHS scheme, (that is another story), but at least, it had helped to rid the backlog that for years had been accepted as part of the education system.

Now here comes Covid-19 and we are in danger of getting a backlog of truly horrendous proportions.

Disbelief

I have been watching and listening in disbelief as people who should know better, people who want to govern this country have been trying to bastardise the serious problem of how we get our young people back to school or offer them some formal education in one form or the other.

The school system works on the basis that every year, there is a fresh cohort of four-year-olds to start first year Kindergarten and those who have finished the first year of kindergarten move on to the second year, and a group of six-year-olds enter Primary One, and a group of 13-year-olds go to Junior High School (JHS) and a fresh group of 16-year-olds enter SHS around the country.

Every year, we have graduation ceremonies at various levels of education and young people leave to move on to the next stage of their lives.

The graduates are important, but of more importance to the institutions are the fresh entrants; and they are only able to enter because others have left.

The last time I checked, the maternity homes and maternity departments of our hospitals and clinics are as busy as usual; babies are being born, the mortuaries and funeral homes are busy and full even if we are not having as many funerals as usual, but that, again, is another story.

There are four-year-olds this year who should be starting Kindergarten this year and there are people in the public service who are turning 60 this year and should be retiring.

The children in JHS Three and SHS Three must move on to enable those following them to move up.

Training

Training institutions must graduate those finishing to be able to take in fresh people. Nurses, teachers, plumbers, hairdressers, carpenters, morticians, doctors, lawyers, journalists, priests and even politicians have to move on to give room for new ones to be trained.

These movements are at all levels and a stop at any point causes blockages and disruptions all along the chain.

Those who take a year out do so around age 18 and tend to have parents who can fund the year of “trying to discover the inner self”. They often come from homes where 18-year-olds are not expected to go out and earn a living.

There are usually not many of such children and the great majority in that age group will move on and continue to do what is expected of their year group.

Therefore, we have no choice but to find a way to keep the education chain moving even in the midst of an unpredictable pandemic.

To enable the fresh four-year-olds to start their academic lives, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo took the decision to get the final-year tertiary students finish their courses and write their exams.

That would ensure there would be room for the current first, second and third years to move up. That creates the room for the SHS Three students to move and so it goes on down the line until the four-year-olds are able to enter kindergarten.

I have been listening very carefully and trying to read as much as I can of the things being put out by the ‘thinking’ groups and nowhere have I seen any suggestion about how they want Ghana to get her children back into education.

Online

I have heard and read a lot of highfalutin balderdash about online teaching and Zoom and data and all the new methods that are available to aid teaching and learning.

Some of these people talk as though they didn’t come from the equivalent of my Abutia. I wish the children in all our Abutias could go online and “ask Google” when faced with a tricky question in the course of their daily conversations.

Unfortunately, their reality is that they live in ‘bookless’ homes and even when televisions are in their homes, they don’t have access to them and are certainly not allowed to turn them on and off.

These children have to be in a classroom to have any hope of taking the exams than the tech-savvy children of our know-all commentators.

A lot of careful preparation went into the gradual reopening of the schools.

The hysteria that greeted the outbreak of the Covid-19 in Accra Girls SHS, when the SHS Three went to start preparations for their exam was disgraceful. To listen to the radio stations and our esteemed commentators, you would think the government of Ghana wanted to kill schoolchildren.

I have not yet heard anyone come up with any suggestion that would let us keep up the education machinery by keeping our children static and where they are while we wait for the virus to disappear.

It seems to me there is more danger in being rooted to the same place out of the fear of making some mistakes than in taking the calculated and systematic moves, like what is being done by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo to get our children back to school.

We dare not create another backlog that might take years to clear up again.

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The writer was the Editor of BBC Focus on Africa and Daily Graphic as well as a former Education Minister