Perhaps, inequality should be the appropriate lead description in this title, however, I have chosen the labelling discrimination for emphasis. I started writing the article in July 2020 following several weeks of reflection. The earlier title I chose was, Will equity ever prevail in our educational system? I  have had to revise the title after listening to a panellist used the phrase, ‘Elite dishonesty’ to describe the pervasive inequality in the educational system on the August 8, 2020 edition of ‘Bresusem’ a weekly talk-show programme on a popular Kumasi, based FM station. Indeed, the caption, elite dishonesty seems to best describe the discreditable acceptance of a system of what looks like inherent discrimination in the educational system towards especially the so-called “CYTO system and” and sometimes the less endowed SHS, since independence.

Reference to the Education Act 1961 (now repealed) indicates that, in 1961 Ghana designed and run a basic education school system of 10 years, termed the elementary school system. This comprised six years of primary school education and four years continuation in what was called the middle school, where pupils acquired the middle school leaving certificate upon completion. There was also the secondary school system. However, one could only get in after writing and passing what was called the common entrance examination, organised by the WAEC.

Yet what is interesting is that, if you were in the public school system, the curriculum had been designed such that, if you wanted to sit for the common entrance, you needed to do so under private tutorship outside the mainstream public school system and that could also even be permitted when you had reached middle school form one and beyond. Concomitantly, there emerged another school system, the so-called preparatory and international schools and these schools prepared candidates purposely for the common entrance at primary six.

It turned out that, these schools became the hot basket for mostly the families of the elite and privileged in society who obviously had a better understanding of the benefit of secondary school education, compared to the middle school system. Suffice to also state that, the preparatory schools also charged very high fees which obviously created what I will term “technical knockout” for the working class, even if they also harboured the ambition of educating their families is such schools.

That is, apart for not having an adequate understanding of the system, there was no way the working class could have patronised the preparatory schools, which was actually the case. Even with hindsight, it shudders to fathom how such a dual system came into being for some category of people to be specifically trained for the secondary school system whilst others were prepared for so-called standard seven system of acquiring a middle school leaving certificate.

As a beneficiary of the CYTO school system myself, there are many times that I have counted myself lucky indeed, to have benefitted from the secondary school system which largely prepared the foundation for what I have achieved so far including becoming a university professor. However, often, when I look back, which I believe is same with many others like me, it is with a feeling of discomfort that the Ghanaian educational system has never been fair in creating equal opportunity for all.

If you attended the public or so called “CYTO” system, you had to sit for and write the common entrance examination under private tutorship in middle school form one, while others, who may described as the privileged few were being trained specifically for the same examinations in a different school system.  In fact, I was lucky I passed the common entrance in form one because there are many CYTO beneficiaries who had to go all the way to form four before entering secondary school.

For many others too, there was no opportunity at all of entering the secondary school system, because the middle school system was just not designed for that purpose.  Hence many others did not even consider in attempting to write common entrance examinations, because it was like a path has been created for you already.

The truth of the matter is that the system then as it was designed and implemented did not offer an equal playing field for all pupils to tap in and develop to their full potential. Thus, to put it bluntly, it was, to say the least, akin to discrimination. Where is the equality in this? That is why I agree with the notion that this could be classified as a system of ‘Elite dishonesty’. It is indeed an act of elite dishonesty and needed be to be discontinued as such.

Obviously, the advent of the Junior Secondary System (JSS) in September 1987 became a veritable milestone to perhaps help cure this grave anomaly.  For once, all pupils in the basic school were to be given the same opportunities until JSS three (3) where they would all write the BECE. Thus, there was now the equal opportunity for every pupil to aspire to enter the secondary school, albeit subject to test conditions. However, it is interesting to note that, the introduction of the JSS system even did not materialise on a silver platter. Spurred by misgivings by the elite who obviously had better understanding of the system, there were massive protests against its introduction. Apart from providing equal opportunities for all pupils to progress to the secondary school, the system was also to emphasise, vocational, agriculture and technical skills, which sadly seems to have been lost, even though it was one of the key recommendations of the Dzobo 1973/74 committee. Again with hindsight, I do not know what those who opposed its introduction would be feeling now, but if you went through the CYTO school system like I did, at least you should be happy that, it came to offer all pupils the opportunity to experience secondary education contrary to what existed from 1961 to 1987.  So the question now is, is the existing system now fair? No; there are still issues. It is common knowledge that, the CTYO school system is still disadvantaged and seems to be even getting worse.

What it means is that, while there is now equal opportunity to write the BECE and aspire for secondary education; the lack of quality assurance is known to be the reason why many pupils from these schools end up in the so called less endowed SHS whilst the elite and privileged in society continue to patronise the so called highly-rated SHS. Admittedly, the State is making some effort towards bridging the gap with for example the computerised selection system and some quota system I believe. Yet it is also true that, whatever is being done is not enough and leaves much to be desired as far as for example infrastructure and quality of teaching and learning in the CYTO schools are concerned.

In a related development regarding the less endowed Senior High Schools, an MP is alleged to have described certain schools in the 8th August edition of a news item on Ghanaweb as mushroom schools, apparently because of the recent unfortunate and shameful incidents some students have exhibited during the ongoing WAEC exams. Condemnable and shameful as the incidents may be, the degrading description used for state-funded public institutions by the legislature is an indictment that the State is failing in providing equal access to quality education at all fronts. 

I also listened to a statement by the minority leader on the floor of parliament on the 7 pm JOYNEWS of August 11, 2020, epitomising the copious disparities that have long existed in our schools especially with respect to that so-called CYTO schools system and the less endowed SHS schools. Is it a case that, the State normally directs more attention to certain privileged schools because the elite and privileged in society are benefitting from these schools?  Perhaps not, but if so, then that could obviously amount to what is being referred to as elite dishonesty.

The free SHS system is indeed another veritable milestone in Ghana’s educational history. The idea that all children who get the opportunity to enter SHS would enter for free creates huge relieve for many pupils from disadvantaged societies, to also benefit from secondary education. Thus, for once, there is now no reason for anyone to be denied secondary education because parents and/or guardians cannot offer school fees. Nonetheless, as very veritable as the scheme is, it is also true that students who go to boarding schools are benefitting at the expense of day students.

Whilst in this case, it may not be fair to liken the phenomenon to discrimination as such, there is also no doubt that it amounts to some form of unequal treatment. Several years ago, some of us attended Sixth form as day students and we were very much content with it. For being day students, we were compensated and received stipends in lieu of not being in a boarding school. While it may not be fair to advocate for same system in this respect, the fact still remains that the day students are in somewhat disadvantaged situation compared to the boarders, which may have to be looked at again going into the future.

The State could for instance take care of their transport fares for commuting to and from schools or with the introduction of some form of additional instructional packages. As defined by the new urban agenda, the SDGs are engendered to thrive on inclusive development of which Goal 4 for example is specifically targeting equal opportunity and access to education by the year 2030. 

It is true that the State just like many Governments around the world have demanding needs from many sectors including education, but it may also true that the State has sometimes approached policy issues not from the point of equal access but to the benefit of certain interest groups. The state may claim to have some justification and thus not to be blamed, but so far as  people in public authority and privileged positions are seen to be benefitting from the acclaimed challenges to the disadvantage of the larger society, this idea of elite dishonesty may therefore be considered as valid and indeed pervasive.

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The writer is the head of the Centre for Settlements Studies with Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST)