SONA 2019: Perspectives on the education sector

Article 67 of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana mandates the President to deliver a message on the state of the nation to parliament at the beginning of each session and before the dissolution of parliament. 

The content of this address has been a bone of contention since the inception of the 4th Republic.

The nature of the various sectors of the country and the time duration for such an address make it a daunting task for the President to adequately touch on all sectors of the economy. 

In most cases, Presidents have been chastised for leaving one sector or the other out. However, the education sector is one of the areas that have featured prominently in all State of the Nation Addresses (SoNAs) I perused when putting together this write up. 

This, in essence, accentuates the important role of education from the viewpoint of various Presidents over the years.

The 2019 SoNA, as usual, touched on some of the accomplishments in the education front. I must admit that the speech due to time constraint did not capture certain activities that are ongoing in the sector, conspicuously missing, is the GETFund facility that is being sought to improve infrastructure in the education sector. 

Looking at how lack of infrastructure at the SHS level impacted negatively on the implementation of the Free SHS policy, it was surprising that no mention was made on the GETFund facility. Nevertheless, the President touched on some equally important happenings in the sector.

Intriguingly, the President opened this section of the speech by reiterating the private and public benefits of education. 

The President further indicated that the kind of education that benefits society is quality education and it has a long term impact on society. These should be invigorating to any stakeholder in the sector since the numerous calls from all stakeholders have been the issue of quality education that stimulates lifelong learning. 

This infers that the President agrees with most of us that the discussion going forward should not only be about giving access to students but rather the quality of education these students will be experienced after they have had free access to education. So, all the input variables that lead to the delivery of quality education should be given the needed attention.

A redefinition of Basic education to include senior high school which is free is a bold attempt to improve the literacy rate in the country. The returns to this kind of investment are long term to both the individual and the society. This also should inform the kind of curriculum that is implemented at the secondary level. It should be the kind of curriculum that positions the student not only for tertiary education but also for the world of work. In fact, a redefinition of Basic education to include SHS will be meaningless unless it is linked to a complete overhaul of the curriculum for both the JHS and the SHS levels.

Education does not take place in a vacuum. There should be a set of standards and competencies that should be exhibited by students after going through the curriculum at any level of education. 

It is therefore refreshing that in September this year, a standard-based curriculum will be implemented from KG to Primary 6. One of the pressing challenges with our educational system is attributed to the basic level or the foundation. No one is oblivious of the role basic education plays in the educational life of the child. 

It is therefore important that we get that level right. The introduction of a new curriculum that seeks to reduce the number of subjects that the children are required to study and also places premium on literacy, numeracy and creativity, is a sure bet to the shaping of the foundation of the child’s education. Juxtaposing this with the focus on STEM at the basic level and construction of ten of these centres is very welcoming. 

The biggest challenge to this policy will be the level of involvement of the implementers of this curriculum. Fidelity of implementation of educational policies continues to be a big challenge in Ghana primarily because in most cases the teachers who are the final implementers of the curriculum are sidelined. However, it is not too late to kick-start a nationwide sensitization and familiarization of the new curriculum for the teachers at the basic level.

In talking about teachers, the President was on point when he indicated that at the centre of the achievement of quality education is a “well-motivated and remunerated teacher”. 

Teachers continue to be one of the most important variables in the attainment of quality education. The quality of the teacher, his/her experience and exposure as well as professional orientation play a critical role in the pedagogy adopted and how the subject matter is delivered and also the level of commitment that is exhibited during instructional sessions. It is therefore crucial when a policy directive requires that the basic qualification for teaching at the primary level should be a degree. The reinforcement of this policy in the private education sector and the payment of the corresponding remuneration would be two pressing issues to address in terms of this policy. Tethering this with a robust teacher licensing regime and improved professional standards is a sure way to uplift the teaching profession to an enviable level.

The Institute for Education Studies (IFEST) in their end of year message 2018 highlighted the neglected nature of the TVET institutions and called for improved investment in the sector if the country wants to reduce the level of youth unemployment. 

Consequently, the construction of ten (10) modern TVET centres is very welcoming. However, the Ministry should also continue with its renovation of the existing TVET centres and equip them with the needed teaching and learning resources. Again, the human resource base of these institutions should be upgraded to enable them to deliver the needed content to the students. I dare say, a review of the curriculum for TVETs seems inevitable if the focus is to modernise our technical and vocational education. In fact, agricultural institutes should be given the same attention and if possible the construction new agricultural institutes should also be a priority.

My curiosity rose when the President mentioned a tertiary education policy bill. I am inclined to assume that the failed attempt to oust the Vice Chancellor of KNUST MIGHT have triggered this bill. 

I will wait to see the content of this bill so that one can make an informed comment on it, however, it must be stated that the semi-autonomy of our tertiary institutions should not be compromised for whatever reason and hence, academic freedom should be the cardinal principle in the development of any tertiary education bill.

In conclusion, one will say the President has fulfilled righteousness. The various plans mentioned and the ones which were not captured but is ongoing should ideally aim at positioning the education sector for the best. The fruits of these investments will be reaped only when there is enough consultation and involvement of all relevant stakeholders especially the teacher unions and CSOs. 

The education sector is like an octopus with numerous twigs all working together to ensure the quality delivery of education to its citizenry. This ascription calls for well-coordinated policy initiatives spanning from different tilts but geared towards the achievement of an educated and productive society.

The writer is an education economist, researcher and curriculum expert and currently the Acting Executive Director of the Institute of Education Studies (IFEST), an education think tank in Ghana.