Ghana’s prosperity depends on the practicality of education

· The NAB must support concrete skills for employment

All the way up to the university levels, many of today’s teachings stifle both understanding and skills building. The point is simply this, where there are no practical connections to the subjects being taught, there cannot be any appreciable commitment by the learner. And where one can’t develop the skills to apply what is learned to create anything useful, what then is education for?


One can be taught till kingdom come – one can learn the multitude of theories till yet another kingdom appears – and still remain stuck, unskilled, unproductive, and unfulfilled. A good many academic degrees are not grounded in practice; they float aimlessly with the wind. That is the misery passing for education in parts of Africa, hence the underemployment and persistent poverty.

And for some unfathomable reason, the very same academicians leading and looping those vicious cycles are the ones expected to resolve the dilemma!

In the column, “Avoiding the miseducation of Ghana’s youth”, I posed the following: “Why have dreams if you can’t live them? Why have interests or curiosities if you can’t pursue them?” Education has quality only if it fosters one’s skills to innovate, to create, to invent, to produce a needed product or to be employable to add value to an existing entity by helping to solve problems.

Project based education

These days, it’s so important that educational assessments are not merely based on ticking off right answers on examination sheets or writing reports that nobody may use. Project based learning – starting from the primary levels – offers the best opportunities to apply what one learns, to be creative, to develop a product, or a service that puts one in a better stead.

In John G. Maxwell’s book, “The Winning Attitude: Your Key to Personal Success”, he noted that “it is more difficult to learn something wrong, unlearn it and re-learn it, than to learn it correctly the first time. That is certainly true about our attitudes. Those things which we feel and accept at an early age have a tendency to hang on tenaciously even when we know better and desire to change. The first impressions upon our lives are not the only impressions, but many times they are the most lasting.”

The economist (June 25, 2016) cited the example of Olin College, an engineering university in Needham, Massachusetts, where “During their four years, students complete 20-25 projects … They spend about four-fifths of their time in teams and combine ideas from different disciplines.” In addition to the variety of practical skills learned from those hands-on experiences, the “projects strengthen recall and hone communication skills” and prepare graduates for employment or to strike out on their own as entrepreneurs.

The instructors there are “hired for their teaching expertise rather than publication records” or academic over-specialisation. The college “has received visits from 658 universities from 45 countries keen to learn about its approach.”

The weekly cited also the Aalto University (Helsinki) that “brings engineering, art and business students together to design, build and market a product” by bringing “theory and practice closer together [to] spark young people’s curiosity”. Such universities promote an entrepreneurial environment and they hire instructors for that purpose.

Worldwide, education is being re-designed to reflect the practical needs of the times. In Ghana, as in other parts of Africa, theory and practice must today be fused at the hip like Siamese twins: and that is where our traditional universities and their lecturers must rise to the occasion, and be up and doing.

A reader once commented that “Our leaders should look at the top level problems again. Education has changed from grammar to skills. People should be multi-skilled in different professions to stay competitive in the future world. We cannot continue to let young adults stay home because they failed in English or Science … Rather than invest in infrastructure to expand admission and learning opportunities, we kept the same infrastructure and then restricted access by contriving high failure rates … In an environment of repressed growth, this created the perfect storm for persistently high youth unemployment.”

National Accreditation Board

In Ghana, the National Accreditation Board (NAB), for example, needs to appreciate one key thing: that Ghana’s prosperity depends on the practicality of education; that is, the practical solutions to the nation’s problems. With that sound measure, many traditional “chew, pour, and be poor” universities may themselves need alterations or falter. We are not in the year 1948 where the purpose of the traditional university was to train civil servants for colonial government employment, where individuals and local industries were forbidden to compete with the colonialists. Those years are long gone.

The NAB systems of monitoring must evaluate in equal measure the efficacy of both the public and private universities; they must not lose sight of the fact that we live in a world where new insights are spawned daily and conditions are in a permanent state of flux, constantly changing. To remain dynamic and relevant, they must discern what works and what doesn’t.

It takes guts to push boundaries and allow some fresh entrants to experiment with bold and relevant approaches to educating the nation’s youth for better results. Aware of the tyranny of the status quo – that is, guarding against doing the same things and expect different results – they must discern the differentiation most appropriate for the occasion. They must prompt and support the new normal, and thereby sway from rigidity, sway from a herd mentality where requirements remain fixated.

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The aftermath of the 2016 WASSCE results

  • Education must be practical enough for youth employment

By Anis Haffar

The poor 2016 West Africa Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) results are mere embers of the larger problems associated with the traditional academic type education being foisted on the nation’s youth. Isn’t it ironic that even those who pass such examinations with good scores for academic degrees, many will surely end up unemployed? Such incongruity in a country where the youth need employment! It is high time, then, to question the persistently fruitless conventional mindset and begin to think of more useful alternatives.

The WASSCE results (Daily Graphic, August 20, 2016) showed that in Integrated Science, while 113,933 pupils (out of the total of 232,390) achieved the acceptable scores of A1 – C6, some 75,938 pupils obtained the unsatisfactory scores of D7 – D8, and 42,519 failed completely. The majority of the candidates – 51% – were in the bottom two brackets.

The scores in Mathematics were worse: while only 77,108 pupils (out of 231,592) scored A1 – C6, the greater majority – 67% – were in the unsatisfactory (D7 – D8) and failed brackets. Though the scores in English and Social Studies were not as bad as Science and Mathematics, generally speaking, the cumulative scores prohibit the majority of the WASSCE pupils from advancing to the next higher stage.

In Ghana, we use summative exam scores for punitive purposes by casting the blame on the failing youth: most of the candidates are tossed to their own devices, with a good number spilling into the streets, hustling with vehicular traffic for a living. When, on the other hand, exam scores are used meaningfully as formative assessments, we are obliged to ask the pertinent questions: Why and how did such large failures happen? And, most importantly, can’t there be superior alternatives in education that can better serve the youth?


The problems cannot be resolved with the same minds that created them in the first place. So let’s consider two things: Even in the academics, starting from the BECE, why, for example, are the basic schools in the Central Region recording some of the worst BECE results in the country when the nation’s two top teacher training universities (University of Cape Coast – UCC, and University of Education, Winneba – UEW) are both situated right there? It’s clear that a good many of the teacher-trainers themselves avoid the dusty unattractive public school sites, and are more comfortable in the ivory towers of lecture halls and theories than connecting with the student-teachers and children at the locations where the real action is needed most.

Second, Who would trust medical doctors, dentists and nurses taught in lectures halls, away from professional practice and supervision in the clinics and hospitals? Just as patients are the real concerns ofdoctors, so must the pupils in the classrooms be the focus of all teacher training centers across the country. Using my own experience as an example, only through the verification of years of full time teaching in classrooms, were my teacher credentials finally awarded and certified in the United States. Quality teaching is hands-on, not a set of theories.
There must be reasons for the mass academic failures. In Science, for example, why is the subject taught in Ghana as mere theories? Why is the subject not taught in practical ways in each of the districts for the pupils to see the real purposes and benefits of science? Many people are practical kinesthetic learners, anyway: they do better through hands-on approaches than sitting and memorizing abstractions. From primary to the tertiary levels, the lack of applications is the regal albatross that hangs down the neck of education in poor countries. Why choose to glorify theories and morning prayers, but disdain the blessings of action and work that make the theories and prayers come alive?

Education for employment

The Daily Graphic report (August 17, 2016) that “Ghana needs 300,000 jobs annually” is a caution seething openly. Between now and 2020, unemployment – where about “48 per cent of the youth between 15 and 24 years” are jobless – must be faced with serious concern. Then, of course, the jobs must be created in the first place, in the districts, starting with projects that benefit from the applications of science. A report by the Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA), for example, reveals countless possibilities in the municipalities and districts in the northern savannas alone.

Kintampo North Municipal stands to gain from maize grain and corn flakes processing. Kintampo South District can benefit from ginger and other projects related to spices. Pru District has prospects in cage fish culture. Sene West District – soya and rice production. Bunkpurugu Yunyoo – Soy beans and dried mango processing for both export and local consumption. Central Gonja – Commercial fish farming. Mion District – Shea nut production. Namumba South – Local pottery, cassava flour and yams. Savelugu and Nanton – Acquaculture and fisheries. Tolon – Fish farming along the Volta. Yendi – Bee keeping and Guinea fowl rearing. Garu-Tempane – Watermelon and onions. Kassenanankana – Piggery. Nabdam – Shea soaps. Talensi – Tomato and other vegetables along the White Volta. The list is endless for job creation in each of the 200 or so municipalities and districts in Ghana, from north to south, including the uses of cotton for textiles in the Mamprusi Districts.

It pays to recall the Singaporean visionary, Lee Kuan Yew’s visit to Ghana, in February 1964: He lamented the shortsightedness of Ghana’s policy elites trapping their best and brightest brains behind desks memorizing declensions and conjugations of Latin and Greek nouns and verbs, but ignoring agriculture. Education in Ghana is at that inflection point now where it’s clearly senseless to continue on a trajectory that is wasting the potential of the youth, and impoverishing a country endowed with such great prospects.

Modern curricular objectives

As William Shakespeare put it in King Lear, “We are not the first who with the best meaning incurred the worse”. But going forward, purposeful education must offer transformative opportunities that address the following key questions: One, does it help to create jobs? Two, does it add value to the nation’s natural endowment and local inputs? Three, does it help the youth to fill existing jobs that require the use of modern technology? Four, does it teach and support the youth to be entrepreneurs who make it by solving existing national and international problems?
For those wonderful things to happen, teachers – across the spectrum, both at the basic and tertiary levels – must upgrade themselves with the appropriate practical skills to teach to those needs. Of worthy concern is the large mismatch between what schools prepare students to do to graduate and the realities of unemployment and desolation after graduation. We surely need adults in the room to move education forward in a meaningful way.


African Leadership University (ALU) re-imagines tertiary education

  • Innovations for problem solving and entrepreneurship

    By Anis Haffar

Fred Swaniker
ALU founder, Fred Swaniker, speaking at Faith Montessori School, Accra

The problems associated with youth unemployment across Africa are so alarming, that for our graduates to be processed out of tertiary institutions, year after year, without the skills to solve problems or opportunities to be entrepreneurs is a great disservice to the continent.

In the column, “Ban the lectures and focus on the world of work,” (April 25, 2016), I noted that “The traditional academic type education being foisted on the nation’s youth need to be thought through to see if that is what Ghana needs at this point in her history. Frankly, it has long outlived its usefulness; and had really become part of the problem considering the nation’s continuous underdevelopment. If, as they say, technical universities should be problem solving oriented, then what must the traditional universities be? All educational institutions must be problem solving, to see both the people and the nation prosper.”

 The Economist weekly (June 25th 2016) noted, for instance, that there’s “a trend that is reshaping how some students learn (necessitating) the ‘rise of the challenge-driven university’. In the past 15 years dozens such institutions have been set up, from Chile to China. Many more are planned. Though they differ in scope, they share an approach. They reject the usual ways of getting young adults to learn: lectures, textbooks, slogs in the library, exams – and professors. Instead students work on projects in teams, trying to solve problems.”

Invited as a guest speaker at the African Leadership University (ALU), in Mauritius, in July 2016, I visited some classes led by facilitators and not by lecturers or professors. After a particular session, I said to the facilitator, “That was a wonderful class, I enjoyed being in it; but I want to know how you prepare so well for a course like this where everyone is comfortable and everyone is contributing.” I added that she was a born teacher.

Experiential Learning at ALU

The facilitator, Tolulope Agunbiade, said, “For our course, which is ‘Entrepreneurial Leadership’, we come together and we decide on what the full year curriculum should look like so we have the high level overview and at the end we ask, What are we trying to achieve? For us, it’s how we can get people to think like entrepreneurs, be able to identify problems and solve them in a very systemic way. And then we break our larger curriculum into smaller modules so we can focus for almost five weeks and ask, Just how do you spot an opportunity?”

She continued, “And within these five weeks, we break [the modules] down into separate lessons and for each lesson we think of what our learning outcomes are. What are the best ways to hit our learning outcomes in the most engaging way? So we usually start with some sort of experiential discovery to ease you into it using either a game or real life experiences, and from there we transition and ask, How do we bring it home to what we are then doing? That’s when we start soliciting examples from people within the class. Tell us about a time when this happened to you, and from there we take them into a larger thing: How can you then see in your community or in your country a current problem that is happening? How could we have thought about it, for example, more systemically?”

That was the vigour of that particular class. Tolu is Nigerian, and has a degree in Accounting from the University of Abuja. She said, “We usually have the same plans where we just think: What is the topic we are trying to hit on? How long will it be for? What are the objectives we are trying to hit and how do we plan out the sessions? So we start with the activity, the instructions, the experiential, the debrief – which is very important because that is where we get all the knowledge that the students have learnt so far and hear them say it in their own words – and then the question: What is the question that we are trying to introduce them to?”

Fred Swaniker is the Founder and Chairman of the African Leadership Group – an ecosystem of organizations that includes the African Leadership Academy (ALA) in South Africa, the African Leadership Network, the Africa Advisory Group, and of course, the African Leadership University. Fred is deeply passionate about Africa and has worked in and visited about 25 countries on the continent. He has been recognized as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum and was recognized by Forbes Magazine as one of the top ten young ‘power men’ in Africa. He has an MBA from Stanford Business School.

The ALU Foundation Core

Necessity is the mother of innovation. Intended to help students develop skills and enhance their learning experience inside the classroom and during their annual internships, the four innovative Foundation Courses serve as follows:

  1. Data & Decisions: Understanding data and its implications in the real world.
  2. Communication for Impact: Developing the necessary skills to communicate effectively in a professional setting.
  3. Projects: Engaging in real life case studies similar to working in an actual organization.
  4. Entrepreneurial Leadership: Discovering the soft skills needed to make a great leader.

Fred wrote the plan for the African Leadership Academy at Stanford. Dubbed “The University of the Future”, ALU offers a pioneering fresh approach to university education in the 21st century “by integrating students’ learning with the real world, empowering students to take ownership of their own learning, equipping each student to think entrepreneurially, and employing the most engaging and inspiring teaching methods.”

ALU is quite Pan-African, with students from Morocco to South Africa, and from Senegal to Ethiopia. You can explore more on ALU on




Avoiding the mis-education of Ghana’s youth

  • A call for innovative approaches and commitment

    By Anis Haffar

Why have dreams if you can’t live them? Why have interests or curiosities if you can’t pursue them? Why have hypotheses if you can’t test your finer instincts through them? Such stuff are the critical elements that drive purposeful 21st century education. The journey draws new questions, presents bold challenges, and enhances problem solving abilities for national prosperity and self-fulfillment.

And that is exactly why the likes of Singapore, Japan and Finland keep topping international education benchmarks, raising those nations’ standards of living accordingly. Ghana must always look up for the best, not follow the decrepit colonial models. A home brewed inspiration may be drawn from the mindset of John Mensah Sarbah (1864 – 1910) who envisioned education in the Gold Coast on the level with Japan, way back then. Similarly, Kwegyir Aggrey (1875 – 1927) speaking to the ultimate purpose in education, cautioned, “Don’t tell me what you know; show me what you can do!” Such exemplars are indeed the educational mentors we need today!

In order to pursue relevant education for Ghana, we need to begin to understand that the colonial “hands-in-the-pockets” grammar type format (which is still being pursued unwittingly but relentlessly, across the public education spectrum) lost its lustre years back. The passive elitist types follow the beaten path to depravity; they will not lead to a future that will lift Ghana out of poverty – away from the begging and borrowing traps.

I tend to use February 1964 as the inflection point when Ghana missed the clue from Lee Kuan Yew (1923 – 2015). In his usual thoughtful, blunt, and provocative way, he decried how Ghana’s best brains wasted away sitting in bare classrooms chewing on Latin and Greek verbs, instead of focusing on adding value to the nation’s abundant natural inputs and endowment. Like it or not, that strategic compass is still the most reliable tool with which to navigate curricular objectives, for a future laden with a purpose for national prosperity.

Why we choose to be plagued by the past is the question every educator, parent, and student must ask every school day. The status quo continues to thwart the minds of the precious youth, and leads to psychological and material deprivation.

There are presently two prevalent education systems: One, The “sitting and waiting” culture: a habit that rewards passivity and conformity through standardized examinations, but strangles imagination and creativity. In the column, “Progressive Education for a Superior Workforce: The transition from theories to hands-on abilities,” (August 18, 2014) I noted that, “It’s a rare person indeed who is raised to sit for 16 years in school – all the way through university – merely dangling information back and forth without any useful hands-on work, and then suddenly released, with a certificate loaded with theories, to now start work in a non-sitting active posture. We are creatures of habit, and that expectation is as fruitless as it is ridiculous.”

A tale 1The second is the “thinking and doing” culture where at the earliest ages, the youth are supported to  think for themselves, make their own mistakes, find out things for themselves – follow their finer instincts, interests and curiosities – and use technology to advance their thinking in the best ways to solve pressing problems. For this group, the active brain and hands are the best teachers. By reflecting on action, that culture arrives at better decisions to which people commit naturally, with enthusiasm.

But where the hands are folded or immobilized, potential and possibilities are missed. Like we say in Twi: “Sɛ wo te faako a, na wote wo adeɛ so!” [To wit: to sit complacently in one place is to miss opportunities!]

To be relevant and purposeful, modern curricular objectives must offer transformative opportunities that address the following key questions: One, do they help to create jobs? Two, do they add value to the nation’s natural endowment and local inputs? Three, do they help to the youth to fill existing jobs that require the use of modern technology? Four, do they help the youth to be entrepreneurs who make it by solving existing national and international problems?

What that means, in a nutshell, is that teachers – across the spectrum, both the basic and tertiary levels – must themselves be upgraded to teach to those requirements. One can’t, for example, teach the digital age youth with an analog mindset, as they say. And it is no joke that continuous education is a great fit for everyone who sees themselves as professional. At the end of the day, the benefits will spread to everybody – both the young and the old, and also curtail the social problems associated with the teeming youth unemployment, and associated frustrations.

For Africa’s leaders to commit to the 21st century demands, let me end with answers to a question that was once asked of Lee Kuan Yew: What qualities define a successful leader? He answered, “They must have the extra drive, intellectual verve, an extra tenacity, and the will to overcome.” He added that the leaders must also have “a natural urge, a natural interest in people, in wanting to do something for them, which they can sense and feel. If you have not go that and you just want to be a great leader, try some other profession.”



An escape from the educational paralysis

· The “chew, pour, pass, and be poor” disease

By Anis Haffar

“Chicken Soup for the Soul”  – which became a New York Times bestseller – consists of a series of simple but wise stories  compiled by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen.

One of the stories – stressing the importance of learner centred teaching – is abridged as follows:

“Now” said the teacher, “We are going to make flowers.” “Good!” thought the little boy as he began to make beautiful ones with his pink and orange and blue crayons. But the teacher said, “Wait! And I will show you how.” And she drew a flower on the blackboard. “There,” said the teacher. “Now you may copy.” The little boy looked at the teacher’s flower. Then he looked at his own flower; he liked his flower better than the teacher’s.

On another day, the teacher said, “Today we are going to make something with clay.” “Good!” thought the little boy. He liked clay. But the teacher said, “Wait! And I will show you how.” And she showed everyone how to copy a deep dish. “There,” said the teacher, “Now you may begin.” The little boy looked at the teacher’s dish, then he looked at one he had made earlier. He liked his dish better than the teacher’s.  Soon the little boy learned to wait, and to copy what the teacher liked. And soon he didn’t make things of his own anymore.

It happened that the boy went to another school. The new teacher asked that they draw a picture. When she came to the little boy, she said, “Don’t you want to make a picture?” “Yes”, said the little boy. “What are we going to make?” “I don’t know until you make it,” said the teacher. “How shall I make it?”  asked the little boy. “Why, any way you like,” said the teacher. “And any colour?” asked the little boy. “Any colour,” said the teacher, “If everyone made the same picture, and used the same colours, how would I know who made what …?

I recall a story Professor Kwabena Nketia told recently at –  about his first meeting with the musical icon Ephraim Amu many years back. Amu asked him, “I hear you have been copying my music?”  Waiting to be praised, Nketia said excitedly, “Yes sir, I have.” Amu then admonished him, saying, “Stop copying my music. Go to the rural folks, listen to them; learn from them, and begin to make your own music.” After the initial shock from the rebuke, Nketia took his own musical compositions into his own hands, and as of today, has over 300 original compositions to his credit.

“A careful analysis of the teacher-student relationship at any level, inside or outside the school, reveals its fundamentally narrative character. This relationship involves a narrating Subject (the teacher) and patient, listening objects (the students). The contents, whether values or empirical dimensions of reality, tend in the process of being narrated to become lifeless and petrified. Education is suffering from narration sickness.”

21st century education focuses on the essential questions: How do we connect theory with applications? How do we use information to solve pressing societal problems? Since Critical Thinking, for example, cannot be copied and memorized, the focus is to imbue learners with the freedom to think on their own, make their own observations and mistake, and to act on their thinking in useful ways. The copy, chew, pour, pass format is not useful; it breeds passivity and poverty. Worthy of concern is the lair mismatch between what schools prepare students to do to graduate and the practical realities of life after graduation.

Professor Kwabena Nketia recently told a story about his first meeting with the musical icon Ephraim Amu years back. Amu asked him, “I hear you have been copying my music?” Waiting to be praised for the effort, the young Nketia replied excitedly, “Yes sir, I have.” Amu then admonished him, saying, “stop copying my music. Go to the rural folks, listen to them; learn from them, and begin to make your own music.” After the initial shock from the rebuke, Nketia took his musical compositions into his own hands, and has about 300 original compositions to his credit. Today, he is known worldwide as the African ambassador of music with a great many books to his credit.