Does our current educational system destroy talent?
Debate on Education with Anis Haffar (Educational Consultant, Author and Researcher) and Araba Botchwey (Director of Admissions and Financial Aid) Ashesi University, hosted by Abert Ocran of Legacy & Legacy.
· The missing links in the manifestoes on education.
It was not possible for me to respond to the numerous requests for TV and Radio interviews when the political parties introduced their manifestoes on education. (My apologies to those producers who called).The next best thing was to introduce the current topic, and to give an idea of the opportunities we keep missing in Ghana which education can revive. Quality purposeful education is a serious matter: It is not a political game of cut and paste manifestoes to fill airtime with promises.
When political parties introduce their manifestoes, they send their constituents on hopeful journeys in search of progress. The plans that party leaders send messages about become the focus of what should be of most concern to the nation; they are supposed to give hope first, and hands-on action thereafter. The plans measure how forward looking, relevant, and serious the parties are about their espoused beliefs for the nation.
The visions and values from the issues set the agenda for the nation. From that point alone, it’s been deduced time and again that where there’s no vision a people perish; and that answers the question posed in the Ghana Education Service (GES) syllabus: Why are some nations rich and others poor? Serious nations are discerning, innovative, and practical; they add value to the possibilities around them.
The quest for self-sufficiency ruled my thoughts when I visited the Northern Region to do a Pre-Service Teacher Training for a leadership and skills institute at Nalerigu, in the Mamprusi District. Thereafter, in a presentation I designed for the Parliamentary Select Committee on Education for the “Education Strategic Plan 2010 – 2020” at Koforidua (11th and 12th May 2013), I stressed to the MPs assembled that all districts are not endowed in the same way; and so one size of science education does not fit all. In the Mamprusi District, for example, cotton, shea-butter, and various fruits grow naturally, and they needed to be incorporated as science projects to support students’ enlightenment in the area as a prelude to bona fide agricultural inputs for scaled industries.
Observations in other regions suggested that school projects in each district must be promoted and tailored to fit its local contents. Cottage industries, for one, start with local content. In the Savelugu / Nanton District, rice cultivation in the Nabogu Valley should feature strongly as science projects for the youth there.
The North and South Nkwanta Districts must stress yams and legume production. In the Shamaa District – and other districts by water bodies – Tilapia and other fish farms should feature there. Those examples are just samplers for starters, but at the end of the day, the districts themselves must be in much better positions to identify their comparative advantages and peculiarities and focus their energies, intelligence, and science projects there. Integrated science projects are already recommended in the Ministry of Education / GES syllabus; but we live in a country where everything is good on paper except the committed actions to get things done in productive ways.
Focus on the nation’s natural endowment
The national planning and manifestoes for educational transformation needed at this moment in Ghana must stand in some organic relationship with the natural endowment in each district; that is, every district must focus on its comparative strengths. The health of the nation itself depends on the health of the rural districts; and a useful manifesto must reflect this reality.
There is something inherently wrong with the collective national mindset when our natural resources are neglected and replaced with container loads of other people’s trash in the form of electronic wastes, broken appliances, and factory rejects. The very sight of Ghana’s youth pending such wastes as lifelong trades is a cause for concern. The right kind of education must begin to reflect on these hazards.
There are many nations without any visible natural resources of any kind – no gold, no bauxite, no cocoa, no diamonds, no oil – but purposeful education has provided them with some of the highest living standards in the world. For Ghana, so blessed with so much, it bugs the mind to see why after about 60 years of independence, the country continues to be so deprived.
Which party will lead by example?
Let’s take an example from Lee Kuan Yew, on how he sustained his manifesto to create an oases of excellence for the schools in Singapore. He said, “We educated [the] children in schools by getting them to plant trees, care for them, and grow gardens.” For the larger nation itself, he said, “I got the ministry of defense in charge of national servicemen, the ministry of education with half a million students under its care, and the National Trade Union Congress with several hundred thousand workers [to] make Singapore a pleasanter place for ourselves, quite apart from the tourist trade.”
Are our political leaders honestly prepared to engage such employees on the nation’s payroll to go those extra miles to make a difference in the lives of the youth and the country itself? To see where any nation is going in the future, just watch how the nation treats her own children. Understanding that, will they add to their manifestoes and commit to build toilets and help provide water and toilet paper to improve sanitation and health standards in each of the 14,000 or so basic public schools in the country?
The manifestoes for the right kind of education must reflect on those hazards and offer actionable plans to address them within verifiable time frames.
The maiden matriculation ceremony of Accra College of Medicine (at their premises at Adjirigarno, Saturday, 30th April 2016) was both emotional and historic. It cast my mind back to an article by K.B. Asante titled “Learning From Our Heroes,” (Daily Graphic, June 13, 1994). He wrote, “Nkrumah one afternoon called Charlie Easmon and told him to get his colleagues together to start a medical school. ‘You can do it, you know,’ he told Easmon. Quartey, Dodu, Badoe, Sai and the other specialists at Korle Bu were formed into a team to build the medical school under Charlie Easmon as dean.” The rest is history, as “the genius of Nkrumah pierced through the fog [and] provided true leadership”.
No matter what one does in life, when we are called for a purpose, and work hard at it everyday, the results are fulfilling and the call becomes historic. All that magic is encapsulated in the sturdy passion to serve humanity.
The mission of the Accra College of Medicine (ACM) was defined by Dr (Mrs) Afua Hesse as follows: “Our passion is to produce medical doctors who will see themselves as taking part in a crusade: the crusade against disease, poverty, ignorance, underdevelopment and mediocrity, making full use of innovative science and technology.
“We aim to produce medical doctors who will look at the face of the diseases afflicting our people (most of which are preventable), and say: ‘This is unacceptable,’ and be moved with ‘heart power’ for their patients / clients and their families and communities to do something about it.”
Dr Afua Hesse, the co-founder (alongside her amiable husband Rev Dr Adukwei Hesse) is a Paediatric surgeon and a medical educator with over 39 years of experience in both the UK and Ghana. With the Gold medal from the University of Ghana Medical School in 1976, and a distinction in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, she’s a woman of many firsts. She was the first female Paediatric Surgeon in Ghana, and the first woman to act as CEO for the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital.
Her advice to the pioneering students: “You will undoubtedly face obstacles, but you will persevere; for you are destined to win because you are on the side of good. Service to God and humanity should be your motivation. The Adinkra symbols on our crest – Nsaa and Nyame Nti – say it all.”
She added, “We are also showcasing the National Association for the Deaf who will from next semester teach our students in Communication classes, the skills to be able to relate – with ‘heart-power’ – to patients with hearing disabilities.”
Other speakers included Professors Stephen Addae (Chairman of the ACM Council) and Ernest Aryeetey (Vice-Chancellor, University of Ghana).
Opportunities in the medical profession
In his speech as a special guest at the ceremony, Martin Eson-Benjamin, Chairperson, University of Ghana College of Health Sciences, said, “Over the years, Ghana has through the limited investments in our medical and allied training institutions, denied many students with good potentials, the opportunity to become medical doctors … Deservedly, lots of compliments have been heaped on the foresight and enterprise of the founders of this College.”
To the medical students, he said, “While you nursed your secret ambitions, here were some concerned persons also thinking of how best to enhance the opportunities for many high school students, to gain admission into a medical training institution and to ease the anxieties of students and parents. It is not a secret, every year our country is not able to admit some potentially excellent medical students, despite the very poor doctor/patient ratio, now estimated at one doctor to 10,000 patients.”
In this column (June 25, 2012) under the title, “Superior healthcare delivery through innovations,” I noted that “The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a minimum of 25 doctors, nurses, and midwives for every 10,000 people … the European Union tops the chart with 34 physicians to 10,000 people. The US has 24; Japan – 22, China – 14; South Africa – 7; India – 6.” African countries including Nigeria and Ghana trailed at the bottom of expectations.
The humble beginnings of the Accra College of Medicine is a blessing. The pioneers now stand as fourteen students: seven at level 100, and seven at level 200. For the next academic year, September / October 2016, the fresh enrolments are expected at both level 100 and 200.
The College sports a dry lab with the “Anatomage” digital cadaver which students can dissect to explore the anatomy of the human body. The “Anatomage” Table – the only one in West Africa – is a technologically advanced visualization system and is used by many world leading medical schools.
The lab has also a real human cadaver (named Mr “Alve-olus) that has been “plastinated” using modern technology and doesn’t need refrigeration. This body is pre-dissected showing the body in a lifelike state so that students have a two and three dimensional bodies to learn from. The experiments are mainly technology based without animals or chemicals.
Students will do their Practicals at Ridge Hospital, Accra; Sunyani Regional Hospital; Koforidua Regional Hospital; C & J Center, Tema; Mount Olive Hospital, Techiman; and other district hospitals and clinics. The ACM is accredited by both the National Accreditation Board, and the Medical and Dental Council. [Applications may be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org].
The noted Austrian philanthropist and founder of SOS Children’s Villages, Hermann Gmeiner (1919 – 1986), believed that, “Every big thing in the world only comes true, when somebody does more than he has to do.” That insight was captured previously in Matthew 5.41: “And whosoever shall compel you to go a mile, go with him two.” And what a difference such a positive attitude makes at both the personal and national levels, for greater successes and inner fulfilment!
A leadership tip
Those who sit to be told what to do – or who wait to be pushed to do better – or who drag their feet even when on a payroll – happen to be the very souls who cheapen their own potential and miss being better and greater than they could possibly be. In my column with the sub-heading “Small leadership tip for making a big difference” [March 25, 2013] I noted: “Anyone who has a task to perform is a leader if, in that performance, they are mindful of quality and the collective good. In that regard, personal development and leadership are synonymous.”
Innovative companies hire people for their enthusiastic attitudes first; the training for skills come later. An enthusiastic attitude simply means sharing the good that one has inside of themselves, and adding quality to the lives of other people. Enthusiasm is an inner spirit that speaks through our actions, that speaks through our commitment to the quality that we bring to bear in the things that we do. Enthusiasm brightens one’s personality, and then adds value to life itself. Enthusiasm takes an inside effort to make an outside difference.
That raises two questions that will make or break anyone: One, How well do you perform your work? And, Two, Do you think of your work as a tedious labor or a meaningful activity?
The following anonymous story making the rounds in cyberspace is worth retelling, showcasing what a difference a positive attitude can make to change anybody’s life for the better. It goes like this:
Ducks quack and complain; eagles soar
“I was waiting in line for a ride at the airport, when a cab pulled up; the first thing I noticed was that the taxi was polished to a bright shine and the driver, smartly dressed in a white shirt, black tie and freshly pressed black slacks, jumped out and rounded the car to open the back passenger door for me.
He handed me a laminated card and said: Wasiu’s Mission Statement: To get my customers to their destinations in the quickest, safest and cheapest way possible in a friendly environment.
This blew me away. Especially when I noticed that the inside of the cab matched the outside. Spotlessly clean!
As he slid behind the wheel, Wasiu said: ‘Would you like a cup of coffee? I have a thermos of regular and one of decaf.’
I said jokingly, ‘No, I’d prefer a soft drink.’
Wasiu smiled and said, ‘No problem I have a cooler up front with regular and Diet Coke, lassi, water and orange juice.’
Almost stuttering, I said, ‘I’ll take a Lassi.’
Handling me my drink, Wasiu said; if you’d like something to read, I have Thisday, Guardian & Sun newspapers.’
As we were pulling away, Wasiu handed me another laminated card, ‘These are the stations I get and the music they play, if you’d like to listen to the radio.’
And as if those weren’t enough, Wasiu told me that he had the air conditioning on and asked if the temperature was comfortable for me.
Then he advised me of the best route to my destination for that time of day. He also let me know that he’d be happy to chat and tell me about some of the sights or if I preferred, to leave me with my own thoughts.
‘Tell me, Wasiu,’ I was amazed and asked him, ‘have you always served customers like this?’
Wasiu smiled into the rear view mirror. ‘No, not always. In fact, it’s only been in the last two years. My first five years driving, I spent most of my time complaining like all the rest of the cabbies do. Then I heard about the power of choice one day.’
The choice to make a difference
‘Power of choice is that you can be a duck or an eagle.’
‘If you get up in the morning expecting to have a bad day, you’ll rarely disappoint yourself.’
‘Don’t be a duck. Be an eagle. Ducks quack and complain. Eagles soar above the crowd.’
‘That hit me right,’ said Wasiu.
‘It about me. I was always quacking and complaining, so I decided to change my attitude and become an eagle. I looked around at the other cabs and their drivers. The cabs were dirty, the drivers were unfriendly, and the customers were unhappy. So I decided to make some changes. I put in a few at a time. When my customers responded well, I did more.’
‘I take it that has paid off for you,’ I said.
‘It sure has,’ Wasiu replied. ‘My first year as an eagle, I doubled my income from the previous year. This year I’ll probably quadruple it. My customers call me for appointments on my cell phone or leave a message on it.’
Wasiu made a different choice. He decided to stop quacking like ducks and start soaring like eagles.
‘You don’t die if you fall in water, you die only if you don’t swim. Make a positive decision today …’”
The in-flight magazine of Ethiopian Airlines – Selamta – adorned the cover page of its Sept/Oct 2015 issue with a picture of the Group CEO Temolde Gebre Mariam and the U.S. president Barack Obama, during Obama’s three day visit to Ethiopia in July 2015. The backdrop of the picture (taken at the-state-of-the-art Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport) sported an American Boeing 787, dubbed Africa’s First B–787 Dreamliner, fitted with General Electric (GE) turbos.
The picture portrayed the pride of both men: with Obama embodying the U.S. business connections in Africa – through Ethiopian and Boeing, and the CEO complementing that relationship. The situation created a win–win certainty for both men blooded with African origins.
Ethiopia’s Vision 2015
In the magazine’s editorial, the CEO said, “We are constantly expanding our network and have now reached 91 international destinations, spanning five continents and 20 domestic destinations, making us the largest airline in Africa. Among these destinations are five new international routes – Dublin, Los Angeles, Cape Town, Gaborone, and Manila.”
For their Vision 2025, Ethiopian plans a fleet expansion to 120 planes, carrying more than 18 million passengers, 720,000 tonnes of cargo, and employing 17,000 people. In addition to the existing thirteen Boeing 787 Dreamliners in their fleet – the largest in Africa – they have ordered six new B-787s. The Ethiopian Aviation Academy, Africa’s largest training center, is in the final stage of an expansion project that includes technical workshops and full-flight simulators in their training facilities.
The airline – the dream of Emperor Haile Selassie – is today wholly owned by the Ethiopian government; it has remained stable without political interference even in the throes of national crises. While some African airlines remained festered by crude politics and thievery, the Ethiopian remained professionally run. Such successes are so refreshing, at least for the new generation of Africans to observe, appreciate and emulate.
For the operation year 2013-2014, Ethiopian was said to have declared a profit of $228 million, and ranked the 18th best in the world. In Nov 18, 2015, a voanews report said, “Ethiopian is dispatching its first-ever flight operated by an all-female crew [to] promote women’s empowerment and encourage more African girls to pursue aviation careers.” The flight was “being handled by women in every aspect – from planning to aircraft maintenance, and from the pilots to air traffic controllers [including] all customs and immigration officers.”
The achievements of Ethiopian Airlines gave credence to Kwame Nkrumah’s mantra – on the eve of Ghana’s independence – that Africans can manage their own affairs. But, the ironic twist was that Nkrumah’s own protégé, Ghana Airways – like many other government initiatives – failed miserably.
An incident at Rome Airport
About July 1977, with an American friend who was keen on seeing the Motherland, we connected a Trans World Airline (TWA) flight from Los Angeles to Rome, with the journey continuing to Accra on Ghana Airways. Those were the halcyon days of air travel: no tedious X’ray checkpoints, and no body searches. When the flight to Accra was announced, there was a mad rush to the shuttle bus. It seemed that the regular passengers on that route knew the flight to be overbooked, hence the rush for seats.
It became clear after the tussles that some big government officials and conniving staff members had sneaked in friends and families, in the last minute, with their goods to boot. The Italian airport security had to intervene; literally the security jumped into the fray to force people to disembark. Having squeezed into the plane, passengers desperate to get to Accra were willing and requesting to stand – without seats – for the 6 hour trip from Rome to Accra.
For a while we were stuck at the airport pending certain goods and people being offloaded to maintain the balance and safety of the aircraft. Ghana Airways’ future was already written on the wall: it spelled d-i-s-a-s-t-e-r.
The beginning and end of Ghana Airways
Amid fanfare and enthusiasm, the airline was started in 1958, a year after Ghana’s independence. Few years later, it was running into problems, typical of most government set-ups in Ghana. In June 2002, for instance, a DC-10 was seized at Heathrow Airport after a creditor got a legal judgement to recoup some unpaid debts. About that time, it was announced by the then-airline chairman that Ghana Airways was in debt to the tune of some US$160 million.
In July 2004, the United States Department of Transportation banned the airline from operating into or out of the United States with “investigations underway that the airline had been operating on an out-of-date licence”. Subsequently, two weekly flights to JFK International Airport, and similar flights to Baltimore-Washington International Airport were cancelled.
In April 2005, it was reported that Ethiopian Airlines was negotiating in Accra to help keep Ghana Airways afloat; but trapped in a monstrous debt, Ghana Airways was finally liquidated in June 2005.
On reflection, we see that in the transport sector alone we lost the Black Star Shipping Line, Ghana Railways, Ghana Airways, State Transport, and the Ghana Omnibus Services that plied some cities and towns. With those, we lost the important services, the revenues, and a large scale employment. Recently, we lost Ghana Telecom as well.
Such serial failures beg large questions to be asked. It’s shameful that up to today – after decades and decades of the so-called independence – it takes begging foreign NGOs to build even public schools and toilets for the nation’s children. Is that the freedom that was proudly proclaimed in March 6, 1957?