Time to apply science education for progress in Ghana.

  • Reflections on the political party manifestos on education (Part 2).

The barriers against innovations for a more productive transformative education in poorer countries are quite high. The obstacles are the chief reasons why Africa, for example, continues to be so deprived long after winning the independence struggles. It’s a shame that the continent with so much arable land with a great many natural resources to boot also happens to be the poorest, with the youth escaping perilously in droves to places where they are not wanted!

The visionary preamble

It has to be reiterated that education in Ghana must be a force or a movement to raise people’s standards of living exactly where they are located so that they will choose to stay, add value to the natural endowment and prosper. For that reason, we need the kind of education that can influence growth from the start. And political manifestoes – to be worthy of the minds behind them – must first and foremost recognize that prosperity must extend into all the districts and regions in Ghana.

An inflection point is that point in the life of a country, an organization, or an individual where without changing course the entity is destined to be ruined. It is sad that the very people who should know better are defiant about trying bolder alternatives; they prefer to live with the colonial mindset as it keeps them in privileged positions insulated from the poor, the very antithesis of independence. Without the proper interventions the poor will continue to suffer. The political manifestos must reinvigorate the economy to alleviate poverty.

The re-invention of education in Ghana requires a three-pronged approach. First is the Content: that is, selecting a mix containing the most appropriate materials to be learned among the other competing subject choices. Every subject is important, but they can’t all be chosen and taught at the same time. To be useful, the choices must reflect the needs of the time and space.

The Second is the Context: what is it that can be done, or what processes can be followed with the subjects to guide each school to be relevant in their respective districts to complement efforts on the national level.

The Third is the Community: that is, the intent of a productive education is to upgrade the standards of living in every community where the schools and the people themselves are situated.

Education in Agriculture

In Lee Kuan Yew’s visit to Ghana (from Singapore) in 1964, he posed a query whose import resonates to this very day: Why a country rich with agricultural prospects should neglect it, but choose the grammar type aristocratic education. Looking back, we see how thoughtless and unimaginative it is for a country crying out for jobs and employment for the youth to continue importing sugar, corn flakes, canned corn, flour, biscuits, rice, canned tomatoes, tropical juices, chickens, corned beef and the rest.

What Lee meant, in essence, was that to perceive corn as mere corn – or rice as just plain rice – is shortsighted. Our education system must recognize that such commodities are strategic agricultural inputs for bona fide industries with far reaching value added, economic, and social benefits for the nation. In a nutshell, agriculture or agri-business needs to be scaled up beyond the miniscule hoe and cutlass mindset. Our education system must see the bigger productive picture, and not miss the forest for the trees.

District wide teacher training facilities

The 38 teacher training colleges in Ghana are never sufficient to meet the demands of the 14,000 or so basic schools. They need to be beefed up and their services extended into every district in the country. On-site teacher education must be a continuous affair to update the skills of the teachers consistently. Quality training is not a once-in-a-blue moon affair. Like physical structures, the public schools also need to develop “Cognitive Structures” where the three key items are digitized for the ease of updates and access electronically: One, the Schemes of Work / Weekly Forecasts; Two, Lesson Notes with the instructional strategies; and Three, Teaching and Learning Materials (TLMs).

The lack of adequate teacher preparation is what causes the mass Basic Entrance Certificate Examination (BECE) failures in a many districts, and the irony is that the youth – already victimized through adult unpreparedness and inefficiencies – are made to bear the blame. We need to be reminded of the 6 Ps consistently: “Proper Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.” The better endowed schools in the districts – with electricity and computer facilities, etc – could serve as the hubs or satellites to produce such materials, in teams, and then distributed to the less endowed schools, including the schools under trees.

Applied Science for Industry

The framers of the various political manifestos must think of the large numbers of electric meters needed for every single house in Ghana that will require electricity from the national grid. That number may run into a million or so of electric meters. Does it make sense, then, to import all these meters into the country? Will it be too far-fetched to ask why our PhDs in the applied sciences – with massive titles and research credentials to boot – not work with their science students to at least attempt to produce these ubiquitous gadgets?

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University engineers must start, at least, producing electric and water meters

Again, let’s think of the number of water meters required for every household. That number may also run into the million. Why on earth must such simple gadgets be imported? Don’t we need those jobs in Ghana? The wonder is how the manifestos do not stress enough on these common sense requirements! The quest for “Critical Thinking” for engaging “hands-on” activities will not go away. Our education system tends to be stale, but both the world’s realities and education must converge.

(Email: anishaffar@gmail.com)

Reflections on the political party manifestoes on education (Part 1).

The cost to the nation for ignoring innovations for quality public education is huge. I’ve seen too many schools – in different parts of the world, and taught a good many nationalities – to now conclude that the way we mistreat and miseducate the children and the youth in Africa is an indictment on the people and elders who lead this continent.

It is patently unacceptable how the African child and youth are neglected, one era after another. Unless we treat the children and youth as special and with respect, they too will grow up and perpetuate the same things we don’t want or need, that is, the vicious cycle of greed and poverty across board. They need to see and feel what is useful by the examples the elders set. Who else can they emulate? Africa is failing itself from the negative attitudes of the elders!

Imagine, for example, the number of toilets the cost of one politician’s or official’s land cruiser will build for the children in a number of Ghana’s public schools! Imagine, again, the number of toilets one first class air travel for some measly inconsequential conference can build in any district!

For those reasons, it was good hearing the representatives of the National Democratic Congress (Alex Okuoku), New Patriotic Party (Ibrahim Adjei), and Progressive People’s Party (Andrew Kwasi Duroi) articulate their views on the way forward. We are indebted to Annie Ampofo, of the First Digital TV, for hosting the event, on Monday 14th November 2016. May the good God continue to bless this wonderful young woman and others like Nana Ansah Kwao of Joy TV who care so much for the nation’s children.

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From left: Ibrahim Adjei (NPP), Annie Ampofo (TV Host), the writer, Andrew Kwasi Duroi (PPP), Alex Okuoku (NDC)

 

The dialogue must continue for an acceptable national narrative that will benefit the youth in this country. Let me say flat out that it is high time education evolved beyond periodic political campaign promises and slogans. It has become a tiring and costly thing!

The following are recommendations to add some value to the manifestoes:

Schools sitting in dust without toilets

The need for cleanliness in public schools – especially the lack of toilet facilities and water for both adults and children to wash their hands for good hygiene – cannot go unheeded. Equally of grave concerns are the numerous public schools that sit in dust across the length and breadth of the country, with open defecation as the de facto standard. The manifestoes must address the negligence of those public officials – coasting comfortably on the nation’s payroll, with perks – whose responsibility it is to make sure that the proper hygienic conditions exist for the well-being of the nation’s children.

Education for employability and entrepreneurship

From the basic to the university levels, expertise and creativity are not skills one learns by sitting and listening. They are things you do; things one commits for a “Life’s Work”, and “Purpose”. Useful projects shape attitudes and aspirations in superior ways, grabbing hold of the imagination and channeling one’s energies into lifelong patterns of loftier aspirations.  They spoke to a progressive future of creative entrepreneurs.

Learners should be released from the bondage behind desks, and encouraged to test their learning in practical and useful ways. The essential question is not what we learn today, but what we do consistently with what we learn. What is studied in schools must be usefully related to Ghana’s progress, and in real-life contexts.

Adding value to the nation’s natural resources

Manifestoes for proper school reforms for a developing country must engage hands-on abilities for skills that add value to Ghana’s enormous natural inputs and endowment. It is time to sound out new prospects that test candidates not by what knowledge they can memorise to pass examinations but the useful things they do for them to become relevant.

The subject centred fragmented curricula must be replaced by objectives that support skills, for example, Food Production, Food Preservation, Food packaging, Fish Farming, Landscaping, Rain Harvesting, Environment Protection, Irrigation, a Maintenance Culture, and so on, as opposed to studying academic subjects in a vacuum of passivity that continue to keep both the educated and the nation poor since independence in 1957.

The learning tasks involved must be built on real-life needs. The reason Ghana continues to be Third World is the undue stale emphasis on traditional subject matters peculiar to grammar type “chew and pour” rote education which discerning nations are now avoiding.

ICT education for digitizing government documents

More than ever, it is now necessary to set up uniform ICT systems and templates to digitize the files of every government office, hospitals, clinics and so on to avoid future mishaps, be they by accident, negligence, or wilful intent. Once the structures – software, equipment, and training – have been sorted out, the inputting can be done by the nation’s students as meaningful Practicals in the respective municipalities and districts across the nation.

The need to bring innovation and efficiencies into government structures should be a foregone conclusion. It’s time to treat Information Technology as a strategic resource and thereby shift our abler students into thinking work as opposed to repetitive copying, and non-thinking work.

The fires that blazed government offices such the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Lands Department in Accra, and the High Court in Kumasi laid bare our vulnerabilities. The fires evoked case studies: Besides the destruction of physical property, the archival and intellectual capital which were lost to the fires could have been retrieved through comprehensive back ups in digitized national storage systems.

 [To be continued]

(Email: anishaffar@gmail.com)

“With all your getting, get understanding”.

· The benefits of “The Paraphrase Rule” in communication.

Effective communication between teachers and students is essential to avoid misunderstanding. Communication is more that “teachers talk and students listen.” It is more than simply the words exchanged between individuals. The understanding, to achieve wisdom, is underscored in Proverbs 4:7.

The Meta-communication

In all interactions, a message is sent and a message is received. Sometimes teachers believe they are sending a particular message, but their non-verbal cues – such as body language, gestures (shrugs and sighs), tone and choices of words, or lack of clarity – may send out a completely different message. The message transmitted may be enhanced or misconstrued through what is called “The Meta-communication”.

Students may respond emotionally to the meta-communication without stopping to think further. For them, “The teacher said X, and I know she means Y”. Perhaps, from the students’ point of view, the meaning implied was received from the teacher’s posture and not the words actually spoken. The first principle of communication is that people respond to what they think was said or meant, not necessarily to the speaker’s intended message. Improper communication misses the intended meaning and cause confusion.

The Paraphrase Rule

There are exercises teachers can try in classrooms and lecture halls to practice sending and receiving messages accurately.  A teacher may – occasionally – encourage efective communication by using “The Paraphrase Rule” in the discussions culture. That is to say, in a discussion, before any participant responds to the teacher or peers, they must first anticipate summarizing what the previous speaker had said. If the summary is unclear, indicating the speaker was not understood clearly, the speaker must explain again. The respondent then tries again to paraphrase. The process continues until the speaker agrees that the listener has heard the intended message clearly.

The Paraphrase Rule has benefits. People must listen more carefully to each other (through active listening), since they must paraphrase correctly before responding. They also learn to be articulate in their communications by hearing and appreciating how others perceive and interpret the messages through the feedback loop. Sometimes two people find they only think they agree or disagree on a subject. Often one person agrees with something the other person never meant to say, or disagrees with something the other person never said at all.

teachers
Teachers practicing the paraphrase rule in a workshop

[In worse case scenarios in some social or family settings, some people tend to believe they had heard an insinuation – which was never the case – and react negatively to it. Such people tend to be belligerent anyway, and can’t wait to jump to conclusions. People often experience such challenges in their relationships.]

Understanding the real problem

The technique of paraphrasing is more than a classroom exercise: It can be the first step in communicating successfully with others. Before teachers can handle appropriately any student misunderstanding, they must know what the real problem is. For example, a pupil who says, “This book is so boring, WHY must I read it?”, and then pushes the book aside may really mean, “The book is too difficult for me. I can’t read it, and I feel inadequate.”

A teacher who responds to the “WHY must I read it?” question – with some righteous justification for the need to read and the brilliant choice of reading material – has missed the point. The student may feel even worse as a result: “Now, not only am I inadequate, I’ve also missed out on this wonderful task the teacher thinks is so important for me. I might just as well put the book away!”

To prevent such a negative posture, it’s appropriate for teachers to apply what I’d call “The Yes Rule”, and response positively: “Yes, the book may be difficult to read at this point.” That appreciation may put the youngster’s mind at ease. At least, the teacher has met them half way – perhaps with a smile to complement the message. The teacher may then assure the class that most important things appear hard in the beginning, however, there’s the enjoyment pending, and “We will work together at this to a cheerful end”. That positive tone may satisfy others in the group who are likely to experience similar difficulties in reading too.

The profile dimensions for Critical Thinking

At the basic levels, paraphrasing is a technique to satisfy the second tier in the Profile Dimensions stressed in the Ghana Education Service (GES) Syllabus: 1. Knowledge; 2. Understanding / Comprehension; 3. Application; 4. Analysis; 5. Synthesis; and 6. Evaluation.

It is most difficult to advance – in “the cognitive hierarchy” – to the higher order thinking skills, such as, Application; Analysis; Synthesis; and Evaluation – until the hurdle of “Understanding / Comprehension” is cleared.

Asking and answering questions are integral parts of comprehension for checking understanding. Having both teachers and students learn to articulate their views – and check each other’s understanding and empathize in a disciplined manner – is a great way to see each other’s point of view. It binds people together respectfully, trustfully, and amicably.

Many so-called “smart” people are sometimes the worst listeners, which of course greatly diminish their “smarts”. Active listening and a corresponding feedback reveal whether the original question itself was clear in both its delivery and reception.

In the context of inducing people’s feelings and perspectives, understanding helps to unravel the difficulties in communications. Nothing in the world is so invincible that empathy and mutual respects cannot unravel. It’s all in the method, commitment and practice.

(Email: anishaffar@gmail.com.)

Quality Higher Education for 21st Century Ghana.

· Faculty to re-think and re-tool for experiential teaching.

The quest for re-thinking and re-tooling for experiential teaching came from no other person than the iconic J. E. Kwegyir Aggrey (1875 – 1927). A doyen of quality education in the Gold Coast, he helped found Achimota School in 1925, in the worthy company of the first principal, Rev Alec Fraser, and Governor Gordon Guggisberg.

In his day, Aggrey admonished the intellectual elite, “Don’t tell me what you know; show me what you can do”. For Aggrey, experiential education offered the youth the lasting skills and the opportunity to be more responsive, more resilient, and more capable in transforming the nation’s fortunes.

Head, Heart, and Hands

Aggrey envisaged education crowned holistically with the 3 Hs: Head (knowledge and intelligence), Heart (passion for humanity), and Hands (work and self-reliance). For him, teaching was deficient if it did not help the youth “to soar like eagles” through hands-on activities that raised the standards of living: The submissive alternative was to flirt around the fringes like passive turkeys marked for slaughter. To have been that insightful about a hundred years ago – when the same demands persisted in the 21st century – marked Aggrey clearly as a visionary.

Such productive concerns were corroborated by the constructionist view of education held by the American educator John Dewey (1859 – 1952) who said, “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday, we rob them of tomorrow”. Surely, it was on that note that the presidents of Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) teamed up and attracted about 200 educators to a summit convened (March 3 and 4, 2013) on both campuses, at the Radcliffe Gymnasium, and the MIT Media Lab Complex. The faculty in attendance were to re-think fresher standards and re-tool their methods for a more productive teaching “to rise all boats”. A key concern was for them to help the youth engage experientially to solve the world’s myriad problems, and for the faculty – with “on-line” tools – to act more like coaches than lecturers.

Hands-on experiential learning

At the British Council, Accra (January 31, 2015) the Baraka Policy Institute organized a seminar, “Access, Quality and Relevance in the Context of National Development”. In my keynote presentation, I borrowed a leaf from Aggrey to show that children (including the girl-child) possess an inbuilt God-given capacity “to soar like eagles”. I illustrated that point with two videos: one of a primary school girl teaching her peers algebra, and another of a Junior High School (JHS) girl teaching her class the structure of the human heart and how oxygenated and de-oxygenated blood flowed through the various arteries of the vital organ to sustain the human body.

In an experiential learning format (i.e. learning by doing) that same class mounted canopies in the vicinity of the school to screen residents for high blood pressure as an outreach community health program to prevent heart diseases.

After the videos, I suggested to the audience that if the JHS girl – and others like her – were to be apprenticed to Ghana’s world class heart surgeon, Dr Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, in the thoraxic unit at Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, it should not be surprising if she performed open heart surgeries by the age of 20 years. Ghana has such potentials in droves, but unfortunately they are made to waste away on the streets.

Quality education boils down to empowering the youth to chart experiential paths, knowing that geniuses are supported and encouraged that way. The days of merely sitting, memorizing stuff – filling in the blanks – are fast receding into oblivion. As those petty chores pale off (and they must), they have to be replaced by bold initiatives that bring out the authentic abilities of the youth. Those may be measured by “Authentic Assessments” of real life accomplishments.

Teaching outliers in Africa

If ever there were a trend in modern education to seek out the outliers, it was to support the youth to be innovative, to work in teams as collaborators, to hypothesize, to follow their own curiosities, to discover their authentic selves, and to prevail. The progressive world is moving in that direction, and Ghana must join the move.

The need for an upbeat functional education is a worldwide concern. In these days of information explosion through Google, Wikipedia and the rest, passing exams with glitzy scores is not that kosher anymore; it used to be so when information was so lacking that even the paltry possession of it was a sacred act. Today, mere cognitive abilities serve as indicators of possibilities only; they are not accomplishments. Today, open ended tasks requiring students to creatively integrate different subjects, to find real life solutions to nagging societal and worldly problems, qualify as accomplishments.

It just happens that bold deeds (the so-called “moon shots”) evolve out of experiential learning, but are unfortunately conspicuously absent in typical teaching environments in Ghana, and most parts of Africa. So then, the educators themselves have to be spirited and motivated beyond reproach so as not to dampen the spirits of the youth by cajoling them to memorize old notes, to conform, to settle in, to follow the pack, to blend in, to adjust to the mainstream, and so on. The caution is for teachers not to clip the wings of the youth and avoid causing them irreparable damages.

To do justice to the teeming youngsters in Ghana’s tertiary institutions, the faculty needed to Think, Reflect, Act, and Change guided by these essential questions: One, What changes have to take place for experiential learning to occur? Two, How do the faculty upgrade their own teaching standards for experiential learning? There has to be concrete evidence that productive learning has actually taken place in the student population.

Ghana is so endowed with possibilities that the outcomes of education must show products, services, and the ability to solve real life problems. And that is how Ghana can move, finally, from the poverty ridden third world into the first.

Email: (anishaffar@gmail.com)

Youth.jpg
The youth are ready for hands-on experiential education

 

When religion degenerates into superstition and deceit.

religion
Image source: racolblegal.com

There are some basic tenets shared by the various religions of the world; and, if only those clear common principles can be followed! Let’s consider the following common spiritual demands on humanity. One, Your body is a temple of God, so keep it clean and healthy out of appreciation for the creator and respect for one’s own self. Two, Leave the natural environment in a better state than you found it for our own health, and for the sake of posterity and the survival of those yet unborn. Three, Love your neighbour as yourself, or equally, Do unto others as you will have them do unto you, for mutual respect and societal harmony. Four, Go the extra mile for yourself and also for others for individual and collective social and material progress.

Alas, aren’t those common tenets spiritual enough to start with, for a lifetime of love, peace, harmony, and progress within and across Africa, and the nations of the world? Do we have to make life any harder or more complicated than this, without instigating hell to break loose on earth? Unfortunately, often, a good many of the so-called men of God – in the various religions – are the very anti-thesis of love, peace, harmony, and progress.

Deceits by the priests themselves

Years back, a worker came to me for a loan of three hundred and sixty five thousand cedis (C365,000). The following conversation ensued between us:

Me: Why 365,000 cedis? Why not round the figure off to say four hundred thousand?

Worker: That was the exact amount my wife requested.

Me: What does she need the money for?

Worker: Her priest demanded it.

Me: What does the priest want that money for?

Worker: The priest said he had foreseen some evil spirits hovering around her, and he will have to pray for her to exorcise the evil?

Me: Why doesn’t the priest go on ahead anyway and pray for her as priests are wont to do?

Worker: He said the prayer will cost one thousand cedis a day, for each of the 365 days in the year.

Me: Ask the priest to come to me for the money himself, and I will double the amount for him.

[That was the end of the matter. The priest in question never showed up, and the request died a natural death.]

Another priestly invocation

Let’s call this young person Doe. He came to me one day to confess something terrible he had done to his mother. He was a member of one of the mushrooming charismatic churches, and after a particular service, the priest came to him and said, “Do you know why you’re struggling so hard, with your life still going nowhere? It’s all because of your mother. She is a witch, and intends to destroy every good thing that may come your way.”

After the service, Doe had rushed to the house where his mother lived, confronted her, and in the end slapped the woman in her face. He had come to me now, feeling terrible about the ordeal, and didn’t now know what to do with himself. I asked him to rush back to the mother, get on his knees, kiss the poor mother’s feet, apologise without end, and tell her the source of the bloody lie, and about the wondrous priest that had turned her son against her so bitterly.

At a public hospital

I was in the busy waiting area at the hospital when a man was wheeled in flat on his back on a stretcher for emergency care. He was gasping for breath from what seemed like a heart attack. He was a bulky obese fellow, and the little nurse who was pumping on his chest with feeble hands finally gave up, leaving the poor man to his fate.

Pitched on the wall – right above where the sick man had been deposited and abandoned – was a colour television blurting out the proceedings from a loud church service. Leading the service was a lively prophet dressed in a red hat, red jacket, red pants, and red shoes. He had called a young boy of about 12 years old to the stage. Tears were pouring down the boy’s face. The attention of the congregation was focused on the boy. The prophet asked the boy why he was crying so much. The boy kept mumbling things through the tears.

In the end – after deliberations in tongues – the prophet affirmed to the huge gathering that the boy’s grandmother was a witch, and she had planted a live cobra inside the boy’s skull, and that was the reason for the boy’s misery. The incantation in tongues continued to exorcise the cobra from the poor boy’s head. The TV blurted out at a fevered pitch for the climax and the resolution.

‘Tis mad idolatry

At that point in the hospital, it was possible that the sick man had finally succumbed on the stretcher from a cardiac arrest. The whole episode was heart breaking as all attention in the area was riveted – not on how to save the dying man – but on the idolatry on the television screen. It was too much for me to take.

I accosted one of the medical officials parading the corridors and asked, “How come the hospital doesn’t show TV programs that teach clean healthy living; for example, the prevention of obesity, the proper diets, avoiding fatty and fried foods, excessive salt intakes, and the rest?” I said, “A patient has probably just passed on and you’re showing religious programs about witches and superstition?” As it’s often said, The only thing necessary for the triumph of chaos is for good people to do nothing.

(Email: anishaffar@gmail.com)