·Reduce the academics, focus on skills to develop Ghana’s natural resources.
A group of graduate students – in their late twenties and early thirties – at a leading traditional public university, invited me recently to speak on Education for 21st Century Skills. After the self-introductions, I asked, “So far, what can you do with the education that you acquired in your undergraduate studies?” The silence, after that simple question, was deafening.
Education for the real world
Actually, what had happened to those robust but disillusioned young people was that having gotten their various first degrees, and having been released into the real world, they realized that there was a gulf between the academic degrees they had received in good faith and the skills demanded by the world of work. They had returned to do a master’s degree with the wishful thought of being employable thereafter. Considering that the unemployed graduates already loomed in the bracket of about 271,000 people at the time, their chances were still slim.
That frustration confirmed that a nation obsessed with the academics was a nation begging to be poor! So what are the education policy wonks doing about all this? And this is where the disappointment hurts. A vice chancellor once said that the role of the universities was not to train the youth for jobs, and that the nation’s concern in that regard was merely a populist agitation. Another said that whether we liked it or not, the traditional universities were academic institutions. With such ambiguous mindsets, how on earth can Ghana rise from the Third World to the First status, when it’s so clear that an environment so saturated with the academics hampered the nation’s economic progress!
It must be asked: Is the nation getting the value for money in the education budget for developing Ghana? Are parents and guardians too getting the expected worth in the education of their wards? If those questions have hitherto been swept under the rug, they must now be resurrected for cleansing in the coming new era.
Tangible skills in all universities
Converting the polytechnics into technical universities is a good idea, but that alone will not suffice. The traditional universities – harbouring such large numbers of the youth – must especially join the crusade to help their students develop the appropriate skills for a lifetime of useful employment and self-employment for the youth’s upward economic mobility and satisfaction.
Credible value must incite and drive the bigger purpose of realizing the potential richness of this great nation of ours. The talk and listen theoretical culture that passes for education is too much with us. The time has come to exit that passive self-restrictive box. Lecturers and professors need to take the next step, by first updating their own practical skills, and then help the youth to develop the ability to convert the theoretical or academic concepts into tangible skills.
Critical thinking is talked about a lot, but it may have been best defined by the literary artist, Wole Soyinka, that “One has a responsibility to clean up one’s space and make it liveable as far as one’s own resources go.” The avalanche of young Africans deserting their own countries on hazardous trips to live and work in places where they are not wanted, must give us pause. Are we thinking clearly?
Ghana is the envy of a good many countries that are not as blessed with our God-given natural resources, considering the gold, bauxite, manganese, diamonds, in the minerals department; shea butter, sugar cane, the variety of tropical fruits and nuts, the largest man-made lake for large scale fish farming, rubber plantations for vehicle tyres, large tracks of land for corn and rice production! Each of those items – including the many more not mentioned – are all for the makings of lucrative value-added industries, so why is education not directed there? Must the nation continue to import everything, and be poor, unemployed and indebted?
Education for the African setting
I recall a Daily Graphic report, “Develop educational concepts to suit African setting” (September 2, 2016), in which one Dr Joseph G. Burke of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB) from the United States addressed vice chancellors, pro-vice chancellors, deans, directors and heads of departments, registrars, etc in West Africa including Nigeria and Ghana. He was quite honest and courageous in saying that “nobody can give you a specific prescribed solution to solve the challenges that affect your educational system. You must come together and do it yourselves.”
He noted, in Accra, that educational systems would only record meaningful progress if they helped the country to develop its own policies and best practices that would fit its culture.
On a similar note, Harvard Business Review (Oct. 20, 2016) in a report that studied the changes to be made for successful education intoned that “We are appointing, rewarding, and recognizing the wrong [education] leaders.” The review said, “There are leaders who talk a good game, but have no impact; leaders who make everything look great while they are there, but everything falls apart after they leave [and] there is the rarer, far more effective leader, who quietly redesigns the [system] and transforms the community it serves.”
Ghana has no reason to be poor, but we miseducate the youth into thinking that education is all about sitting and listening to theories, and ending up in cushy offices. Why, for instance, have such important subjects as Applied Engineering and Applied Sciences been reduced into “chew and pour” routines, instead of the production of electric meters, water meters, and other gadgets that require the application of science? Even in the health sciences that visibly educate medical doctors and nurses, why are such practitioners not being produced in larger numbers to serve the loads of patients at the public hospitals and clinics?