Ensuring inclusive and equitable quality tertiary education in Ghana.

·Joshua Alabi speaks at the Baraka Policy Institute.

On the 23rd February 2017, the Baraka Policy Institute (BPI), held its 3rd Anniversary Lecture at the Academy of Arts & Sciences, Accra, with Prof Joshua Alabi, former Vice-Chancellor, University of Professional Studies, Accra (UPSA) as a principal speaker. BPI is a think tank established in January 2014 with special focus on promoting social justice and national development through advocacy and research. Its core values focus on Justice, Independence, Progress and Compassion.

It was an honour for me to have been invited to deliver the 1st Anniversary Lecture on the theme of practical education for Ghana’s development, at the British Council in 2015. The 2nd lecture was delivered by Prof Mohammed Salifu of National Council for Tertiary Education (NCTE), and Dr Frank Baning of Pantang Hospital, in 2016. The following are edited extracts from Prof Alabi’s presentation this year:

“For long, tertiary education was relegated to the background with the then Millennium Development Goals that focused more on primary and secondary education. Tertiary Education is strategic for national development, and therefore should not be treated as the tail, if Ghana is to entrench its gains as a middle-income country.”

“The question is, have we been able to adapt Ghana’s tertiary education to the needs of its people? Our tertiary education is stranded around the tight ropes of its colonial roots. Ghana’s education system is not distinctly Ghanaian in a global context, from curriculum, to requirements for teaching in the tertiary sector, to textbooks, cases and examples. The system is wound around what we have been made to aspire to be and not who we are and what we should be.”

“This delivery is about: 1. Inclusiveness or Access; 2. Quality; and 3. Funding Inclusiveness or Access. Access to Tertiary Education is a Right and must be accessible to all who desire to have it and are willing and able to cope with tertiary level education. After all basic and secondary education should not be ends in themselves.”

Self-imposed barriers to inclusion and access

“The lack of access to tertiary education is an unfortunate loss of talent and valuable contribution to nation building. In Ghana, it is reported that we have a Tertiary Gross Enrollment Ratio of 12% against a global average of about 30% and 70-80% for developed countries. This means only about 12% of those willing and qualified to access tertiary education have access to tertiary education in Ghana.”

“There are many self-imposed barriers that contribute to the restricted accessibility to tertiary education in Ghana. Entry Requirement are among the strictest in Africa according to Prof. Golam Mohhamedbhai a former Secretary General of the AAU. Mohamedbnai notes that ‘Ghana is an example of another Anglophone country, with the phenomenon of rigorous selection process which restricts access to the higher institutions of learning’. However, Ghana’s rigorous entry requirements can best be described as specifications and not standards as it is not clear what forms the basis of our entry requirement into tertiary institutions as we have it now.”

“It is very sad to note that applicants with D grade or lower in any core subject cannot enter a university in Ghana irrespective of their performance in other areas. However, other countries – even the UK that introduced Ghana to tertiary education – accepts them. For Sub-Saharan Africa, not only has the increase in the enrollment ratio been insignificant from 1991 to 2005 but also the ratio is by far the lowest than any other region of the world (Mohamedbhai, 2008). Do we in Ghana want to suggest that those who go through tertiary education in, for example, the UK with the same grades we reject here are not good enough when they graduate?”

Inadequate infrastructure and resources

“The second key issue that restricts access to tertiary education in Ghana, is inadequate infrastructure and resources, which limits space. As a result the public institutions are not able to take more qualified students. Many of the public universities turn away students not because they are not qualified but because of the lack of space and resources. We definitely need to prioritize tertiary education to provide more resources to enhance access. Yet we cannot build more and more brick and Mortar Universities to expand access. So Open and Distance education is one sustainable option.”

“Also, the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) is a process to help people get formal recognition for what they learnt through their experiences and for what they can do, know and understand. The RPL process enables a person to gain qualifications and credits. The contexts within which RPL are practiced are as varied as the learners seeking credits for learning achieved. RPL can be used across the formal and informal sector as well as from pre-tertiary, workplace-based education to tertiary levels.”

Lack of a National Qualifications Framework

“Another issue of access is the Lack of a National Qualifications Framework. This makes it difficult to use other routes, like the TVET system for progression, making TVET unattractive. Though TVET system under COTVET has developed a qualifications framework, it is not sufficient to allow for the needed progression. There is need for a comprehensive national qualifications framework and this has been on the drawing board for unduly too long. I wish to call on the NCTE and the Ministry of Education to expedite action on this very important tool for quality and equitable education.”

“Though the introduction of Technical Universities can partly address progression of the TVET system it not sufficient because without the requisite policy recognizing the TVET as a normal route for progression to higher levels, there may still be gate keeping as usual. I call for a national comprehensive qualification framework for recognition of qualifications and establishment of equivalences of other qualifications to allow for progression.”

The poor ability to pay

“Another issue that restricts access to the poor is ability to pay. Though contribution of students have proven to enhance both access and quality, like the case of UPSA, I must say that it is sad, really heart breaking to see some students struggle to pay fees. I therefore recommend a national mechanism to support the needy to access tertiary education in the form of scholarships and grants. In this respect, there is the need to look again at GETFUND’s role in this process. We would have look at the operations of GETFUND vis-a-vis the law establishing it. Such an assessment is most timely and recommended.”

[To be continued.]

Email: anishaffar@gmail.com


From left: Prof Joshua Alabi, Alhassan Andani (MD of Stanbic Bank; Chairman of event). Salem Kalmoni (MD of Japan Motors) on far right.

Time to make basic education safe and sane again.

· Stop the deterioration of the nation’s public schools.

Yes, it’s time to make education in Ghana safe and sane again – starting off, especially, by meeting the hygienic and safety needs of the nation’s children in the 14,000 odd public basic schools across the country.

In an earlier article, sub-titled, “A plea to the better angels in the nation’s leaders, chiefs, officials and parents,” I asked, “Are Ghanaian children any less important than children in other parts of the caring world? I’ve been on the verge of tears many times training teachers at the school sites – from Accra to the north. The deplorable conditions in which many schools are situated beg the questions: Do we really have serious elders in this country? Do we have enough concerned parents? Do the government officials care? Are stakeholders proud of the environment in which the nation’s children are dumped day in day out?”

Year after year, the various promises to serve the nation tend to result in costly lifestyles of the very people making and bungling those promises.

Views from Sakyi-Addo and Leo Tolstoy

A star journalist and broadcaster, Kwaku Sakyi-Addo’s address at Ashesi University’s 2014 commencement is worth repeating: “Ghana needs people who’ll speak up for the poor … people who’ll ask questions; and challenge our norms. People who will question the government; challenge the opposition; tackle the DCE; confront the MP! Ask the Assembly member to show you what he or she’s done for you and the community lately. Question your chiefs! Question your pastor. Why does he live in obscene opulence when members of the congregation wallow and rot in penury?”

That observation seemed to fit the iconic Russian thinker and author of “War and Peace”, Leo Tolstoy (1828 – 1910), who said, “I sit on a man’s back choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am sorry for him and wish to lighten his load by any means possible … except by getting off his back.”

Parental responsibilities

The way children are raised present a more accurate appraisal of their future prospects. For that reason alone, child safety and health concerns are suitable chapters in any good parent’s or government’s investment portfolio. How a clear headed person can see their own beloved children off into a hostile and abusive dusty grounds without toilets is a great question indeed! And yet, every school day, that is what numerous parents do. That indifference speaks to native cultures that embrace such heartlessness.

An abandoned school toilet blocked with twigs

Just as parents have rights, they also have an equal and balanced responsibility to not shrug off their duty but be part of the solution. That is a key reason why this supposed free education business can so dicey and misleading. To mean well is one thing, to do well is the important thing. As a Tanzanian law professor cautioned in Africa, “Our free education is also free of knowledge.”

The Rights of the Child

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) guarantees: 1. Rights of provision (adequate nutrition, health care, education, economic welfare); 2. Rights of protection (from abuse, neglect, violence, exploitation); and 3. Rights of participation (a voice in decisions affecting the child). It places an obligation on states to provide and protect these rights. Such rights knock out the various crude excuses that hurt children even as the norms parade insidiously as acceptable traditional and religious practices in some nations.

Ghana ratified the UNCRC, and became the first country to do so; but as usual in this country, that was more theory than commitment.

Feedback from readers

  1. “Yet the talk here is about free education without paying attention to quality. If children are taught in broken buildings with drab sanitary conditions how do we expect them to grow up with a high sense of hygiene? Children grown with filth will love it with all their lives, thinking that is the way to live. We must all tell government to improve existing basic and high schools before making education free.”
  2. “… these are great concerns raised and my school is absolutely out of contest when we talk about a safe environment. But we have succeeded in getting some NGO’s to come to our aid. One is currently building us a three unit Kindergarten block and another one is about to start building a six unit classroom block too. It took a lot of effort to get this through and am so happy to have played an instrumental role in this. Thanks a lot for being so much inspiration to me. I pray our leaders get to the point of placing education as a priority”.
  3. “ … you’ve been there and have experienced it and hoping and praying appointees in our Nation will read this article not with the view of criticizing but pointing out the facts and the need in doing the right thing for our public schools where we all started. Is just a basic common sense.”
  4. “You and I are products of a system that worked at the roots (cyto). Instead of dealing with the collapse of the basic, they are skipping it …”
  5. “A clean environment signifies a healthy people who can manage their own independent affairs.”

(Email: anishaffar@gmail.com)


Teacher training must include safety and good hygiene


The plight of the Ghanaian child.

· A plea to the better angels in the nation’s leaders, chiefs, officials and parents.

Quality education is a loaded concern. The discipline of teaching, for example, involves a great deal about competent teachers, appropriate subject matter, quality instructional strategies, the relevant teaching and learning materials, and so on. But a key concern was the state of the school environment itself. Are the schools safe enough to protect the child from the dangers of physical injuries, and death – as we witnessed early this year? Are the schools’ managers conscientious enough to prevent the emotional harm and the verbal abuse of the child? Are they diligent enough to see the need to promote the expected hygienic conditions?

Hygienic and safety concerns

Once, a curious parent in Accra sought my view about which school to enroll a child from a list of choices. My recommendation was a simple one. I said, “Go to each of the schools you’ve listed: observe the playing grounds, the classrooms, the toilet facilities, and then make an informed choice. Ask yourself, Will this environment foster my child’s psychological and physical growth? Is this the place a discerning parent would proudly place a child for days on end?”

I cautioned, “If the children play in dust, consider the danger on the child’s lungs and overall respiratory system over the number of years they’d inhale the dust. Why dump the child there if the environment will not protect the child from physical harm and injuries? Next go the toilets: if they are non-existent, or available but unclean, smelly, infested with worms, with no toilet paper or water to wash hands, consider the dreadful diseases the child is likely to contract and bring home to you yourself and the rest of the family.”

A Buddhist school in Bangkok, Thailand

As they say, to know where any nation is going in the future, watch how it treats its own children. For such reasons, whenever I travel to other parts of the world, I habitually visit some schools there to see how the children fared. I check particularly for the respect, love and attention the adults showered on the children. I watch their playgrounds, toilets, and classrooms.

In Bangkok, recently, the adage “Cleanliness is godliness” was clearly a way of life in the Buddhist school I visited. The spiritual, reverential and courteous discipline was exemplary. In a corner of the school was a Buddhist shrine kept immaculately polished and clean, and adorned with aromatic flowers such as jasmines, lilies, and roses. That sacred corner set the tone for the rest of the school’s emotional and physical environment.

As you entered, the open spaces in the front of the school doubled as playgrounds for the kids. For that purpose, the whole wide floors were padded with soft plastic mats to cushion the children from hurting themselves when they fell, as they were wont to do. The toilets were clean and amply supplied with toilet paper, towels, and water for the kids to wash and wipe their hands after use. Lucky kids!

A Buddhist school with padded floor in Bangkok, Thailand

On the verge of tears

Are Ghanaian children any less important than children in other parts of the caring world? I’ve been on the verge of tears many times training teachers at the school sites – from Accra to the north. The deplorable conditions in which many schools are situated beg the questions: Do we really have serious elders in this country? Do we have enough concerned parents? Do the government officials care? Are stakeholders proud of the environment in which the nation’s children are dumped day in day out, year after year?

We tend to allude to the plight of schools in the rural areas, but visit the public schools in the urban capitals (Accra, Takoradi, Kumasi, Tamale, etc) and they will make any sensitive adult weep. In a public school that I visited recently in Kumasi (See the picture enclosed), the toilet had been abandoned and shut down completely from lack of maintenance and cleaning. It’s anyone’s unholy guess how the children fared in response to nature’s call. And to think parents habitually deposit their children there every school day!

A school environment in Kumasi, Ashanti region

The sins of the fathers

Every worthy religion supports the protection of children; but it seems some native mindsets are decrepit enough to veto this sacred responsibility. I remember in 1957, after Ghana’s independence, the fruitless attempts by teachers at St Peter’s Primary (Roman Hill, Kumasi) to persuade parents to put shoes on their children’s feet. Some parents refused, reacting that they themselves never had shoes on the feet growing up, and that the children must walk barefooted and suffer that same deprivation. Unfortunately, in a vicious loop, those now deprived inflicted the same ordeal on their own kids.

This phenomenon must have been captured in William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, with the quote from the biblical Moses, “The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children.”

In many parts of Ghana, the amount of money, the time and energies wasted on expensive funeral rituals and billboards, with tears showered on the dead but not on the well-being of the nation’s children is a puzzle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. In short, they make no sense.

What is the sense in singing, dancing, chanting, praying all night, and “funeraling” all night and day but blatantly ignoring the responsibility of Jesus’s call to “Suffer the children to come unto me”? The hypocrisy passing for religion in this country is just too much, and must cease.

(Email: anishaffar@gmail.com)

Every person can be purposeful and fulfilled.

· Tips from T.D. Jakes, Ken Robinson, and Howard Gardner.

An introduction to a new book by T.D. Jakes, “DESTINY: Step into Your Purpose”, reads as follows: “Remember feeling a pull, sensing a magnetic guide that was leading you to the right place or person? DESTINY, that inner compass, directs you to fulfillment of your highest purpose. When you reflect on your life, you may be amazed that your greatest moments resulted from circumstances that you did not control or initiate. You were destined!

“Stepping into your destiny means fulfilling the role you were created to play in life. You thrive and find the greatest elixir of contentment when you have the courage to pursue your true purpose.

“Life offers more when destiny is our focus! Our divine purpose maneuvers us past challenges, pains, and shortcuts and even what appears on the surface to be failure. On deeper reflection, we understand them as catalysts that shift us toward authentic self-identity, greater exposure, and bold life adventures.”

The idea for purposeful teaching and learning then is to help the people identify where they can perform best based on their natural aptitudes or innate interests. And today, ways of personalizing education to elicit the sort of passion that excites the human spirit to release latent energy are at the threshold of teacher education.

Human intelligence is diverse. People have very different aptitudes which tend to direct us where we should go. It helps where one defines a purpose in life, and develops a passion for it: that is what excites our spirit and release our latent energies. As said by Ken Robinson, “if you’re doing the thing that you love to do, that you’re good at, time takes a different course entirely … if you’re doing something you love, an hour feels like five minutes. If you’re doing something that doesn’t resonate with your spirit, five minutes feels like an hour. And the reason so many people are opting out of education is because it doesn’t feed their spirit; it doesn’t feed their energy or their passion.

“And I think there are many possible explanations for it and high among them is education. Because education in a way dislocates very many people from their natural talents. And human resources are like natural resources. They are often buried deep. You have to go looking for them; they are not just lying around on the surface. You have to create the circumstances where they show themselves. And you might imagine that education would be the way that happens but too often it’s not.”

Human communities “depend upon a diversity of talents, not a singular conception of ability. At the heart of the challenge is to reconstitute our sense of ability and of intelligence. This linearity thing is a problem.”

Howard Gardner, in turn, defined intelligence as “the human ability to solve problems or make something that is valued in one or more cultures.” He said, “As long as we can find a culture that values an ability to solve a problem or create a product in a particular way, then I would strongly consider whether that ability should be considered an intelligence.”

“Rather than one or two intelligences, all humans have several intelligences. What makes life interesting, however, is that we don’t have the same strength in each intelligence area. This premise has very serious educational implications. If we treat every body as if they are the same, we’re catering to one profile of intelligence, the language-logic profile.” Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences is summarized as follows, informing the need to varied teaching and learning approaches to bring the best out of everybody: 

  1. Verbal / Linguistic learners enjoy oral and written language. They prefer to communicate with others through speaking and writing. They tend to read widely. They learn best through listening, speaking, reading, telling, discussing, and writing.
  2. Logical / Mathematical learners love numbers of all kinds. These learners are able to think conceptually and to see numeric patterns.
  3. Visual / Spatial learners make mental pictures and images to help themselves learn and remember. They learn best with the opportunity to represent materials visually (such as in graphic organizers, art, pictures, mind maps, diagrams, layouts and designs).
  4. Bodily / Kinesthetic learners like to express themselves and their ideas through movement. They may have good muscles and / or fine-motor skills, and need to touch and do things. They learn best through action, hands-on activities, and the opportunity to manipulate materials or objects.
  5. Musical learners respond to rhythm, tone, pitch and musical patterns. They may or may not have musical skills, but they respond strongly to music. They learn best when learning is linked to their sense of rhythm and music.
  6. Interpersonal learners are “people persons.” They are often good at motivating others, organizing, and communicating. Many are passionate, empathetic and intuitive. They might use their leadership abilities as organizers of community services. They enjoy working and playing with others.
  7. Intrapersonal learners are thoughtful, reflective; and do not talk “by heart”. They examine opinions and perspectives to understand their own feelings about issues. They avoid gossip, and focus on ideas. They like their independence and learn best by reflecting, or working alone.
  8. Naturalist learners can adapt, and use their surroundings to succeed or survive. Some may be called “street smart.” They observe how systems work, and can be effective manipulators of situations and settings. They often feel a personal connection with the natural world, and the environment.

(Email: anishaffar@gmail.com)

Teachers discussing varied activities for the youth