Making technical education work in Ghana.

· Merge all public technical and vocational institutions under the Ministry of Education.

It is reasonable to think that only education can solve the nation’s myriad of problems. But at this point – looking back from the past 60 years since Ghana’s independence – we must now see that the wrong kind of education actually stunted the growth of developing nations.

From grammar to practical skills

When it comes to technical education in Ghana, for example, our educational elites tend to diminish the importance of carpentry, plumbing, welding, leather works, shoemaking, textiles, and other hands-on skills that have greatly benefited other countries that started off poor like Ghana. But technical education must be elevated through solid scientific approaches for major industries and employment to happen.

tech edu
The deplorable state of technical education in parts of Ghana

It must be remembered that since the advent of secondary and tertiary education in the colonies, the colonial masters never supported the natives to be industrious. The colonial India example is worth remembering: where the traditional weavers had their fingers chopped off to discourage them from weaving their rich tapestries of silk, cloth and carpets, so that the raw cotton could be shipped to Manchester, England, to feed the textile industries there, and the finished products returned to India and the other colonized nations as expensive imports.

Even after Ghana’s independence, in secondary schools, Woodwork scored maximum of 50 points, Art scored 50 points, but Greek, Latin, and Religion scored 100 points each towards our terminal exams. Right there, psychologically, the youth were made to look down on the practical aspects of wood and art, and lose the skills associated with craft.

Today, we still have the nation’s impressionable youth subordinated through impractical academic courses that do not add much substance to themselves or for Ghana’s progress. Not that such various academic “logy’s” (Archeology, Geology, Theology, etc) are not important, but they pale into insignificance considering that meaningful industries for youth employment cannot emanate from them.

The academics have to be reduced in today’s context for worthier practical applications of science through technical education.  Science applications for skills are much more useful to develop Ghana by offering employment for the youth.

Such concerns were brooding in my mind when I received a letter from a reader. Slightly edited, it ran as follows:

Practical courses in the formal sector

“I read many of your articles [and] follow your arguments on television. You have a passion to change the educational fortunes of our youth in Ghana. My face is unknown. My voice is unheard and silent. I therefore decided to write this short article to you so that if you consider it fit, you push my arguments a bit higher for me.

“My focus is on technical education that can produce plumbers, mechanics, electricians, carpenters, welders, etc. For example, it is very difficult to find good professional plumbers and auto-mechanics in Accra who understand the modern trends in the housing and auto industry. Practical courses that would have helped people to start off in life a bit more comfortable are left to the informal sector. How could we assert that that technical courses should be left to school drop-outs?

“Why are the Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) schools regarded as inferior to the grammarian senior high schools in Ghana? Why are technical schools so under resourced than their senior high school counterparts? Are vocational schools even regarded as second cycle institutions? Can one finish, for example, Biriwa Technical School and get admission to the Polytechnic to read the Higher National Diploma (HND) directly?

Merge and Resource Technical and Vocational Schools

“There seems to be three bodies that regulate technical and vocational education in Ghana; National Vocational and Training Institute (NVTI), Council for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (COTVET), and Youth Leadership and Skills Training Institute (YLSTI). NVTI is an agency under the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations. COTVET is under the Ministry of Education. YLSTI comes under the Ministry of Youth and Sports.

“Most of the NVTI schools are so under-resourced compared to their peers such as Koforidua Secondary Technical or Ghana Secondary Technical School (GSTS) in Takoradi. Even though COTVET is supposed to be responsible for managing all technical and vocational education in Ghana, few technical schools confirmed with pride that they do not fall under COTVET but rather NVTI. What is the relationship between NVTI, YLSTI, and COTVET? Are these agencies engaging in a power play because they fall under different ministries in government? [Once all three are merged, the administration costs will be reduced considerably.]

“Shouldn’t NVTI schools be part of the Computerised School Selection & Placement System (CSSPS)? Why doesn’t the computerized system place BECE students in vocational and technical schools? Is it because those schools are not under the supervision of Ministry of Education?

“COTVET is getting Funding and was recently granted a loan of $125 million to fund technical education projects in Ghana. How much of these funds were ceded to NVTI to improve the technical equipment and the capacity of Teachers in the NVTI institutions? Is COTVET creating a parallel educational system to the NVTI? A visit to the NVTI and COTVET websites reveal the glaring differences between these two institutions.

NVTI Schools to the Education Ministry?

“Do you think NVTI schools should still remain under the Ministry of Labour or they should be moved to the Education Ministry? Wouldn’t these schools be better off under the Ministry of Education? Should the government be resourcing technical and vocational schools or continue to build senior high schools that only produce grammar students?

“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.”

(Email: anishaffar@gmail.com)

New rules for industrializing every district.

· Effective leadership and planning matter a great deal.

 Recently, travelling from Takoradi to Tarkwa, one could simply not miss the large impressive tracts of rubber tree plantations. On the return trip, the spectacle of the dejected Bonsa Tyre Factory – situated right in the midst of the luxuriant rubber plantations and the Bonsa River – was most depressing. The global vehicular tyres and related rubber industries are worth so much that for Ghana to not cash in – but wallow in persistent poverty – is a real pity. [See chart below for the amazing figures].

Selected tyre and rubber manufacturers yearly sales figures rounded in U.S. Dollars (2015)
1.       Michelin (France)

2.       Good Year (U.S.)

3.       Pirelli (Italy)

4.       Yokohama (Japan)

5.       Bonsa Tyres (Ghana)

USD 23 billion

USD 16 billion

USD   6.8 billion

USD   4.2 billion

USD    Nil

Source: From the respective annual reports.

Opportunities lost across the country

The western region, for example, is a lush green tropical belt in Ghana, and the agricultural possibilities for large scale industries – for youth employment and the nation’s economic prosperity – are huge. I often encounter very bright youngsters whose lives seemed to be going nowhere for the simple reason that there are no sensible policies practical enough to absorb them handily.

And that brings into question the opportunities lost to the nation in the persistent short sightedness of its leaders. The inability to add value to the impressive natural endowment of resources scattered all over the country – from the coast through the green belt to the savannas in the north – is a serious indictment. God has indeed been generous to Ghana. But do we see it that way? And if we do, why isn’t there visibly potent national policies that develop the skills of the youth to add value and benefit from such specific blessings?

San Joaquin Valley, California

That spectacle of the neglect of the rubber possibilities in the western region cast my mind back to another time driving through the San Joaquin Valley in California – from Los Angeles through the Silicon Valley to San Francisco. Every piece of land there is cultivated to yield various agricultural products including vineyards for the flourishing wine industries. Additionally, cattle provide the state with tremendous profits from the huge dairy industries. The current technological industries like Facebook, Intel and the rest – in the Silicon Valley – thrived on the back of the historically agricultural focus of the state.

The comparison is a case study of nations that sit indolently on their possibilities and those that create treasures through action. It’s will not matter how long prayer warriors prance and prate, they can’t extract manna from heaven! The next best thing, then, is to add value to what God has given us freely. Powerful economic lessons can be learned from there.

In this technological era, with focus and determination, any small serious fry can emulate the giants, and sometimes surpass the titans themselves. That happened in the steel industry where smaller emerging companies beat the giants, in the fashion of David and Goliath.

Ghana has no excuse to be poor

In my article, “Education must be practical enough for youth employment”, I cited a report by the Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA) that revealed countless industrial possibilities in the municipalities and districts in the northern savannas alone.

Consider the following selected possibilities (out of the hundreds) in the various municipalities and districts in the savanna belt:

Kintampo North Municipal: High quality cassava flour production, mango and pineapple concentrate processing, maize grains and corn flakes processing. Kintampo South Municipal: Ginger development project. PRU District: Cage fish culture, rehabilitation of irrigation dams at Abease and Adjantriwa. Sene West District: Soya production, rice production and warehousing.

Central Gonja District: Commercial fish farming project, Yapei and Buipe small scale irrigation project. East Gonja District: Expansion cassava processing factory, availability of large tracks of fertile valley for rice and sugar cane production as well as water bodies for fishing and irrigation. East Mamprusi District: Dry season farming, bee keeping. Mion District: Sheanut production.

Nanumba South District: Cassava production project, yam production and export project, local pottery promotion project. Savelugu Nanton Municipal: Aquaculture and fisheries development at Libga irrigation site. Builsa South District: Rice processing, sheabutter extraction.

Rubber Plantation WR
Rubber Plantation at Bonsa (Western Region)

Science education appropriate for each district

Education in a poor country – without the purpose of adding value – is like an unsharpened pencil; it has no point. How exactly is knowledge power if not acted on to show that power in full bloom? We have to resolve to know each district’s potential and work from there. Once the districts find themselves, they will prosper and lose their misery. In another article, “Maximising the economic potential of every region – through education, industry, and employment in each district,” I noted that “A most depressing aspect observed in the various districts is the sight of young people brimming with energy but many sitting dejectedly in bare classrooms, with bare hands, staring passively at bare spaces, and looking like forsaken orphans without father figures. What a waste of youthful potential and productivity!”

A broad vision for reconstruction must be purposeful with emphasis on the full use of the drive, enthusiasm, intelligence, and labour power of everyone in every district. Progress – by any other name – is work!

For goodness sake, is there any sense in ignoring investments in factories, and spending millions in plush offices and officials’ residences? To be re-colonised – not by colonial masters – but by self-inflicted apathy and lassitude and vain promises is a grave concern indeed!

 (Email: anishaffar@gmail.com)

 

The relevant education for Africa in the 21st century.

· Entrepreneurship, business & technology.

ICEBUT
President Nana Akufo-Addo with the African participants at the conference.

The sheer numbers of unemployed youth sprawled across the length and breadth of the African continent is a major concern indeed. Noting that the devil finds work for idle hands to do, one would have thought that education was the solution to that predicament, but the large size of unskilled and unemployable graduates served notice that the kind of education foisted on the African youth was shortsighted; the impractical passive elements in it have to be removed.

From passive colonial to modern

It was shocking when a vice-chancellor of a large public university in Ghana said openly some time ago the role of the university was not to train students for jobs, and that that expectation was merely a populist agitation. A successor of that same university was to corroborate – only last year, in a crowded room of people – that “whether we like it or not” the universities were academic institutions.

On all counts, and respectfully, we should not “like” the status quo; it must give way to the needs of the present times. Such inept colonial mindsets needed to be repealed and replaced; and for that reason, the Methodist University College Ghana was to be applauded for an enlightening conference at the M Plaza Hotel (Accra, 27th – 28th March, 2017). Dubbed “International Conference on Entrepreneurship, Business & Technology (ICEBUT), it attracted concerned educators from Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, all looking for dynamic ways of education in their respective countries.

WhatsApp Image 2017-04-05 at 10.32.01 AM.jpeg
Panel of Educators at the ICEBUT 2017 Conference.

The ICEBUT 2017 Organising Committee led by the director, Institute of Education and Entrepreneurship  – Prof Ato Essuman, and Principal – Prof Akwasi Asabere-Ameyaw, intoned that the “Recognition of entrepreneurship as an engine of economic growth could contribute to the transformation of sub-Saharan African countries from aid-recipient countries wealth-creating countries.” In attendance as another keynote speaker was Prof Constant Buegre of Delaware State University, USA.

President Nana Akufo-Addo

The event was graced by the presence of the President, Nana Akuffo Addo, and the Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church – Most Rev Kwesi Awotwi Pratt. In the president’s address, it was refreshing to hear him remind participants that the economy and job creation dominated the nation’s conversation. He said, “I believe we are all agreed now that we cannot continue with the business as usual path [to] create the jobs that we need.”

He said (as detailed in the Daily Graphic, March 28th, 2017) his government was of “the firm belief that the fastest way to resolve [the] problems of an economy that failed to meet the needs of the people and an alarming rate of unemployment lay in entrepreneurship, institutions and the creation of a conducive environment for private business to thrive.” He stressed that there is much work to be done by the civil service, the government, educational institutions, and the business community.

[The president’s concerns about the cloak of religious habits that robbed the state of countless hours of productive time was so apt it will be covered separately in a different column.]

Plenary sessions and abstracts

Plenary sessions at the conference included wide ranging topics such as: Entrepreneurship Education; Universities, Industry & Employability; Innovations in Technology; Finance & Business Growth; and so on. Various abstracts were presented including Entrepreneurial Skills Training in Early Childhood Education from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria; Entrepreneurship Training: The case of orange farmers in Muheza, Tanzania; Art and Design and Technical Education at the secondary level in Zimbabwe; Integrating Entrepreneurial Studies into Technical Vocational Education in South Africa; The role of microfinance, Ghana; Strategic Partnership between University and Industry, Uganda; University-Industry Collaboration, Zambia.

My keynote address

In my keynote address titled, “The relevant education for Africa in the 21st century”, I stressed the following relevant educational outcomes for our students to become entrepreneurs: The first is that they have to be able to produce something, a product to show for the effort; two, they have to be in the position to provide a particular kind of service; and lastly, they need to be in a position to solve a pressing societal problem.

Students in the various districts have to be taught and encouraged to become entrepreneurs by the ability to add value to the natural endowment peculiar to that particular area. We have tried the academics for the past years and the youth are failing in droves.

At the university levels, science education, for example, has to help the youth produce electric bulbs, electric and water meters. That is what science education is for. But we have young people trapped behind desks, copying lecture notes and forever doing mathematical calculations. It’s not helping us. So those who are themselves teaching the youth need to have skills for entrepreneurship, and avoid the “chew, pour, pass, forget and be poor” business?

In any of our provision shops in Ghana, most of the imported items there can be produced locally. I was in Thailand in October 2015; they make almost everything they need so there’s not that much pressure on their currency, the Thai Baht. They produce their own juices; rice; chickens; soaps and deodorant; textiles for towels, underwear, T shirts; computers; electricals, and so on. So they are quite independent and the standard of living is quite high at a much cheaper than in Africa. For us we import everything because education is not directed at producing the important consumer and infrastructural items we need. Why, for instance, does Ghana import tons and tons of expensive aluminium wires for the domestic electricity grid when we have a bauxite smelter in Tema?

The education as practiced in many parts of Africa deceived the youth and the conference was keen on avoiding the decadence and raise entrepreneurs for Africa’s future.

(Email: anishaffar@gmail.com)