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General News
SSCE Grads Can''t Write Simple Sentences 1/17/2007
The President of Ashesi University, a private tertiary institution in Accra, Patrick Awuah Jr has identified the failure to pay appropriate attention to quality, the fast reducing number of highly trained teachers and a persistent failure to consider population growth in capacity planning as the major challenges to high education standards in Ghana.

With practical examples and brilliant analysis of the inherent issues, Mr. Awuah Jr insists in a presentation to the recently concluded New Year School in Accra that, the falling academic standards cannot be blamed on the fact that secondary education is now only three years.

While admitting that the shift from the A-level system to SSS has proved controversial, Mr. Awuah Jr says blaming the current situation on the reduction in school years is not “entirely correct.”

“The problems in the educational sector were likely a result of much larger forces than the more modest curricula reform” he says, adding that “the real problem may be the massive brain drain that the educational sector experienced during the economic shocks of the 70s and 80s. Schools cannot perform well if they don’t have well qualified teachers, whether they are teaching to the A-level syllabus or to the new SSCE syllabus.”

Diagnosing the country’s educational system at a time schools are preparing for an extension of the secondary school calendar from three to four years, the President of Ashesi University said his institution’s review of student applications over the past few years shows that the problem is not the SSS, but primary & JSS.

“I would suggest to those policy wonks who are so vigorously advocating an extension of the secondary school time table as a way to improve the quality of our secondary schools, to examine the implementation of primary education instead… review the decision to pack our classrooms the way we have done in the attempt to increase access to education” he advised.

According to Mr. Awuah Jr, secondary school graduates are proving very deficient and do not know basic materials that they should have learnt in primary school.

“We have encountered secondary school graduates, who passed the SSCE exams, and yet have difficulty with basic arithmetic operations such as (8+3), (-1-6), (5x1), or (3÷2). We see SSCE graduates who do not know such basic grammatical constructs such as beginning a sentence with a capital letter and ending with a period, and who do not know the difference between commas and period.”

Touching on quality as one of the major challenges confronting education, Mr. Awuah Jr expressed surprise at the increasing preference to double or triple access to education without paying attention to the quality of the products that will be churned out.

“When an institution increases enrolment by increasing the seating capacity of a class from 50 students to 1,500 students, that institution does not increase the number of people being educated from 50 to 1,500; rather, it actually decreases the number of people getting a real education.”

Defending his position further, the Ashesi University Founder & President sad while standards are declining as a result of packing the classrooms, policy makers think education of the Ghanaian is actually growing. A lot of our students he said are getting certificates and not getting educated, and “it is the norm across the spectrum of our educational system.”

Giving a practical demonstration of this assertion, Mr. Awuah Jr said:

“Imagine that you are a professor who taught a class of 50 students last semester. You encouraged students to ask questions in class, and you often called on your students to engage in classroom discussions. You gave your students challenging assignments requiring practical field work, and exams that required careful analysis and writing. You took the time to allocate set hours each week during which time students could come to your office if they needed extra help. Sound good? I bet it does. Students trained in this manner are precisely the kind of people that society needs.”

Now imagine that this semester your class size has been increased to 1,500 students. You have essentially been asked to teach the equivalent of a whole college, all by yourself. The room is so packed that many of your students stand outside the classroom- on the veranda- to listen to your lecture. The room gets so hot that some students fait from heat exhaustion. How do you begin to teach these students? Can you assign multiple projects throughout the semester? Can you assign challenging exams requiring complex reasoning and elaborate expression of ideas by your students? If you do assign such work, how on earth do you grade it all? Can you encourage questions in class? Would you dare set open hours during which any student from that class of 1,500 can come and speak with you about their individual problems? The answer to all these questions is a resounding no. What kind of education is this?”

To resolve this, Mr. Awuah Jr is a advocating that more attention is paid to quality by focussing more on access to quality education rather than just access to education.

He further called for a halt to the diminishing pool of teachers at all levels of the educational ladder. This he says has been further worsened by the low number of students pursuing careers in academia.

“We must consider this problem an emergency and begin taking the steps to address it now. We need to pay sufficient attention to the working conditions of educators… not only about salaries, but also about tools and environment.”


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