Nana Addo’s School fees and the Basket Mouth Code
By Samuel K. Obour
The Basket Mouth Code
When Nigerian comedian, Basket Mouth, visited Ghana a couple of years ago, he did a joke that kept me thinking for some time. He said as a boy, his family was so poor that eating chicken even during Christmas was a luxury. He added that whereas children from privileged homes in his community attended good schools like “Pampers”, “Corona”, “king’s College” and “Queen’s College”, he attended probably the worst school around.
Basket Mouth said: “The name of the school can even make you fail your exams…UMUKORO Community Develpment High School… How can you pass?
I was one of those who laughed ‘Kwa kwa kwa’ on hearing this ‘joke’. I laughed and laughed and laughed again. But after some time, it dawned on me that there was a message inadvertently embedded in what was supposed to be a joke. And it was simply a message of unequal opportunities in terms of access to quality education in Africa today; unequal opportunities that go on to define the lives of millions of children on the continent.
I’ve keenly followed the debate on whether free Senior High School (SHS) should be free in Ghana. The NPP flagbearer and main opposition leader, Nana Akufo Addo, has made the institution of free SHS education his primary campaign message, and has promised to implement it if he becomes President in 2013.
Some have said that in analysing the feasibility of free secondary education, Ghanaians should have the “belief” that it is possible and can be achieved.
They argue that Ghanaians ought to be positive minded, because where there is a will, there is a way.
I believe, however, that the free SHS policy, which will define the lives of millions of our children, must be subjected to rigorous debates based on empricism -based on scientific research- rather than on conjecture, belief, optimism or confidence.
We must develop the courage, self-confidence and capacity to subject the free SHS policy to the most rigorous of scrutinies by questioning its rationality, its feasibility; its affordability, its sustainability and its objectives.
What is the rationale behind the free SHS policy? What do we hope to achieve by making secondary schools free? These, I believe, are pertinent and legitimate questions that ought to be asked.
My opinion on this development has been consistent and clear since it first came up in 2008: Ghana doesn’t need free SHS.
Nana Addo’s School Fees
If the NPP’s Nana Akufo Addo is sworn in as President of Ghana on the 7th of January 2013, and I’m lucky to meet and interact with him as a journalist, I won’t hesitate to appeal to him to rescind his decision to make secondary school education in Ghana free. Not because I doubt Nana’s commitment to ensuring that many more Ghanaians are educated, but because I’m convinced beyond doubt that making secondary education free is not the way to go about improving education in Ghana.
Such a move, I dare say, might cause our already fragile education sector to crumble like the Biblical wall of Jericho or at best accelerate the decline in education standards in this country.
I’m convinced that the greatest problems with our education lie neither at the secondary level nor the tertiary level, but at the basic level, where over 50 per cent of candidates fail the Basic Education Certificate Examinations (BECE) each year.
In 2011, for instance, an astonishing 53.07 per cent of candidates who sat for the exams failed and were ineligible to attend Senior High Schools (SHSs) and Technical Institutes (TIs) in the country. This has been the trend for years now.
Public basic schools, especially those in deprived areas of the country, are the worst affected. We continue to hear news of basic schools in this country scoring zero per cent in the BECE every year.
And effectively, thousands of children with potential to become doctors, engineers, bankers, lawyers, teachers and journalists resort to learning trades and doing menial jobs to survive.
This doesn’t seem to be an issue in Ghana because it is a problem only for the poor and deprived in the country.
The rich have no problem in this regard, as they continue to enroll their wards in private basic schools, where the quality of education is superior by miles to what is obtainable in public basic schools.
The people in power, the people in high places do not care about the pathetic state of our public basic schools, because their children attend the best private schools in the country.
The people in authority do not care about the unacceptable state of our public basic schools, because their children are receiving the best of education in private schools. Otherwise, ask yourself why a 53 per cent failure in the BECE is not considered a national crisis.
I might come across as extremely emotional in my analysis of this issue, but don’t forget that the tears of the man crying in the rain is known only to the man.
The point should be emphasised that children in public schools fail not because
they aren’t intelligent, but because they lack basic imperatives for quality education such as proper educational infrastructure and facilities, as well as competent and motivated teachers in many cases.
In the words of William Ward, ”the mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher
explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” Sadly, most teachers in our public basic schools are mediocre ones who don’t give their all.
The need for action
As a country, it’s imperative that we take urgent and concrete steps to transform public basic education. We cannot afford to continue sacrificing the future of thousands of children just because they are from poor homes and cannot afford to enroll in private schools.
And we do not need a rocket scientist to tell us how to improve achieve this:
Our oil money must be committed to facilitating a drastic improvement in the quality of teaching, the aggressive development of educational infrastructure and the institution of effective supervisory mechanisms across all public basic schools in the country.
Efforts are being made across the country to build more classrooms and give out free food and school uniforms, but It should be recognised that building classrooms and giving out free school uniforms alone will not to transform public basic education in this country:
Needless to say, the development of educational infrastructure and the provision of free books, uniforms and food, must go hand in hand with a drastic improvement in the quality of teaching in our basic schools. If not, all our efforts will be futile.
Incompetent and uncommitted teachers must be sacked and replaced with competent and dedicated ones. A significant improvement in conditions of service of teachers is also crucial to improving basic public education in the country. Teachers are ‘crying’ about poor conditions of service and it’s high time government paid attention to them.
The need to sacrifice
These interventions should cost the government hundreds of millions of dollars, but the sacrifice must be made to safeguard the future of hundreds of thousands of our children.
Over a year ago in “President Mills’ legacy and Public Basic Education”, I called on the President to secure an enviable legacy for himself by making public basic schools as good as private basic schools.
I indicated that: “If the President can transform public basic education in the country, by making public basic schools as good as most private basic schools, many children whose future would have been uncertain due to poor education, would remember him as the President or as the man whose intervention made it possible forthem to acquire quality education.”
“He would be remembered, decades after he has left the Presidency, as the man who revolutionised public basic education in this country.”
That admonishment still stands for both President Mills and Nana Akufo.
Any of them who wins the December elections must tackle the problems with our basic education.
Nana Addo, especially, should forget about free SHS ( for now) and focus on improving public basic education.
Currently, only 50 per cent of BECE candidates pass annually. let’s spend whatever money we have now on increasing this to about 80 per cent before we begin talking about free SHS education.
Solomon Ortiz, a former US Congressman, once stated that ”education makes children less dependent upon others and opens doors to better jobs and career possibilities”.
It is incontrovertibly within the context of foregoing that the relevance of this article must be envisaged.
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