There are exceptions to every rule, and depending on your standpoint and corresponding perspective, the exception could be the rule or vice versa. It is in this light that I am careful what I say as I attempt to discuss my concern with education as I see it in Ghana.
If I were to throw all caution to the wind I would say that here in Ghana, we have a school routine and not education. But innately, I am cautioned by the fact that I have only a localized viewpoint which may not be representative of the true picture of and state of affairs as far as education is concerned.
Well, since I cannot and should not make such a hasty generalization, I would make my case solely precedent on my observations in my current locality. But even in doing so, I nurse this sneaky suspicion that what I am about to say is true, not only for my locality, but for a lot of other areas.
Education in my opinion should enlighten the mind, provoke curiosity, arouse a desire for exploration, empower the beneficiaries, and respond to the prevailing needs of society. These I believe form the basis for curricula content, course design and implementation, industry formation, economic structure, and indeed civilization.
Looking at the poor real content of graduates at all levels, the dip in the economy, rate of unemployment, spate of robbery and violent crimes, suicide and the moral decadence, I am inclined to think that something is indeed not right.
Juxtaposing the aforementioned ills with the huge numbers of graduates churned out by the year, I cannot but conclude that for the most part we are simply going through the motions of school routine and not getting an education.
It appears to me for example, that at the Senior High School (SHS) level, students come and leave term after term and session after session not really understanding what they are doing in school or why they are there.
Speaking with students at this level of education crushes the spirit as one discovers that the “futures” of this republic are totally uninterested and unenthused about school. For a good number, “School dey bore”…a Pidgin English catchphrase meaning “school isn’t interesting”.
But rather than fall for the temptation of just lamenting the seeming purposelessness, indifference and disinterest presently associated with a certain segment of our younger school-going populace, let me attempt diagnosing the problem and proffering my unprofessional, unscientific but truly heartfelt solutions.
Why are our Senior High School Students uninterested in really acquiring and making knowledge practical? The professionals would have better analyses, but I would mention a few as I see them.
Of primary interest to me, and one cause of this phenomenon, is the issue of dysfunctional families, the single-parent phenomenon (a subject for another article) stands out. How is this connected? I am inclined to believe that a home with Dad and Mum actively present and interested in the upbringing of their children have a better chance of giving meaning and purpose to the educational pursuit of their wards. On the other hand, it would take double effort by dysfunctional families to produce even half that effect, and worse still for single parent homes.
Children at the Senior High School level are teens, indeed young adults. And from my observations and personal experience, this is a critical stage needing the delicate balance of uncompromising discipline and unhidden affirmation and attention. It is said that every boy either wants to be like his father or unlike him. So it isn’t surprising when the boys in the absence of a model father view school and all the rules therein as bondage, while the girls in quiet objection do their time in this paper, pen and classroom incarceration. Sadly, these boys and girls go on to repeat the mistakes of their forebears, thus unhappily repeating history. They get pregnant, have children before they land their first jobs, bequeath children to parents and grannies who more than half the time spoil the newer generation – inadvertently in most cases though, thus continuing the vicious cycle.
Someone needs to stop this! Husbands must love their wives and stick with their families as should be the case. This philosophy of maintaining a “spare tire”, the mistress aside the wife syndrome, or what they call “a garden in addition to the farm” concept needed to stop. Men, forgive me if I seem to be heaping it all on you; we are usually the guilty party.
Two more issues and I believe I would have unburdened my heart. The Lack of/Inadequate Career Guidance and Counseling in our schools is further contribution to this listlessness.
While at it in a Math class, for example, it isn’t too difficult to see the unsuitability of the choice of course for some Science and Business students. For this particular set of students, the expectation is that there should be some aptitude with numbers. But watching these students, any discerning teacher would notice right away that a square peg has been hammered into a round hole.
Somebody somewhere in my opinion should have sat with these kids and their parents until a meaningful assessment has been made, and a reasonable path cut out to the satisfaction of all stakeholders. But painfully, I have had to sit with final year students, and even SHS graduates who are totally lost as per how to go profession and career-wise.
Whereas I admit that at the ages of sixteen to eighteen (16 – 18), when most leave the Senior High School, the mind is not fully formed, I hold the view that real effort and progress should have been made at least.
My novice panacea to this malady is three pronged. Parents, even single parents or dysfunctional homes should take interest in the tilts of their wards. Human beings give of their best only when they are allowed to be themselves. An Art inclined kid for example should not be forced to become a doctor as an extension of someone else’s dreams, or to settle a personal or family score. That the other family or lineage has Lawyers is no reason to also make a potential Pharmacist a miserable Barrister. On the second prong, schools and professional career counselors should as a matter of urgent national interest intensify effort at giving meaningful career guideposts. Finally, teachers should take personal interest in their students.
Talking about teachers taking specific interest in their students, it would be hypocritical to suggest that a teacher having to attend to between a hundred (100) and six hundred (600) students or the average of fifty (50) students to a teacher as it patterns in a lot of cases, would be up to the task or even motivated to do same in the face of poor remuneration and conditions of service. But within your power, resources and charity, teachers, let us give a better map to these younger pilgrims.
Finally, School dey bore because our entire educational system is problematic. For example, I realize that for the most part, critical analysis isn’t encouraged. The “chew and pour” mantra/mentality holds sway. Even teachers seem to have surrendered to this campaign of rote learning. I know rote learning has its place, but not at this level, and certainly not to the extent at which we indulge in it.
According to reports, it wasn’t uncommon in the Nazi concentration camps for professors to use their prisoners as research specimen. In one such camp, a professor made inmates move a rubbish pile back and forth, returning the garbage back to its original location each time, to see the effect of purposelessness on the human psyche. His results were as shocking as it was profound.
After a number of back and forth, the inmates broke down out of psychological exhaustion. It wasn’t the labor of moving the towering rubbish, but the purposelessness in it that wearied their spirits. For them, at least seeing the original place cleared gave a bit of satisfaction; a fulfillment that even in servitude, their efforts contributed to the cleanliness of the camp. But even this marginal gain was snatched and made useless when they were made to return the rubbish to its original place. This snapped the strings in the minds of the prisoners.
According to the account, some simply broke down and wept, others went insane, while others were so crushed in spirit they developed a stroke and passed away in some instances. Sometimes I wonder if this is not the imminent faith of our students as they are made to fill and empty their heads without purpose.
“The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled” – Plutarch (Ancient Greek Biographer and Author 46-119)
If education is relevant, to this material world, and finds use in our everyday activities, how come no one is telling that kid what this Trigonometry, Set Theory, Surds, Calculus, Periodic Table, Contour Lines and Costing Formula is all about? Why do we insist students reproduce their notes to us (as teachers and examiners) verbatim? Why do we in practice deemphasize continuous assessment so much so that final exams are a life or death matter? Why do we have so many students crammed into a class or dormitory to the discomfort of all – the students, teachers and parents especially?
I must need turn my focus to the government now. I hear so much is dedicated as budgetary allocation to education, and so-and-so is being done. But we all know that there must be a touching commitment beyond the superficiality of statistics. Unless we do something as a people about this problem, let no one hear us mouth the cliché “the youth are the future leaders of the nation” and “education is the bedrock of the nation” or similar stage lines. We must walk the talk; else school would continually be a bore to those who need it most.
In closing my case, let me leave a word for my younger friends. Pals, the world is moving. Our colleagues elsewhere are busy making giant strides in their different chosen fields. They aren’t just making money and a name for themselves, but contributing to better their generation before leaving the planet. If we do not arise from our stupor – self-induced or inflicted upon us – we risk continuing in this state of poverty and servitude.
We cannot continue the way of those who went before us. Arise young Africans! Awake young Ghanaians!
“There is a new African in the world! That new African is ready to fight his own battles and show that after all the Blackman is capable of managing his own affairs.”
– Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah
Do we believe this? Dignity and honor awaits those who would shake the dust off themselves and move with fire in your eyes to scale the lofty heights. School might be boring, but for now make school Jon, make school be…kɛkɛ. See you at the top!