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Publication Details

Reference
Shang-Quartey, Leonard  (2005) Creating a decultured generation of students and workforce: the case of Ghana.  : -.

Summary
The Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC) at the time that they took up power in Ghana in the 1980s brought renewed hopes to Ghanaians about a better and equal opportunity future for all with the state taking affirmative actions to protect the weak and poor from the strong and rich. But, as characteristic of most African regimes of that era, these hopes were dashed and crushed beyond repair. Even though the PNDC was able to implement some people-friendly policies, these policies only lasted for awhile as the PNDC could not repel the extreme international capital pressures coming mainly from the West. Since then, the Ghanaian public and, in particular, its workforce (the creators of wealth), have been at the mercy of International Financial Institutions (IFIs) and imperial Western powers. One consequence of the cooptation of the policy space of Ghana by international capital has been the unrestrained attacks directed at destroying the provision of quality education.

DOWNPLAYING THE ARTS

The vicious attempts by successive governments at bastardizing the educational system started with an orchestrated attempt by officialdom to downplay the significance of education, particularly the arts. The point that has always been pushed is that importance should rather be placed on self worth rather than the pieces of papers granted by secondary schools and universities. The point about self worth is ok and fantastic, but to use self worth to denigrate education is where the elite class began their mischief – which indeed fits into their avowed ambition of creating a docile, gullible and intellectually malnourished workforce. The Ghanaian government now sees most of the campuses’ arts departments as drains on the country’s scarce resources, as they claim graduates from such departments do not contribute anything meaningful to the country’s economy. Consequently, in the newly proposed Students Loans Scheme students are no longer to receive flat rates (as the policy has been) but rates corresponding with the “importance” of their chosen courses.

The effect of this kind of mischief – which has been generated and fanned by the political and business class and which also seems to have been widely accepted by the general public – has been the dampening of the morale and confidence of students pursuing the arts. Vocations like accountancy, marketing, banking etc. have become prominent preferences for students in recent times. The obvious consequence of this situation has been the half-heartedness and lackluster approach with which students of the arts attend to their academic programmes.

These days, students study for the grades they need for a better class and that’s it. For a better class, students will employ all means possible, both fair and foul. The Stephen Mfodwo Committee report on exams malpractice involving both senior and junior members of the University of Ghana spells out some of these points in detail. Just recently, another case of exams leakages at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, specifically at the college of social science, has been reported by the media.

Defunding Education

The New Patriotic Party (NPP) came into power in the year 2000 with the usual promise of paying particular attention to the educational sector, again on the usual premise that no country has ever made any meaningful progress without education; and yet, like all its predecessors, that was the best it could do to improve the fortunes of education for all – lip service. The worst it has done so far is the continuation of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) policy of cost-sharing which indeed is full cost recovery. This policy seeks to withdraw government subvention to state educational institutions in a gradualist fashion whilst making sure that students pay market fees for every service they receive from their institutions. To this end, the private sector has besieged the campuses of most institutions of higher learning in the country. Dining halls which, since 1992, have stopped serving students with meals and have now become reading rooms for students, due to the increasing numbers of students, have started going out to private concerns, hence many students have nowhere to read.

The very minimum hostel facilities for students are in a sorry state, as on average ten students have been packed into very little cubicles like a can of sardines. Sanitary conditions of such halls and hostels are indeed very bad. To add to this, students can stay for close to five days without water supply. This poses a serious risk on the health of sanitary workers and students alike. Between 2001 and 2003, close to three students died of typhoid fever in Commonwealth Hall at the University of Ghana. Students who cannot stand these conditions have fallen prey to private investors in the hostel industry. Government, through its progressive reduction in subventions to state institutions of higher learning, has created a condition conducive to the massive exploitation of students and a condition for those who cannot stand the heat to walk out.

The truth is that Ghanaian governments since the CPP government have always sought to keep the poor on the fringes and far from state resources therefore creating a small unproductive elite feeding on state resources, usually taxes collected from the poor. Ghana is basically a natural resource-rich country with a largely poor population, the majority of which is engaged in subsistence farming.

Declining Provision of Quality Education

As per part of the prescriptions by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank under the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) it was thought unwise for a poor country like Ghana to be providing “expensive” education for very few students at its higher institutions of learning. So, instead of building more campuses to ensure access to quality education for all, these institutions were directed to increase admission numbers to reduce cost but its effect has neutralized quality. So, you have a situation where today the University of Ghana’s facilities which were initially planned to accommodate a student population of 3000, with very little expansion now admits a student population of 27000 and over. You can walk into a philosophy 101 lecture on the University of Ghana campus tomorrow and find a lecturer teaching a class of 900 students and over, and a political science final year class of about 700 and over, with a substantial number participating from outside peeping through the windows.

To add to these frustrations, successive governments have pursued policies that demoralize and frustrate lecturers and teaching assistants. Their conditions of service are very poor and their salaries are nothing to write home about. As government has not shown any commitment to addressing these issues with any comprehensive policy, there is a perennial trend of agitation and protest by bodies like the University Teachers Association of Ghana (UTAG), Polytechnic Teachers Association of Ghana (POTAG) and the Teachers and Educational Workers Union (TEWU) for better salaries and conditions of service. Lecturers are basically not happy, and one does not need any sophisticated study to draw the relationship between a demoralized lecturer and her/his output.

The direct consequence of government’s ambivalence towards the plights of lecturers has been the poaching of lecturers by the private sector and the increasingly high numbers of part-time lecturers on the payroll of institutions of higher learning. Given the foregoing I do not think I have to go into the quality of graduates Ghanaian institutions of higher learning are now churning out through its mass production.

The Threat of an Intellectual Workforce

The political and business class does recognize the importance of education to national development as they are also quite aware of the threat that an intellectually upright workforce poses to capital. Torn between these two options, the political elite in connivance with capital has sought to protect the latter. Consequently, the Ghanaian government’s actions and inactions to frustrate and renege on its obligation of providing quality education for all could best be appreciated in this light.

Demands

Education is not a privilege that emanates from the generosity and magnanimity of governments. The Ghanaian government should therefore go beyond the shortsighted UN Millennium Development Goal of free universal primary education for all by the year 2015 to an obligatory free total education for all.

The free dining hall services that have been denied higher institutions of learning for over a decade should unconditionally be restored.

There should be free provision of meals at the basic and secondary levels of education.

The abnormally outrageous and staggering student-lecturer ratio should be addressed, not by throwing out students or decreasing the number of admissions, but rather by expanding existing facilities and building a lot more campuses.

A lasting solution that will attract the very best faculty into Ghanaian institutions of higher learning – regarding salaries, service conditions and pension packages for lecturers – should be implemented.

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