Part 3: Reality

December 21, 2010 | Marcos, Intern, GHANA NATIONAL EDUCATION CAMPAIGN

As a schoolboy growing up in Canada, I am sure to have selected at least three different career role models during my childhood. I recall year 3 of primary school when our class had a visit from the local fire station and Sparky the dog; I went home that afternoon and dragged my mother to the public library and after paying $2.75 in late fees for the ‘Where’s Woldo?’ books I had misplaced, I was able to borrow several books on the firefighter profession. Striving to achieve something in the western world is very feasible and you are likely to receive support from your peers and family. This picture does not apply as a reality for most Ghanaians. There are far too many challenges to pursue dreams.

Since 2008, the Ghanaian New Democratic Government, under the lead of John Ata Mills, has implemented a school feeding program where primary school children are offered a complimentary lunch meal each day. This programme was created with the intent of raising enrolment and it has only accomplished just that. Since many children must work with their families all day in order to earn enough money to eat, the programme is designed to lure families into sending their kids to school. Many more children are coming to school now, but the band-aid policy has led to a criticism of the government’s focus on the quantity of children educated rather than the quality of the educational system. In the school yard you can see the overlooked intricacy of challenges this policy has made evident. Children are coming to school with torn and sometimes no footwear, kids are leaving home after lunch (after the free meal) and most importantly, there is no proper counseling for these students as they enter together with a fleet of hundreds of other students that school year.

It was interesting to me when I had first spoken to a Ghanaian girl in her final year of JHS and heard that her plans after graduating were to begin assisting her mother in selling tomatoes in the market on a full-time basis. After speaking with many other students, I came to learn that this was the norm in most schools within the region. Children were expecting to end up in a similar rudimentary position after they graduate and therefore were not very keen on succeeding in school. This was particularly evident by the district’s failing average (below 50%) of students in the core subjects of math and science on the board wide examinations and a slim passing average (~55%) in English and the local language. These figures are fairly depressing in reality and establish a norm and tolerance for failure; But at least the children are in school… Yet the reason for the poor performance is still not clear to the government and so they attempt to implement similar band-aid policies.

It’s very easy to direct criticism towards the bureaucracy of the constituency and that is in large the problem. It seems like the government is always tackling surface issues and doesn’t put enough effort in to any major reform of the educational system. Some of the past initiatives of the government include repairing schools, improving facilities, granting free uniforms and free meals, raising teacher qualification standards and salaries. All these have been great initiatives, but they still don’t tackle the core issues affecting children. There exists a disconnect between the ground level workers and the policy makers. In the school of public administration, there exists an expression: “speaking truth to power”. This is a simple democratic principle obliging communication of the major difficulties throughout the various levels a hierarchical bureaucracy. This is exactly what is lacking within the system here in Ghana. People are afraid and to speak against higher ranks and are very reluctant to express their thoughts that counter their superiors’. Although colonization has been abolished by the great 1968 revolution, overthrowing the British, the master-servant mentality is still relevant today. Ghanaians see it as hospitality and manners while in reality it is a mere hindering practice to social development. The main issue that policy makers are failing to solve is the counseling and motivation of the hundreds of children who enter the schooling system every year and have no idea why they are there.

The real problem, which I observed and confirmed throughout my three-month internship by rigorous analysis and survey, is the absence of hope in an educational career. Children don’t have an individual to look up to; someone who experienced the same difficulties, which they are facing, and overcame them to reach to a better future. This is partly due to the fact that there are not that many who have made it through the rough life to become successful in a proper and well-paying career and those who have are not sought after to share their stories with these hope-deprived children. What is interesting is that this problem is not only present in public schools but is facing private schools alike. Hopelessness is not simply solved by having money or the necessary facilities to have children sitting in classrooms but the problem is more deeply rooted in the child’s self-actualization, the realization of one’s potential through success in the educational system. There is no way to make the children succeed in school and learn a practical and useful vocation unless they are convinced that a brighter future awaits them on the other side and are self-motivated in learning. The amount of influence and inspiration that one can get out of a role model is beyond imaginable and is of paramount importance within the Ghanaian district, which I served.

As a schoolboy growing up in Canada, I am sure to have selected at least three different career role models during my childhood. I recall year 3 of primary school when our class had a visit from the local fire station and Sparky the dog; I went home that afternoon and dragged my mother to the public library and after paying $2.75 in late fees for the ‘Where’s Woldo?’ books I had misplaced, I was able to borrow several books on the firefighter profession. Striving to achieve something in the western world is very feasible and you are likely to receive support from your peers and family. This picture does not apply as a reality for most Ghanaians. There are far too many challenges to pursue dreams.

Since 2008, the Ghanaian New Democratic Government, under the lead of John Ata Mills, has implemented a school feeding program where primary school children are offered a complimentary lunch meal each day. This programme was created with the intent of raising enrolment and it has only accomplished just that. Since many children must work with their families all day in order to earn enough money to eat, the programme is designed to lure families into sending their kids to school. Many more children are coming to school now, but the band-aid policy has led to a criticism of the government’s focus on the quantity of children educated rather than the quality of the educational system. In the school yard you can see the overlooked intricacy of challenges this policy has made evident. Children are coming to school with torn and sometimes no footwear, kids are leaving home after lunch (after the free meal) and most importantly, there is no proper counseling for these students as they enter together with a fleet of hundreds of other students that school year.

It was interesting to me when I had first spoken to a Ghanaian girl in her final year of JHS and heard that her plans after graduating were to begin assisting her mother in selling tomatoes in the market on a full-time basis. After speaking with many other students, I came to learn that this was the norm in most schools within the region. Children were expecting to end up in a similar rudimentary position after they graduate and therefore were not very keen on succeeding in school. This was particularly evident by the district’s failing average (below 50%) of students in the core subjects of math and science on the board wide examinations and a slim passing average (~55%) in English and the local language. These figures are fairly depressing in reality and establish a norm and tolerance for failure; But at least the children are in school… Yet the reason for the poor performance is still not clear to the government and so they attempt to implement similar band-aid policies.

It’s very easy to direct criticism towards the bureaucracy of the constituency and that is in large the problem. It seems like the government is always tackling surface issues and doesn’t put enough effort in to any major reform of the educational system. Some of the past initiatives of the government include repairing schools, improving facilities, granting free uniforms and free meals, raising teacher qualification standards and salaries. All these have been great initiatives, but they still don’t tackle the core issues affecting children. There exists a disconnect between the ground level workers and the policy makers. In the school of public administration, there exists an expression: “speaking truth to power”. This is a simple democratic principle obliging communication of the major difficulties throughout the various levels a hierarchical bureaucracy. This is exactly what is lacking within the system here in Ghana. People are afraid and to speak against higher ranks and are very reluctant to express their thoughts that counter their superiors’. Although colonization has been abolished by the great 1968 revolution, overthrowing the British, the master-servant mentality is still relevant today. Ghanaians see it as hospitality and manners while in reality it is a mere hindering practice to social development. The main issue that policy makers are failing to solve is the counseling and motivation of the hundreds of children who enter the schooling system every year and have no idea why they are there.

The real problem, which I observed and confirmed throughout my three-month internship by rigorous analysis and survey, is the absence of hope in an educational career. Children don’t have an individual to look up to; someone who experienced the same difficulties, which they are facing, and overcame them to reach to a better future. This is partly due to the fact that there are not that many who have made it through the rough life to become successful in a proper and well-paying career and those who have are not sought after to share their stories with these hope-deprived children. What is interesting is that this problem is not only present in public schools but is facing private schools alike. Hopelessness is not simply solved by having money or the necessary facilities to have children sitting in classrooms but the problem is more deeply rooted in the child’s self-actualization, the realization of one’s potential through success in the educational system. There is no way to make the children succeed in school and learn a practical and useful vocation unless they are convinced that a brighter future awaits them on the other side and are self-motivated in learning. The amount of influence and inspiration that one can get out of a role model is beyond imaginable and is of paramount importance within the Ghanaian district, which I served.

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