- It is imperative to understand the basic assumption and history behind the chaos and heartbreak: all parents at the Black Star Square believed that some schools are better than others.
Written By Prof. Ian Ernest Yeboah - The chaos and confusion associated with senior high school placement at the Black Star Square a few days ago left me heartbroken. Why should Ghana have such difficulty in placing about 520,000 students in 475 senior high schools? Why should families be humiliated by the placement system? I present a simple location-allocation solution to this problem.
It is imperative to understand the basic assumption and history behind the chaos and heartbreak: all parents at the Black Star Square believed that some schools are better than others.
To maximise the return of their investment in their children’s education, they make every effort to get their children into the ‘best-fit’ schools or what I call the Achimotas of Ghana. For some, the best-fit was a match between their residence and the location of schools.
The Guggisberg or colonial model of secondary education that persists today is based on a centralisation of location or geography, curriculum and funding. Secondary education was concentrated in central places, often major cities, creating an urban bias.
Most students had to travel to attend school in cities and these schools benefited from the inertia of becoming elites or ‘best-fits’. Boarding schools were the norm of such a policy.The Achimota School’s song illustrates the underlying assumption of the Guggisberg policy: “From Gambaga to Accra, from Wiawso to Keta . . .”
Sixty years on, the structure of society, the national population (increased from four to 30 million) and the demands of education have all changed, but the centralisation of geography, curriculum and funding has not.
We should do away with the centrality of location, if not funding and curriculum. Failure to do this in this era of neoliberalism will result in the disaster that occurred at the Independence Square each year and a financial corruption of the placement system based on class, ethnicity and nepotism.
My policy prescription is to decentralise or localise the geography of senior high education in three steps within a specific period of time.
First, since every district in the county has a senior high school due to policies such as the Ghana Education Trust and E-Block, it will be appropriate to improve the quality of all 475 schools to the level of the Achimotas, in terms of books, computers, the Internet and well-trained and incentivised teachers, libraries and science laboratories.
This is doable so, no matter where you live (rural or urban, north or south), you will attend your local school that has been improved to the level of the Achimotas.
Second, we should scrap the concept of boarding schools at the senior high level and use the savings (23 per cent of government expenditure) to improve the quality of all schools to that of the Achmotas.
In the United States, almost all students become borders only when they attend college (university). About 90 per cent of pre-tertiary students in Ghana today attend day schools. Doing this will open up dormitories that can be converted into classrooms, laboratories and libraries so many more students will be able to attend the same school in one shift.
Third, transporting day students to schools should be left to the private sector of tro-tro, bus and taxi operators, who already do an excellent job of transporting six times as many students in pre-tertiary schools. Incentivising these operators with tax credits will stimulate their ingenuity in expanding a vibrant transportation industry to transport children to schools.
This policy will allow the government to implement its free education policy to cover more students at a better quality and much lower cost. More students will benefit from access to better quality education.
Free lunches can be used to incentivise students to attend school as the school feeding programme does today. Parents should take responsibility for the nurturing of and bonding with their children.
It is arguable that day students may lack discipline and engage in various pathologies. It is the responsibility of parents, not schools or teachers, to socialise their children.
It may also be argued that day students will not perform well as boarders. Some of the best performing schools in the country are day schools (Ghana International, GIS, American International, etc.).
If parents truly wants their kid to attend a boarding school, they can pay for it in the private sector. Implementing this policy should occur within the next two years and subsequent governments should commit to it.
A three-year phase-out period gives parents and schools opportunities to prepare for such change. The political will that was used to implement today’s free education programme should be used to implement this policy.
This problem has s simple geographical solution and does not require rocket science or even a ‘computer programme’. The heartbreak and chaos must stop!
The writer is a Professor of Geography, Miami University.