High school students at a STEM centre
High school students at a STEM centre

Evolution of education globally - Ghana at an inflection point

It will be quite hard to find a country that does not wish to improve its educational outcomes.

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Wishful thinking, however, is one thing; the ability to kick in processes that improve systems is another matter. Transformation is never easy for most people or nations, so though transformation may be needed visibly in many instances, change is often uncomfortable and hardly actualised.

Because of the tendency to deny reality, it takes optimism, courage and a can-do spirit to thwart the dysfunction and avert the status quo paralyses. For sure, deliberate action – calibrated from a well-defined vision – will neither meet a sloth’s dream with equal love, nor co-exist amicably.

Toxic errands

All the way up from elementary to university levels, many archaic methods employed from the past continue to adorn and infect today’s teachings stifling skills building. The point is simply this, there cannot be any resolute commitment by anyone without the person connecting purpose to the subjects being studied. And how can education itself be beneficial in the absence of the skills for applying what is learned to create useful outcomes?

In a previous column, subtitled “The transition from theories to hands-on abilities,” I noted that it’s a rare person indeed who is raised to sit for 16 years in school – all the way from the primary through university years – merely dangling information back and forth without useful hands-on connections – and then suddenly released, with a certificate loaded with a bucketful of theories, to now start useful work. We are creatures of habit, and that expectation is as fruitless as it is ridiculous.

For our ever-dynamic, ever-expanding world of education, most nations are actively exploring ways to fuse talent, skills and attitudes for leading young people to make sense of themselves first, and then add value – though myriad forms of creativity – to the environments in which they find themselves. 

In 2009, I ventured out back to the United States to see how other schools of education fared in confronting such challenges. Among other institutions, my first stop was at the Harvard Graduate School of Education – HGSE – in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

I engaged in conversations with some professors there, most notably Eleanor Duckworth, who gifted me one of her books, “The having of wonderful ideas” to illustrate her own vision of the future of teaching and learning.

Another professor, Eileen M. McGowan, invited me to sit in her class for doctoral students, exploring ways of scaling innovations to support their respective districts. I then moved on to California to see some friends at the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).

Meeting Dr Adutwum

I met Dr Adutwum in Los Angeles by chance. Though our trajectories were similar in some instances, we had never met. For one thing, Dr Adutwum had served as the president of the Ghana Association in Southern California as I had once done earlier in the 1980s.

Also, we both taught in LAUSD, California, where he taught mathematics. In my case, I taught English there for ten years – from 1984 till1994, before I finally relocated to Ghana in 1995 with my wife and first two daughters in tow for the kids to be educated here and to learn to speak and write a Ghanaian language.

A mutual friend arranged the meeting. Dr Adutwum and I first had breakfast on Figueroa Street across the road from the New Designs Charter School which he helped found in 2003.

He seemed curious about my experiences teaching teachers in Ghana, and invited his Ghanaian staff to engage me with a questions-and-answers session in one of the offices. At the end of it, he purchased copies of my first book, “Leadership: Reflections on some movers, shakers and thinkers” which featured Kwame Nkrumah, W.E.B. Du Bois, Ephraim Amu, Prof Kwabena Nketia, and others.

The first New Designs Charter School served an area of need in the district where schools were heavily impacted by overcrowding, lack of seat space, etc. It was located in a community where schools had low academic performance.

He showed me around some classes to showcase the strides being made there. He was particularly proud for having inner city kids excel in mathematics to qualify them to study engineering at the universities.

The success of the first charter school prompted the need to start a similar school in the Watts area near Compton, a predominantly African American neighbourhood. The school was personalised for students to support district’s goals in improving performance in secondary education.

Visionary focus

Now a minister for education in  Ghana, and an MP of the Bosumtwi Constituency, Dr Adutwum demonstrated what modern schools should look like physically, mostly, decoupling primary school from secondary, and equipping them with ICT and modern laboratories.

For the cognitive aspects, he  noted that “We have tamed the children; we just want them to write down what we tell them on the day of exams. They should put down what we have told them, and we say you are the best student the country has ever known. That kind of education system will not transform Ghana or give us critical thinking individuals.”

For him, as we embarked on access, there was also the need to consider quality and relevance of an education system “that will truly put us in a space where education can become the most socio-economic transformation agent. Our current education system is not what is going to transform our continent. And we need to take a serious route.”

He said, “we are full STEAM ahead in terms of ensuring that we can increase the numbers of our students participating in STEM, and that is how we put to rest the issue of rote memorisation.

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You can’t do memorisation in STEM. You have to participate in the learning process and make sure that we can get a critical mass with the critical minds that we need for our transformation.”

STEM means Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. The A in STEAM is the addition of creative Arts in the abbreviation).

The writer is a trainer of teachers, leadership coach, motivational speaker and quality education advocate.

E-mail: [email protected]

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