Since 1993, the President’s Independence Day Award ceremony has honoured a number of hardworking students who excelled in the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE).
It has been providing scholarships each year for two deserving brilliant students (a boy and a girl) in each region, totalling 20 nationwide.
Originally, 10 candidates were given the award every year until 2001 when the Ghana Education Service (GES) suggested that the number be increased to 20 to make room for a boy and a girl from each region.
Advantages of the award
This year's ceremony was no exception, but the introduction of two novelties into the award, which is students with special needs and subject areas, is worth mentioning.
The award, no doubt, is a big morale booster for the recipients who normally have the singular privilege of being decorated by the President of the day and posing with him for a photograph.
Aside from that, it also satisfies the financial needs of the students, who require some funds to address basic needs in school.
The award challenges students to put in extra effort and also promotes competition among the final-year students to encourage them work harder, hoping to be among the best for possible selection.
Challenges of the award
However, every year when the final selection of the winners is announced, there are complaints of underhand dealings, favouritism and nepotism in the selection.
In the previous selections, the complaints ended up at the regional or district levels.
However, this year, an aggrieved district, which felt that its student had been cheated, decided to petition the President, who is the owner of the award.
The Municipal Chief Executive (MCE) of the Yendi Municipal Assembly in the Northern Region, Alhaji Abubakari H. Yussif, petitioned President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo to intervene and ensure that the President’s annual awards to students who excelled in the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) was given to only deserving students in the country.
In the MCE’s view, one of the students penciled for the award did not deserve it as she secured relatively lower scores in the exams than other candidates.
Alhaji Yussif insisted that the award should instead be given to a girl from his municipality, who he said had obtained seven ones in the BECE, instead of the one nominated by the region who had five ones.
Consequently, last Tuesday, when the winners were announced, while all regions had two representatives, only one name was mentioned for the Northern Region because the GES decided to withhold the award pending investigations into the petition after which the rightful winner would be presented with the award.
The challenge with the award has to do with the process the selected candidates are taken through. Using the selection criteria such as turn out/appearance, fluency in reading, comprehension/spelling, academic performance, co-curricula activities, community participation and conduct/good moral behaviour of the candidate definitely can trigger accusations and counter - accusations.
Such a selection procedure can be subjective and lead to abuse and subsequent denial of the right candidate picking up the award as has been challenged by the DCE.
I personally believe that since the award is tied to the BECE, widening the procedures to include areas that are subjective will surely deny the rightful hardworking students who learnt hard to merit it. I think that the winners should be those who excelled in the BECE and nothing more.
It is a fact that the process comprising areas such as co-curricula activities, community participation and conduct/good moral behaviour of the candidate can open the procedure up for criticism.
It is, therefore, heartwarming for the Director-General of the GES, Professor Kwasi Opoku-Amankwa, to suggest that the process of selecting winners possibly from next year would be given to an independent body such as the West African Examinations Council (WAEC).
Definitely, WAEC is in a better position to produce the winners, considering its track record of organising the Excellence Award ceremony for West Africa Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) candidates.
Such a decision surely will end the annual controversies that crop up when the winners are announced and give the award a level of credence and respect to the winners.
In any case, the examination is conducted by the WAEC and there should not be anything strange because it is in a better position to tell at a glance which of the students deserve the award.
Before I drop my pen, permit me to commend President Akufo-Addo for including students with special needs who excelled in the examination.
Their inclusion will also boost the morale of students in that category to put in extra effort in their studies.
To all those who received the President’s Independence Day Award, let me say kudos and as the President admonished you, don’t sit back, but see the award as a project that you have to pursue to be able to repeat the dose during the WASSCE.