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Target effective literacy for transformational learning

The Monday, July 1 edition of the Daily Graphic ran the welcoming headline: “Free SHS goes to Cabinet.” 

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The Minister of Education has explained that only a legal instrument will oblige future governments to a free compulsory secondary education. Indeed, the transition would be smooth if the country had achieved Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education. That journey must be intensified.

The minister is also seeking to make basic school 12 years, thus, cancel Basic Education Certificate Examination. In other words, basic school completion would occur at grade 12, not JHS.

Considering the numerous challenges – precipitated by poor literacy skills – that learners are bringing to the tertiary classroom, the change is welcoming. The real challenge, however, is achieving quality fundamental knowledge that might equip learners for sustainable jobs or post-secondary learning.

If the four-year SHS Policy introduced in 2007 had been allowed to run for, at least, a decade, it might have effectively guided quality secondary education review. However, the Mills Administration, strongly backed by NAGRAT, terminated the policy before it could be evaluated. NAGRAT protested vehemently that the added year would stretch parents financially.

Now, that impediment would be removed, because the taxpayer would absorb the cost. Therefore, the focus can be on quality teaching/learning. The 2007 Curriculum Review sought a fundamental target:

 To improve literacy for quality, holistic learning. The first year was to be a 100 per cent core learning – English Language, Mathematics, Science and Computer Literacy. In the second year, the core subjects were to be reduced to 70 per cent classroom instruction, then be reduced to 10 per cent by the final year.

 The goal was that, the first year would equip learners with firm literacy skills for learning their elective courses. The subsequent years would consolidate the core skills, especially language.

Alas, in Ghana, experts offer legitimate advice only for stakeholders – lay ones included – to oppose and overturn useful advice for myopic reasons. Myopic because the opposition sometimes, emanates from purely selfish reasons, from shallow consideration of long-term adverse cost in human capital.

The nation was grappling with major illiteracy challenges, hence, the proposal from the then Curriculum Research and Development Division (CRDD), now NaCCA. The challenges have since multiplied several folds.

The 2021 National Census vindicated the CRDD: “The role of language proficiency in communicating innovative ideas, processes, risks and outcomes is of utmost importance as countries strive for livelihoods and national economic transformation.”

The report stresses the harm being caused by high illiteracy levels among the youth. It raises the alarm that largely, secondary schools are graduating functional literates.

The report explains that effective literacy is the anchor for other literacies. Learners need mathematical literacy, science literacy to broaden their knowledge base. The 21st Century has added computer literacy and digital literacy.

High illiteracy and functional literacy logically translate into porous mathematical, science, computer and digital literacies among learners. Porous literacy adversely affects effective learning, sustainable job creation, and national innovation, among others. Oh, if only the 2007 reform had been accommodated for learners’ sake!

The reviewers had bemoaned the tendency of governments to curtail educational policies for political expediency. There had been considerable discussion pertaining to the sustainability of the reform.

The consensus had been that the four-year policy be allowed to run for 10 years before review. Everyone was thinking about learners. The sitting government agreed to reviewers’ pragmatic recommendation, but an aspiring president made cancellation a campaign promise and cancelled it upon achieving governance.

In retrospect, the reviewers should have further advocated a legal backing for the policy, considering the resources invested in the review. That would have protected learners’ interests. Furthermore, a legal instrument might have provided for more effective monitoring to ensure a better implementation of the initiative across schools.

Three years into the policy, I asked a first-year student from a Group A school about the rolling out of the 100 per cent core in the first year. The learner replied that there was no such implementation in the school.

 It had been a regular parallel learning of core and elective subjects. If that happened in a Group A school in a capital region, could it have been different in remote schools?

The dialogue emphasises that a cross-section of stakeholders delinquently undermine literacy to undermine learning. Currently, even tertiary institutions gloss literacy challenges among learners.

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Many tertiary learners cannot compose coherent essays. Upon completion, some cannot write a job application letter. How can such be engaged or work productively?
Ideally, the tertiary system must be collaborating with the basic and secondary systems to strategise for effective literacy.

That is not happening for commercial reasons. Oversight bodies are also failing to monitor literacy. Without effective learner literacy, we clutch at straws. Therefore, it is incumbent upon Government to ensure that the SHS bill is holistic in accessibility, quality teaching/learning, effective literacy, meticulous monitoring to ensure that the learner and taxpayer would not be shortchanged.

Target effective literacy for transformational learning and innovative human capital. May no parliamentarian unnecessarily impede the process. 

The writer is a Sr Lecturer, Language and Communication Skills, Takoradi Technical University,Takoradi.

[email protected]

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