Dead knowledge in our schools; Who is checking the textbooks?

BY: Anis Haffar
 Nii Moi Thompson
Nii Moi Thompson

The era of fake news, fake data, fake videos and fake photos ought to put everyone on their toes and on guard: we simply can’t accept or act on things at their face value anymore.

Students, for one, must be in a position to verify the authenticity of any given facts before they can be used to add credibility to themselves and the disciplines.

Critical Thinking

The goals of a Creative and Critical Thinking course I teach is as follows: The information age and the Internet allow us to gather various materials from across the world quickly and easily.

Information, however, must be checked for accuracy, validated, understood, processed and sorted out for its implications before use.

 Learners - and the various practitioners in every profession - must be in a position to identify inaccuracies, fallacies, rumours and opinions before attempting their own informed judgements or empathetic responses.

The raging noise fights – amidst the tussle of fact, fiction, outright lies and deceit on radio , television and the print media – among competing politicians, prophets and advertising experts are cases in point.

At the end of it all, when reason fails, pundits are seen and heard flogging each other with personal insults to demean one other. It’s a bloody shame!

What’s in the textbooks?

“Have you ever wondered what's in the textbooks that your children use in school?” asked Nii Moi Thompson, one of Ghana’s most visible and daring economists with a penchant for factual accuracies.  

Out of curiosity, he said he recently decided to check the contents of a particular Economics textbook for Ghanaian secondary schools.

 He said, “I was horrified by what I saw. Although the authors claim the book contains ‘current figures on the economy’, most of what is presented is at least 10 years old.”

That reminded him of Ghana’s poor performance in the international Maths and Science quiz about 15 years ago, when our students came in last but one (ahead of only South Africa).

 It subsequently emerged that the curriculum they used to prepare for the quiz was 10 years out of date.

Nii Moi observed that given the excitement that currently surrounded the National Maths and Science Quiz in Ghana, it was likely that we had been feeding our children dead knowledge, testing them on it, and then celebrating them when they excelled in what, for all practical purposes, was out of sync with what was happening in the real world.

 Indeed, the high failure rates in some subjects in BECE and WASSCE may well be partly due to this dead-knowledge syndrome in our education system.

Some factual inaccuracies

In the case of an Economics textbook, ostensibly written in 1997 and supposedly revised seven times - the most recent being in 2016 - you wouldn’t know it by looking at its contents.

He noted that there was a “Table showing contribution of the sectors to G.D.P 1997-2002 (%)”, but the data presented were from 2000 to 2008, with agriculture accounting for the largest share of GDP at 33.6 per cent, followed by industry, 31.8 per cent, and services, 25.9 per cent.

Worse, the authors ignored recent developments in the study of Economics in general and the Ghanaian economy in particular.

 In 2010, for example, the Ghana Statistical Service updated the country’s GDP from 1993 prices to those of 2006 in order to reflect changes in production and consumption patterns over the years.

 The services sector subsequently became the largest, 46.46 per cent, followed by agriculture, 28.95 per cent, and industry, 19.80 per cent.

Since then, he said, services had dominated the economy, accounting for 52.16 per cent in 2017, followed by industry, 23.68 per cent, and agriculture, 17.02 per cent.

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Yet, students will go into the 2019 WASSCE thinking that agriculture is still the largest sector of Ghana’s economy, when in fact it is the smallest.

On a page, we are told that Ghana’s per capita income “is about $400”.

 In fact, it was $1,490 in 2015, the year before the last revisions and five years after Ghana became a middle-income country.

Similarly, the treatment of “Contemporary Issues” needs to be updated to include new global groupings, such as the G20 and BRICS (the five major emerging economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), as well as international development frameworks, such as MDGs (Millennium Development Goals), SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) and the African Union’s Agenda 2063.

It is equally important to cover more contemporary concepts such as Gross National Income (GNI), and its derivative, per capita GNI, which is now the main statistic for ranking the wealth of nations.

Recklessness in the preparation of books

Nii Moi affirmed that we don’t need only English courses to improve students’ grasp of the language.

Every textbook, in one form or another, contributes to the teaching of English.

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Badly written textbooks, therefore, undermine the teaching of English.

Educators must appreciate these inter-linkages and ensure only the highest editorial standards across all textbooks.

A national policy may also be required to settle on which English spelling to use in our schools: British, as has historically been the case, or American, which is now the default on most computers and electronic devices? We need consistency.

Though the Ghana Book Development Council (GBDC) is supposed to prevent these lapses and ensure standards, it is clear to the economist that it has woefully failed in that mission.

He insisted that the situation was no different in the professions.

There are accountants with no knowledge of Excel, and according to a recent nominee to the Supreme Court, people with first degree in Law who did not know the basic elements of a valid contract now wanted to pursue a Master’s degree in Law.

Such is the extent of the confusion. He asked, any wonder we couldn’t solve the basic problems of our development?

The author is a trainer of teachers, leadership coach and quality education advocate.

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Blog: www.anishaffar.org