What is the purpose of our educational system?
Many comments are made almost daily about the role and effect of education. But what is education? Philosophers have discussed the matter and have not completely satisfied all the thoughts. I will leave the erudite discussion to the learned and academics.
But responsible citizens should be concerned about assisting the young to grow up to fit into society and promote its aims and values.
To discharge the higher functions expected the emerging youth should be enabled to play their part in the life and labour of society. They should acquire the skills and knowledge to help feed, clothe and house themselves as well as society. They should promote human welfare. To help the young to perform their duty, places of learning have been established to continue the nurture begun by parents and family. These places of learning or education must today fulfil the higher purpose of enabling the youth to discharge their role in a world complicated by its smallness and demands.
The country had rightly at independence made the first few years of schooling free of fees and compulsory. The idea was that all citizens must acquire the minimum of reading and writing skills to be useful citizens. Thereafter the young are to attend higher levels of schools and later universities as their abilities determine. But what about those who could not profitably follow the designed academic path? Indeed what is the purpose of each stage of the academic system? Various governments have modified what is taught at the higher schools and Ghanaians have questioned the relevance of what is taught and bemoaned the ignorance of some of the high school leavers. Recently bishops of charismatic churches have requested the scrapping of the Junior High and Senior High schools. They want these replaced with the former ‘O’ and ‘A’ level courses. These and other suggestions can only be meaningfully discussed if we are conversant with the history of formal education in the Gold Coast.
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The colonial government assisted the establishment of elementary schools leading to the Seventh Standard Examination. Leavers or graduates of the system were able to assist with administration and other requirements of entrepreneurs and missionaries. Technical and Trade Schools were established to deal with specific needs. When secondary schools were established by the Methodists at Mfantsipim, the Anglicans at Adisadel and others, they supplied school leavers at a higher level to deal with the more complex demands of administration, teaching and development. To assist the maintenance of standards, these schools took the Cambridge School Certificate Examination.
The first secondary school established by the government continued the external examination system at the higher levels. Achimota had a Kindergarten Department; Lower and Upper Primary Schools, Secondary and Teacher Training sections and a University Department. The latter took the London Intermediate degrees in Arts and Science and the full BSc Degree in Engineering. This short historical sketch indicates that each educational step had a purpose. The secondary schools prepared students for the world at large through university studies.
What seems to have caused some confusion is that it is now expected by many that every secondary school leaver should enter a university. But the practice and general expectation until recently was that the Junior High School level was the end of formal education for some as the Senior High School was for others. Those who showed the appropriate promise would proceed from Senior High School to the university.
Those who could not enter the next stage of the main education ladder were expected to supply the material needed to run the country. They were expected to receive the appropriate training. Today everyone wants to enter the next stage in the educational system and the government is persuaded to assist with the expectation. If we had the resources I would propose that all students should benefit from university education. There should be no end to learning. My father used to advise me that the last thing a man learns in life is to learn how to die. But in real life and in the practical world we have to prepare students for the next stage of organised learning according to competence or inclination.
The educational system we have adopted is not bad. But we have to admit that not all students can profitably proceed from ‘O’ Level to ‘A’ Level. We have to provide avenues for those who leave the system at the Junior and Senior High School levels. They are not failures. They have talents which should be nurtured for the good of society. The educational system fails in its purpose if it does not draw out the worth of all the young.