Ghanaians are very familiar with two things in the country’s educational sector – the poor state of public schools in the country, and poor academic performance of pupils in the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) in recent times.
Though these issues are highlighted in the media regularly, the situation is not getting any better. Pupils in public schools in parts of the country, including some urban centres, continue to learn in makeshift classrooms without furniture, learning and teaching materials and good supervision.
The situation is gradually creating a state of hopelessness among pupils and teachers in public schools and is arguably a contributory factor in the poor academic performance of pupils.
Cursory observations showed that pupils in private schools see themselves better and appear happier than those in public schools and perform better in BECE. Consequently, parents including trained teachers in public schools, continually withdraw their children from public schools to private ones.
Mr Emmanuel Keteku, a former Volta Regional Director of Education said quite a number of teachers in the Region have their children in private schools, a case of not having confidence in themselves and the public school system where they teach.
Mr Keteku could simply not believe why a professional teacher would send his or her child to be taught by untrained teachers.
In some schools across the country, pupils’ population is higher in private schools than in public ones, leaving trained teachers who are paid with the tax payers’ money, virtually redundant.
Sir Hope, (not his real name) Headmaster of a public school in the outskirts of Ho, who cannot manage his frustration over parents withdrawing their children from his school to a private one across the street, occasionally incites pupils of his school against those in the private one, sometimes resulting in verbal abuses.
But for the school-feeding programme and government’s provision of free school uniforms, the situation could be most unpleasant in the public schools.
It is the school feeding and free uniform policies that have enticed children to remain in the public schools, rather than the school environment. In some communities, it is reported that children only come to take free meals at school and go back home.
Huge sums of money are quoted for the construction of public schools yet they are built anyhow with no consideration for local weather conditions. As a result, the buildings do not stand the test of time with majority becoming death traps within relatively short periods.
Some of the buildings, especially in rural areas are really bad. Not many parents would want to get near them for the fear of the unknown but send their children there.
The schools, some of which are surrounded by bushes, have no sanitation facilities, no electricity, no equipment for sports and other extra-curricular activities and no textbooks, at best, a few, which in many cases are kept in the headmasters’ offices for safe keeping.
The opposite of almost all these is the situation in a good number of private schools across the country.
This is the situation of our public schools yet the middle class, whose taxes go into the construction and maintenance of these schools and payment of teachers’ salaries, appear unconcerned, with many having their children in private schools.
Richard Niece of Walsh College, Ohio, in the National Association of Secondary Schools Principals (NASSP) Bulletin, says the physical appearance of schools should reflect how interesting and colourful education could be.
A theorist, Glen I. Earthman, in a research report by UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education, & Access (IDEA) says school facilities have impact on teacher effectiveness and student performance. He says older facilities have problems with noise levels and thermal environments and that the age of school buildings play important parts in students’ performance.
These appear lost on us with our civil society groups having become too partisan and failed in holding governments accountable. It appears the country no longer has ‘real’ civil society groups, the types which were involved in the independence and democratic struggle for the country. The few visible ones are only interested in politics and not the well-being of children in public schools. Some complain about the poor academic performance of pupils in BECE but not concerned about what happens in their learning environment.
Teacher unions and associations have not done much. They appear to be one of the strongest labour unions in the country but are voiceless when it comes to fighting for a convenient school environment for pupils. Their voices are loud when chasing allowances and salaries but very feeble for the lack of teaching and learning materials or poor learning environment for pupils.
For example, only 44 per cent of children have physical access to kindergarten within five kilometres in the Volta Region in the 2013/2014 academic year, yet it is of no concern to teachers and other stakeholders.
The Planning Unit of the Volta Regional Education Directorate also says about 838 public Junior High Schools in the Region do not have toilet and urinal facilities and 615 are without electricity. The situation is worse in primaries and kindergartens but is of no worry to the teacher.
The assumption is that the teacher loses nothing if schools lack teaching and learning materials and pupils fail their examinations because their (teachers) children are in private schools.
The irony however is that, trained teachers in public schools will soon have no child to teach because we will all send our children to private schools to be taught by untrained but effective teachers who prepare their own teaching aids and show love and care to the children they teach.
Teachers at a popular private school in Ho regularly check on how well pupils in their classes are doing at home. They visit the children at home if they did not come to school, a way of making the child and the parent feel important members of the school community. The pupil is basically treated just like an important ‘client’.
It is worth stating that only a few people can afford fees charged in private schools and the country cannot afford to entrust its educational system entirely in the hands of private business people.
The Ghana Education Service must shift some focus from curriculum and pedagogy to physical environment in public schools and ensure that school heads, teachers, architects and engineers make learning environments attractive and student-centred.
Teachers and teacher unions have major roles to play in re-positioning public schools in the country and must not watch them collapse, else they risk losing their jobs in the next ten years.
Teacher unions must make their voices heard on the state of public schools in the country because the show of concern for the welfare of pupils and their learning environment is the best way to motivate the pupils to learn and perform well in examinations. GNA