Education matters: How schools can achieve superior BECE results in 2013 (Part 1)

Proper prior preparation prevents poor performance

Growing up in the colonial 1950s at a village school at Tutuka (now in the Adansi North District at Obuasi) our class one teacher often used Akan folktales to alert us to our civic duties. Many afternoons were reserved on the timetable for story telling exercises. The lessons were hands-on. Every kid was asked to search for stories and adages that carried positive images and morale. The sessions tended to be imaginative and humorous, especially the fables delivered by the gifted story tellers in our midst.

A particular tale was about the vulture’s habits of procrastination. Each rainy season the vulture found itself abandoned without shelter as the tropical downpour beat down on him mercilessly. Shivering on the tree tops, he eyed the other birds cozying up in their nests with their loved ones. Being alone and dejected like a loser, the vulture felt sorry for himself and swore that as soon as the rainy season ended, he would not fail to build a nest.

But no sooner had the rains stopped than the vulture chose to forget the duty to build a shelter. He continued his lazy ways, scavenging the leftovers on the grounds and dozing off daily in the trees. No thought of tomorrow crossed his mind. Soon enough the next bout of rains caught him, yet again, unprepared!

Our humble school consisted of one room and some trees, and we grew hedges of milk bushes around it. Activities like storytelling, reading and craft were often done in the shade of trees. By the end of class one, we could read and write both Twi and English. In those days, the education authorities were visibly on their job, guided by the adage, If you don’t inspect, don’t expect.

Typically, good schools have two key structures in their favour: One, the physical infrastructure (relating to material things); and Two, the cognitive infrastructure (relating to the intellectual development of the brain). The physical includes the buildings, libraries, labs, equipment, etc. The cognitive includes the teachers’ abilities to produce or use three main items for instructional purposes: one, the Schemes of Work / Weekly Forecasts; two, the Teaching / Learning Materials; and three, the Methodology / Instructional Strategies.

Having less of the physical structures the colonial officials focused intently on the cognitive aspects. I remember the inspectors standing by the windows like hawks observing and guiding the teachers’ instructional activities and competencies. Occasionally they entered the classroom to check (I may infer) the schemes of work and the teacher’s notes, and to see if the contents in the exercise books matched the instructional objectives. The instructional standards and official supervision of attendance and preparation were non-negotiable. As a result, even from the so-called “syto” schools, pupils could qualify for admission into secondary schools.

Such supervisory requirements haven’t changed much; they tend to be standard practices. What have changed today in many schools are, of course, the contemporary inputs or contents for modern skills. Also, the ability to use computers and photocopiers, for example, reduces time wasting chores considerably. That helps to shift the teachers’ energies, time and focus from drudgery to quality instruction in the classrooms.

Our youth do not plan to fail but the people they depend on fail to plan for their success. In preparing the BECE candidates for next year, 2013, diligence is needed in many private schools and the public ones in the 170 districts. There isn’t much difference in innate cognitive abilities between the sets of youngsters who pass and those that don’t. Had those who failed been adequately prepared, inspired and motivated by their instructors, they too would pass.
Ghana happens to be at the inflection point in the education of the youth. Thinking through the causes of the yearly high failure rates, it is so clear that the way things are done must change for the better, especially in the public schools where the failures are huge.

I’ve often written and said on radio and television interviews that my experiences training teachers in the districts suggest that each district or a defined cluster of schools within a district must come together and create a self-supporting Learning Community at a selected central location. That is the wave of the future, if we wish to improve results across board.

At the preferred location, the three critical items for effective instructional purposes – the Schemes of Work / Weekly Forecasts; the Teaching / Learning Materials; and the Methodology / Instructional Strategies – may be produced expertly and digitized by selected teams including heads and teachers representing each of the ten subject areas: English, Mathematics, Science, IT, and so on.

Such updated cognitive items may then be printed out in bulk and made available to the less endowed schools in each district to help the teachers there to perform better. There’s nothing that a focused team of committed people – with a good plan – cannot do to raise results!