The intention of the article was to stress both discipline and higher educational standards for the folks back home, but to praise both of these aspects of the Ghanaian educational system, without placing them in their context, with all their pitfalls, is also a dangerous stand to take.
There is a passing comment about the paddle that is present in the corner of every classroom. This American author would be no doubt suing the school board if his children were beaten with any of the implements used commonly in Ghanaian schools for ‘discipline’. He glances over what would be considered by western standards as a culture of child abuse in the educational system across Ghana.
Children are caned on a daily basis. The acts of indiscipline warranting the caning include being part of a class of 52 children, where one or two have not completed their homework or memorized a certain passage to perfection. My own son attended a semi private Ghanaian school for five years and came home with welts, having been beaten for this very reason, despite having completed the tasks himself.
When I confronted the teacher and principle I was told his skin was too soft and hence marks were left, and they could not be blamed for that. There is no guilt or shame among educators in Ghana for beating children. It is an integral part of the curriculum and culture. Students from as young as five years old are tasked daily with chopping grass with machetes and cleaning out gutters on the school compound. This again would amount to using children for manual labour by American standards, and again, not completing these tasks to the teacher’s satisfaction also attracts stiff beatings. The respect he commended in classrooms can be rather attributed to fear. Students may call their elders ‘Sir’ and “Ma’am’ but unlike the system in the west where often teachers are close mentors, in Ghana teachers and students have a relationship closer to dictator and servant.
I also came across an interesting article on the TimesOnline site, "African cane tames unruly British pupils". A teacher is interviewed at a Ghanaian school, "Children must be taught. You don’t sit down and discuss directions with a child – you tell them where to go,” he said. "Children are beaten for misbehaving or failing to do home-work, but not for poor results".
One of the students sent from the UK by his immigrated parents, Sienam, admitted that he had been caned “many, many times” by his teachers in Ghana. “Any time you do something you know you shouldn’t do or step out of line, you get caned.” It is the reality of the system.
Secondly, with regard to curriculum, the Ghanaian standard is modeled after the British system of the 1950s and 60s. The author must have seen on his many visits to Ghanaian schools, some of these textbooks taken directly from 1950s editions from the UK. The focus is on memorization and many times regurgitation. Essays which evoke the child’s imagination are not part of curriculum, and students are not asked to write ‘in their own words’ about topics they read about. What results, as a close American friend of mine teaching at the University of Legon currently experienced, is that 50 out of 60 students will submit THE EXACT SAME PAPER. She is now at a loss as to what recourse to take. I am not sure that American schools should encourage a return to this type of learning, when the school systems in the west have intentionally moved away from these methods, after realizing children gain irreplaceable skills by applying their knowledge outside textbooks.
I have yet another concern regarding the author’s assessment of the quality of teachers in Ghanaian schools. Constantly during my son’s five years at a prominent and well respected Ghanaian elementary school, I was shocked by the lack of basic grasp of English grammar amongst the teachers. They constantly marked wrong grammar as correct or even worse, corrected proper grammar with complete mistakes. The problem was not concerning only one teacher but many, and I can guarantee it is not an isolated problem with this particular school. The average pay for an elementary school teacher in Ghana is less than $200 per month, which does not attract the most talented pool. The wages and living conditions in the rural schools are even worse, meaning these schools suffer an even worse fate in terms of their faculty.
Kofi Annan, illustrated in the article as a typical example of the products of Ghanaian education, is the child of Ghanaian Royalty, having graduated from the then highly elite boarding school ‘Mfantsipim’ back when the British system resembled the contemporary curriculum of the day in the UK, is definitely not representative of the average Ghanaian child, with comparable opportunities. Especially in today’s Ghana.
In fact, he states that education is ‘mandatory’ in Ghana, and indeed it may be, but the reality on the ground is that the streets are lined with children hawking goods during school hours, and estimated figures are closer to 60% of urban children are actually attending school on a regular and consistent basis. The rural areas are nowhere near this figure. Many villages have no schools to attend, let alone the money for the fees.
Though I do agree it’s a good idea to get people in western countries with developed economies to stand up and re-evaluate their school systems and the lack of respect among the youth of today, I don’t believe that exonerating the educational system in a poor country like Ghana, with it’s lack of infrastructure and a culture of corporal punishment, is fair in the context given.