Trending on Accra’s radio stations now is a conversation about the state of Ghana’s public education system. And people are outraged! Majority of public school students who wrote the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) failed. For those who don’t know, it is the exams junior high school graduates write at the end of three years. It is an important exam as it determines where the graduates do next. This is because that certificate cannot get a graduate a job anywhere in Ghana.

Students who fail to make it to senior high school fail are simply headed to the academy of menial jobs, crime and poverty. Most of them couldn’t even score the lowest aggregate of thirty. These are not just students who attended schools in villages but those in cities like Takoradi.

The Vice President attributes the high level of failure to poor parenting and lazy teachers. The Volta Regional Minister whose region sparked the debate blames truancy. Speaking on the radio the other day, some of the students blamed their teachers;

One girl said, “the teachers do not teach us well.” Others have mentioned lack of infrastructure, lack of textbooks in schools, no teaching and learning materials and the overworked and underpaid teachers. It is all true. This isn’t the first time that we are having a national conversation about public education. We did it last year when junior and senior high school were released, and again when new research indicated that sixty-three per cent of pupils in primary schools could not read or write. We have talked about the quality of graduates the Universities and other tertiary institutions are producing.

Ghana’s education system has enormous problems, yet government after government continue to apply the “band-aid” method of problem-solving. You know the situation where they notice a bleed, they apply the plaster.
For example, primary school children and Junior High school students have been given an assorted tray of freebies, first, there is that unenforced free compulsory basic education, free food for primary schoolers, then free school uniforms and exercise books and the latest and most ridiculous, free laptops to some selected student.

And they have brilliant reasons for these first-aid applications, the free school uniforms are still dicey for me but the free compulsory education is supposed to keep pupils in school till they graduate Junior High School, and in the words of current Minister of Education the laptop “initiative seeks to equip and empower basic school teachers and pupils with modern ICT equipment and skills to enhance their knowledge and capability in the use of modern technology.” This is quite hilarious, given that teachers and pupils cannot enhance their knowledge without textbooks and syllabuses.

The freebies will not improve the quality of education. Free school uniforms will not reduce the number of pupils selling on the streets in their school uniforms. Neither will free exercise books to improve pupils’ reading or writing abilities. It may win the Minister and her party some votes but it will not help increase the literacy rate.

No one cares about what pupils wear to school. They can wear anything so far as they can get a desk to write on, textbooks to guide them and teachers who are equipped and trained to teach them. When you have more than half basic school population dropping out, you don’t hand out free things, you transform their schools so they will love to stay or be there. And when they end up failing the way the recent graduates did, you review your education policy.