Who in Ghana today will regard education as a negative force in our progress as a nation?
I bet many will regard this as a settled question. Interestingly, however, we are at a breaking point where education and its relevance to us as a country, is starting to provoke lots of critical commentary.
If you are a parent with children currently in school this term, at the preschool through the basic level, the little said about your stress levels the better. It is an understatement to say that nerves are fraying, institutions and settings in dire straits, providers with lopsided view of quality (judged in terms of how excessive school fees can be or even how magnificent school buildings appear), the state almost in paralysis and unreflective of what educational vision is and sadly, how all these impact the future of children and the country.The list goes on, and on…
But spare a thought, for a minute! Why the rush to take children as young as 2 years to school? Where is it stated in research or evidence from practice, besides anecdotes, that preschool (schooling prior to primary 1 enrolment) has any benefits to our children’s continuing education, and future educational careers?
I am no agent provocateur but if any evidence supports the current almost euphoric and obsession with high-fee paying settings on the ruse that they offer children good foundations for future learning and excellence in education then we all need to see it.
On the flipside, if it is the case of an unexamined practice that has insidiously taken hold then this equally needs attention and we need to wake up to the reality of what we might just be putting our children through in the name of ‘education’.
Research on early childhood education
On the question of research evidence, while there is no shortage of research on early childhood education, the question of universal application of models without regard to children and their context; as well as whether there are unequivocal benefits for all children and their future schooling is not conclusive. In fact, the well-invested researches in the developed world – often cited out of context to support our local practice – at best effuse contradictions.
While some posit that there are benefits gained from early introduction of children to schooling; yet others, on research evidence, have suggested such benefits are short term and eventually fade out. If there are any parallels to be drawn, then it is the case, in my view, that from a developing world perspective – with paucity of resources – prioritising our investment in children need an evidence basis, to optimise benefits.
How would a parent respond to the evidential claim, among many practitioners in the field of early childhood that the initial differences – and advantages achieved – between a child with preschool experience and a non-attendee level up by the time they are sat in the same Primary 4 class?
Its a life saver for working parents
Of course there are other reasons for taking children away from the home between the ages of zero to 6. For working parents needing childcare, it’s a life saver to have such provision; for children with little or no social networks to gain social skills; for children with need for care and suitable nurturing environments; and even for learning reasons (not in the formal sense with extreme academic instruction as we witness in most of our settings); and crucially too for recreation and play as a way of building certain significant life skills, even in the early years.
One other reason, in a league of its own, is the use of preschool as a bait for primary placement: even if parents could afford to look after the child till they were ready for compulsory enrolment, for fear of not gaining a place in the future, still the child forcefully gets ‘conscripted’.
These reasons notwithstanding, for most of the practice and provision it is common practice to associate quality (of provision) with inexcusable, punitive and unjustifiably huge fees. If we accept that the reasons for the existence of these institutions – early years’ providers – are valid and hold unequivocal benefits for all children; why has the case not been made for the universalisation of preschool in Ghana?
And if that were to be done, who would lead on the vision? While not seeking an answer for now, clues may be evident in our business-as-usual approach to most issues with individuals left to pick up the pieces and no one ultimately responsible for any of it.
What do all these mean? If preschool children are charged fees averaging 2000 GHS per annum (break down for three termly charges) even in the most poorest of our communities who needs to bother with screaming headlines about rampant and embedded corruption in Ghanaian society?
In addition, this points to an unregulated system: who issues permission for the mushrooming settings enrolling our poor children in the name of meeting educational needs? Who supervises over them and inspects what they do? And where is the evidence of such oversight responsibility: has any one setting been inspected and a report issued pointing to findings that may enhance and firm up good practice?
Could Ghana just mimic wholesale what the practice is elsewhere without regard to our economic, socio-historical and cultural context? Officially in Ghana, all children need to be in Primary 1 by age 6; it is expected that this will be preceded by 2 years’ experience of kindergarten (where available!). Herein lies the problem: with poorly resourced and limited places within public and state schools, part of this burden is devolved, by stealth, to the private sector.
The earlier equation of quality to exorbitant fees gets even more complex at this stage: here, there is a false sense of hope propagated via a myth that suggests ‘private is better than the public’. What this does then is, it offers further credence to providers to apply a laissez faire approach to the workings of schools as in the market place.
Furthermore, as there are usually fewer eyes looking in, to steer practice right, a lot of what is deemed official policy, including the curriculum, is jettisoned with wide-ranging muddled versions. There are cases of undue testing of children – high stakes – to place them: I have personally witnessed and challenged how anyone could justify putting a 5 year old through a desk-and-chair testing (in English Mathematics and Science) for four hours.
Guess what, even that ‘torture’ is paid for, with the fate of the child still indeterminate. Painfully, some children made to repeat a grade many times over due to pressure on places; with extreme examples of children aged 7 still at kindergarten after five years already spent in a schooling environment. And surprise surprise, even public school professionals and teachers keep their children in private schools.
All these and an argument still gets forged that such provision is great; just to get nervous parents to trip over each other’s heels to compete for places!
With the spirit of the 10th Anniversary of the Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD 2004: Government of Ghana) Policy, upon us, it is my view that the time has come to dust off the policy document and look to the wisdom that it contains, as a starting point toward a discussion of where we need our children to be, if we are not to waste their childhood with forcible conscriptions into what Professor Guy Claxton calls ‘learnacy’.
A misappropriation of childhood as if it was solely meant for education. My favourable starting point of that conversation on childhood will be about when it is deemed appropriate to introduce children to formal schooling in Ghana?
Article Written by Ibrahim Anyars Imoro (Tamale Resident), Doctoral Researcher, University of Warwick, United Kingdom.
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