“And Nyankopon said: Make you sweet pots of the earth’s clay / to catch my rain, my spirit that shall sustain you … / But who shall knead our clay / To build our pot? / What hands / What pressure / Of what hands / Knead this piece of the earth? … / How dare we name this pot our own / If other fingers / Knead / Mould and / Pinch / The clay of its making?” (The poet and dramatist, Joe De Graft, Legon, 16th February 1965)
The cognitive abilities in reading, writing, and mathematics are extremely important skills for the youth to acquire. And equally important for any serious education model is the cultivation of the non-cognitive soft skills – what I’d call “The Affective Competencies”, such as purpose, values, imagination, creativity, curiosity, resourcefulness, resilience, passion, interests, and so on. What we do with our own hands, especially, are more important than any theories ever memorized.
Summarized as personality traits, the soft skills play a crucial role if citizens of any country are to live a fulfilling life, and if the nation itself is to prosper. Going into the new year, we need to be aware, and be very clear, that our standardized tests such as BECE and WASSCE – as important as they are – are purely academic pursuits, and do not measure the critical hands-on skills. I am often reminded of this person – with two PhD’s planted firmly on a business card – looking for a job.
What’s missing isn’t the ideas; it’s the political will to execute the obvious things that can elevate this country. We must know by now that the old ways have lost steam, with nowhere to go but down, so it becomes more imperative to think different, as Steve Jobs put it. The old trajectory is at a dead end; and the youth in the country should be spared the agony of unrealized potential.
We need a new model of how to build human capital, rather than stuffing the youth into tight classrooms and lecture halls. The ultimate test of any system is not whether a person knows a lot; but whether the system makes a person’s life easier.
A Happy New Year to all readers, and to those who emailed moral support. Ghana is a most beautiful country and as the poet – Joe De Graft – suggested, by depending on our own hands, the sky can truly be the limit to Ghana’s progress. The following extracts are reminders of the challenges ahead as we enter the brand new year 2015.
For education to be honest and magnificently “free, and compulsory”, it must make sense; it must have quality; it must be purposeful; it must advance the youth out of poverty. It must not end with the youth zigzagging dangerously in traffic, peddling catapults and dog chains, and slapping soapy water on cars.
School Science Projects
School projects in each district must be promoted and tailored to fit their local contents. Cottage industries, for one, must start with local content. In the Savelugu / Nantn District, rice cultivation in the Nabogu Valley should feature strongly as science projects for the youth there … In the Shama District – and other districts by water bodies – Tilapia and other fish farms should feature there … The convergence of science education and hands-on meaningful applications is needed to enrich each district in Ghana to reduce the poverty and curb the drifts of frustrated youth to the overcrowded city centres.
Note that critical thinking activities can neither be lectured, memorized nor recalled; they have to be thought through and acted on for quality purposeful teaching and learning. For example: Examine the possibilities of using cotton in Northern Ghana to produce sanitary towels for school girls in Ghana.
It’s not all about lectures, academics and punitive standardized exams anymore, most especially for underdeveloped nations where the need to tap everybody’s potential is greatest, to alleviate poverty and disease. The irony is that the more academic degrees we churn out, the more we depend on other nations for their loans and products, and the poorer we get … Education today must focus on how Ghana’s educated minds ought to think and what to do using the nation’s local content and human resources to benefit each community and the nation itself.
Operation Feed Yourself
Going forward, there’s a pertinent lesson for Ghana in the 21st century: How can a nation in the fertile tropics ever become economically independent if she neglects to produce her own cotton for textiles for clothing and furnishings, or refuse to grow her own food to feed a population of some 25 million people?
Instructors of practice
To support the four pillars for the 21st century learning (One, to know; Two, to do; Three, to be; and Four, to live together) lecturers and professors must not be seen today as just teachers, but as instructors of practice, and also as learners themselves appreciating the varied needs of the students and facilitating the process where students can access websites with course contents, links, lectures, etc. These days, hoarding content materials away from students is not only self-centered, it is primitive; collaboration and sharing are the ideal merits.
Author: Anis Haffar
[Email: [email protected]]