What’s Wrong With Ghana’s Education System?

Ghana’s education system has largely maintained its colonial roots: uprooting children from their homes and filling them with foreign cultures. As a result, the youth have been conditioned—through this system to choose what is novel (whether inferior or mediocre) over the known, “English” over “native”, and White over Black.

It is, therefore, abundantly clear that the time is long overdue for a new education system. To move forward, however, we must understand what got us here.

During the colonial era, the purpose of Ghana’s education was to “make civilization march hand-in-hand with evangelization”. The European merchants established schools in Ghana to educate their children.

Later, when the Basel (and other) missionaries arrived in the early 1800s, they found education to be the most effective medium for evangelization: they trained religious ministers to help propagate the gospel while systematically Christianizing Ghanaian children through their established schools.

After establishing its colonial foothold in Ghana, the British Empire continued to establish schools. From the late 1800s to the early 1900s, comprehensive semi-national (because most of the northern territories were ignored) educational programs were adopted. This led to the establishment of the consequential Achimota School in 1927, subsequently leading to the establishment of the University of Ghana, Legon in 1948. Several vocational, technical, industrial, and professional schools were also built around the time leading to independence in 1957.

However, it must be noted that these schools were not necessarily built to improve the socio-economic conditions of Ghanaians. Several historians have indicated and rightly so—that the purpose of the colonial schools was to establish a small group of elite Ghanaians to serve as conduits to further entrench colonial domination.

These schools essentially alienated the youth from their culture: Christianity replaced the African religions; colonial governments eventually replaced traditional chiefs and kings; foreign languages replaced the basic cultural identity. And all these were facilitated, among other things, by the colonial education system.

Thus, the purpose of education during the colonial era was “to ‘produce a type of student, who is Western in his intellectual attitude towards life, with respect for science and capacity for systematic thought, but who remains African in sympathy and desirous in preserving and developing what is deserving of respect in tribal life, customs, rule and law”. But whereas the first objective of westernizing the Ghanaian youth through education has been met, the goal of maintaining the Ghanaian culture might never be achieved should we continue this route.

For example, Dr. Busia, a former Prime Minister, did not mince words about what colonial education did to his identity and sense of self. According to Dr. Busia, “at the end of his first year at secondary school, he went home to Wenchi for the Christmas vacation”. But to his astonishment, he now “understood [his] community far less than the boys of [his] own age who had never been to school”. And “Over the years, as I went through college and university, I felt increasingly that the education I received taught me more and more about Europe and less than my society”.

A quick survey in our universities and colleges today, for example, reveals how foreign the Ghana education system is: many lecturers sell handouts that have been photocopied from foreign textbooks. This, however, is not to say that Ghanaian students should not read foreign books. But what are the practical implications of the four seasons (winter, spring, summer, and autumn) in a geography textbook for Ghanaian students when they can only make sense of dry and rainy seasons? What is the use of an architecture textbook written for a New England college where most of their houses are built with lumber for a Ghanaian student? Can the Russian economics textbook solve Ghana’s economic problems? Probably not!

The alienation of the Ghanaian youth through the education system has been exacerbated by the method of instruction in the schools. Many educators in Ghana have been made to believe that children are profoundly ignorant. Therefore, they must fill them with the knowledge and necessary information needed to navigate this world. But that is not true. Children come to school with rich life experiences. And with the needed support from teachers, can connect their folk knowledge and preconceptions to ensure enduring learning and the acquisition of effective skills needed to live meaningfully and creatively. Ultimately, this will change the chew, pour, pass, and forget system.

Despite enormous evidence suggesting the superiority of the latter to the former, the education system continues to be dominated by the former. And since most of what the Ghanaian youth learn in school are the product of western culture, Ghanaian cultural values are lost. Every society, according to John Dewey, “seeks to preserve its existence by passing on to posterity the things which have maintained itself”. The challenge in the Ghana education system is that indeed something is being passed on to posterity, but not the Ghanaian culture and not what has sustained its people for centuries.

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By Kennedy Damoah