Many complain that our learning institutions do not turn out men and women with skills. But is it the main purpose of schools and colleges to turn out students with skills? And which skills when we have hardly any well-defined policies or programmes to provide our basic needs and desirable necessities?
In a world of rapid change which skills do we teach? Particular skills tend to become outdated or obsolete by the time the student leaves the teaching institution. Surely then what we should expect of our school and university leavers is the ability to comprehend, think, adapt and innovate.
If the educational system crams the head with information which is disgorged at examination then we should not be surprised if our school and university leavers cannot quickly learn the skills and methodology of the workplace.
We should also know where we have come from and formulate a philosophy of education to guide us. This philosophy should not be esoteric. It should be a refinement of common sense. By and large, we practice the British educational system and therefore we should understand the aims, purposes and philosophy of that system.
Henry Neil, the Supervisor of the Secondary Department of Achimota College believed that the study and knowledge of the classics made the man. He believed that the classical scholar could turn his hand at any assignment, subject and enterprise and he persuaded me to improve my weak mathematics to prove his point.
This was not surprising. Greek philosophy and practice influenced the British educational system which was followed in the secondary schools of Ghana. Greek philosopher, Aristotle, held that education should conform to the pattern and practices of the state. Now Greek society, despite all the talk about Athenian democracy, consisted of a majority of slaves.
Therefore Aristotle conceived an educational system which suited Greek society and thereby handed over to posterity the idea of liberal and vocational education. And to this day, Ghanaian parents are sorely upset when their children are advised on the basis of examination results to study plumbing to maintain the flow of water even to the sixth floor.
They would rather have them study the survival of sub-atomic worms in sub-zero temperatures! Aristotle seems to have embedded the class society of his time in our educational system.
We have to work out the concept out of our minds and then out of the educational system. Education should be liberal to prepare one for a vocation. To weed out ideas and practices which impede progress, we should know what went on in the past, decide upon where we want to go, then plan and be determined to reach our goal.
Trade schools were established in colonial days to train and educate the builders and agriculturists the country needed. Achimota School and College was built by such “vocational” school graduates. The college tower has weathered winds, tremors and an earthquake. The old part of Korle-Bu built with vocational school and apprenticeship skills stand out to tease the new additions built with so much expertise and expense in recent years.
Artisans trained by companies like A Lang produced furniture to compete with imports and even for export. Naturally the training stopped with the collapse of these companies.
The question is why did they collapse? And can we get the particular skills from training institutions or on the job? I would suggest that for the economy to really pick up industrial and business houses will have to train school leavers, graduates and others at the workplace to maintain and promote excellence.
Naturally those taken on by enterprise should have the requisite background. It requires our educational establishments to turn out men and women who can read, write, understand and think.
What is wrong with our educational system is not its failure to turn out skilled labour but its inability to turn out school leavers and university graduates who can read and understand, write to convey their thoughts and think before they talk. I do not imply that the system does not turn out students with these attributes. But there are too many without the distinguishing marks of the educated person.
Such people impede social and economic progress and threaten democracy itself by their ignorance and wild assertions.
And so let us look at the educational system dispassionately. Fees, feeding and uniforms are important and should engage the attention of politicians. But they do not constitute the necessary and sufficient conditions for good system of education.
Many Ghanaians tighten their belts to send their children to expensive private schools where class sizes are small and supervision is good. We should therefore not ignore parental responsibility. We should not ignore why many private schools are good.
We should visit the system which made us what we are. Our young today are potentially as good as we were. We the elders are part of the problem. We should encourage society to define the purpose of education faithfully and embark on the difficult road to achieve our aims and desires