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Africa's leading light targets education potential

Article - March 28, 2012
A stable democracy celebrating fifty-five years of independence, bolstered by new-found wealth from oil and gas: Ghana can view the future with confidence

On March 6 2012, Ghanaians celebrated 55 years of freedom from colonial rule under the theme “Sustaining Unity and Peace for Democracy and Development”. The first country in sub-Saharan Africa to declare independence, the former British colony set a precedent that was to have irrevocable and far-reaching effects. In Accra, Ghana’s President John Atta Mills paid tribute to the nation’s first president, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, and his compatriots who fought for independence for the country, saying that the torch he lit is still glowing across the African continent and the world beyond.

In 1957 Dr Nkrumah envisioned the country as the guiding light of African independence and solidarity, saying: “The independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked up to the total liberation of Africa”. He was also a founding member of the Organisation of African Unity, now the African Union (AU), as well as the Pan-African Movement.

 

“The independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked up to the total liberation of Africa.”

Dr Kwame Nkrumah, first President of Ghana, 1957

Today, despite enduring a series of coups in the three decades following independence, the country is well established as one of Africa’s most robust democratic states and a vociferous proponent of stability and unity. It is among the top 10 contributors worldwide to international peacekeeping operations, having deployed more than 3,000 troops to UN operations in places such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lebanon, Liberia and Sudan. Closer to home, it is an active member of various unions, such as the AU, the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) and the West African Power Pool (WAPP). Ghana’s comparatively late discovery of oil reserves in 2007 has meant its government has been able to work with the continent’s other, more established oil-producing nations and learn from their experiences as to how to direct the windfall towards real socio-economic development.

With the firm belief that education forms the bedrock of development, back in 1996 the government launched a Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education programme (FCUBE) that has helped Ghana make important strides towards bringing children from deprived demographic groups into the formal education system. Total net enrolment in primary education for both girls and boys has increased from 60.2 per cent in 1999 to 76.2 per cent in 2009.  Achieving universal primary education by 2015 is also one of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by the UN.

English is the official language throughout the state education system. Free and compulsory basic education begins with two years of kindergarten, six years at primary school and three years of junior high school. Together they form the basic education cycle. After this, students can go on to spend four years at senior high school and then four years on a university Bachelor’s degree course. At the time of independence, Ghana only had two public universities. Today, Ghana’s six public universities enrol students on a variety of undergraduate, graduate, certificate and diploma programmes in a full range of academic and professional fields. In addition to the six state universities, numerous private institutions are also accredited by the National Accreditation Board to award Bachelor’s degrees, whose enrolment is expected to become a more substantial force during the next decade as the drive to boost vocational training gathers pace.

In 2007, Ghana launched new education reforms, prioritising technical, vocational and agricultural education and training (TVET) and secondary/high school education. The reforms focused on preparing all secondary students for entry into tertiary institutions or for the job market though apprenticeship training in the private sector. Distance learning and information and communication technology (ICT) also became integral components of the new structure.

The Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC) has identified investment opportunities in three main sections of Ghana’s educational system: education provision, marketing and distribution, and technological and supporting services. Educational providers could potentially get involved in setting up pre-school, pre-tertiary and tertiary institutions, as well as non-formal education colleges and specialist institutions focusing on teacher training and agriculture education.

In marketing and distribution, marketing services, exchange programs, research work and distance learning programs are all open to private sector involvement. ICT services to the education system are also in demand, as well as stationery providers and technological consultants.

Many companies, such as rlg Communications, MTN, uniBank, Ghana Commercial Bank, Access Bank, Nestle, and Goldfields Ghana, have invested in education initiatives across the board as they see it not as a donation, but as an investment in the future of Ghana. “Education and creating opportunity is the best thing that I can do for my country,” says Roland Agambire, CEO of rlg Communications, a Ghanaian ICT company that has provided the government with thousands of computers and mobile phones for use in ministries, schools and libraries countrywide. It offers discounted rates on computers to all Ministers of State as well as providing credit and hire purchase schemes to teachers, nurses, doctors and employees of recognised official institutions.


 The company has provided the Ministry of Environment Science and Technology with 10,000 locally assembled laptops under the Mathematics, Science and Technology Scholarship Scheme (MASTESS). It has also supplied 5,000 laptops for the Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communication (GIFEC) to help bridge the digital divide in the country, as well as more than 10,000 mobile handsets to GIFEC for the security and emergency services.

In partnership with the Ministry of Education, rlg Communications launched the Basic School Computerisation Project last September. Designed to enhance the ICT skills of both students and teachers, the project is founded on the theme of “ICT as a Tool for Development at the Basic Level Education”. According to Education Minister Lee Ocran: “The government wants to raise the standard of e-learning in basic schools by the supply of laptops to teachers.” He says the initiative will cost the government GH¢40m ($22.6m).

As a result, rlg Communications is providing laptops for all 65,186 teachers in public junior high schools at a cost of GH¢500 ($283) per unit. The computers will be equipped with special Internet modems to allow teachers to share ideas on lesson topics and discuss teaching methods.

By the end of 2012 most basic schools in the country are expected to have access to ICT. At the project’s launch, the government also announced that the Ministry of Education was collaborating with the Ministry of Energy to extend power supplies to disadvantaged schools that were without electricity access to enable them to use their new computers.

Teacher training programmes carried out by rlg Communications are already well under way to boost their computer literacy, which will then be passed on to pupils. The company will also return to the various schools in the future to repair any damaged computers as a way of encouraging students to develop an interest in ICT.

After the distribution of the laptops to teachers in junior high schools, the government has programmed to extend the supply of the laptops to 24,293 teachers in public senior high schools and 2,723 teachers in technical and vocational schools.

In a bid to expand access to learning and training, the Education Minister has announced that the government would support the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) in the creation of an open learning system at the pre-tertiary level in the country. Its assistance is to be channelled through the Centre for National Distance Learning and Open Schooling (CENDLOS). Mr Ocran says that open learning has become a significant alternative method of education at the tertiary level. The move is intended to expand the scope, scale and quality of learning by using new approaches and technology that would appeal to the nation’s youth.

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