The Ghanaian Education Dilemma

Whiles digitally cruising this morning, I came across the below which was originally posted on Have a read.

What is wrong with our educational system?

It appears very common to hear everyone, at least concerned stakeholders of Ghana’s education, expressing a total dissatisfaction about the system of education in Ghana. Perhaps the cry is to express concern about the decline in the quality of our education. Of course, the Ghanaian educational system has gone through several and sometimes radical changes or reforms, all with the aim of improving upon its quality. However, can we say with some amount of certainty that the reforms have been successful over the last twenty to fifty years?

I think that the Ghanaian education has neither declined significantly nor improved significantly. It has rather been static, not fluid, and its content cannot be distinguished from classical education during the missionary era between the 18th and 19th centuries. The only difference is that we keep on decorating the same old tomb by spending a lot of resources on modern paints and flowers just to make it look reformed or improved in appearance but not reformed in character, direction and purpose.

Let us reflect on the most critical question that everyone should be asking: What is wrong with the Ghanaian educational system? Being confronted with this question, I will start by discussing what it means to describe an education as a SYSTEM. A system by definition is a combination of related parts into a whole. There is no doubt that the Gestalts will not disagree with such a definition since to them the whole is always greater than the sum of individual parts. Therefore, the emphasis of the Ghanaian education should never be on building individual components or structures but building a comprehensive system.

What are the parts that make up the educational system? There are two major components, of course, with sub components, which make up the educational system. They are: the educational philosophy, and the educational structure.


The main difference between the American educational system, which many people hail so much, and the Ghanaian educational system, which many are discontented with, dwells on the issue of which educational philosophy should be adopted for the training of students to meet the needs and challenges of the 21st century and beyond.

There are several educational philosophies which different educational planners adopt for diverse reasons in relation to addressing specific needs of a specific group of people within a specific context. Critically speaking, the Ghanaian educational philosophy can be considered as Essentialism. This philosophy was useful some time ago, but cannot match the challenges of the 21st century.

Essentialism is based on the assumption that students do not know anything so teaching and learning should start from the scratch. And because the minds of learners are inadequate and incapable to analyze complex tasks, they are exposed to basic tasks and gradually progress into complex tasks, an approach called bottom up. Since learners from the scratch are judged to be incapable of independent mindedness, they are mandated to compulsorily obey and accept instructions from the teacher. The teacher, the sage on the stage, appears to know everything and he is never challenged by a student, an act which could even lead to severe consequences. In other words, it is possible to say with authority that as far as essentialist philosophy of education is concerned, learning is just by mere obedience and conformity.

It is however important to acknowledge that our educational philosophy, essentialism, was significant at the time the European missionaries began formal education in the castles of the then Gold Coast. During that time, people did not know “anything”, the concept of reading and writing was completely alien, and the learners at the time could not perform any constructive analysis of the materials that they were taught. This does not mean that the learning materials were beyond their cognitive abilities, nevertheless, the mode of education was new and alien, hence the use of essentialism made sense.

Such an educational philosophy today cannot stand the effervescence of more competitive ones like constructivism and progressivism. In essence, we can no longer assume that children do not know anything; therefore, the use of bottom up approach today is just a mere mockery of our intelligence. In my own opinion, it is our failure to recognize this blunder which has consequently led to crippling of the creativity and critical mindedness of the Ghanaian student. Therefore, if the Ghanaian student lacks critical mindedness, then it is because of the orientation of education they receive.


The identity of an educational system is defined by two things:
i. The curriculum, and
ii. The duration for completion of the curriculum.

Curriculum refers to subjects or aspects of subjects that are taught in an educational institution. More importantly, the construction of Curricula is never done arbitrarily; to do so is to cast an irredeemable spell on those who ought to benefit from it. Basically, to design educational curricular, one must at least be able to answer the following questions:

Can the needs of the society be addressed by the curricular?
Does the curricular match the cognitive development of those who are going to use it?
Are there available resources (instructors, teaching and learning materials and facilities, motivation, etc.) to run the curricular?

The second component of an educational structure is the duration for completing a curricular. It is worth noting that there is a consistent relationship between time and load of a curricular. This implies that how long we must spend in school depends on the load and demands of the curricular or program to be studied. On this note, the argument of spending three years or four years in Senior High School should neither be based on political reasons nor resource constraint, but the amount of time adequate to systematically educate students (not just school them) to the best of their abilities and cognitive function.

One aggrieved SHS teacher’s contribution to the 3 or 4 year debate was that “teachers can even use one year to finish the entire syllabus, and the extension to four years is a waste of time and will pose financial headache to parents”.
On the contrary, is it the case that the SHS syllabi can be completed within a year or two, and that the extension to four years is irrelevant? Humans are not robots, and we learn systematically, not spontaneously; we learn with time. The current curricular is compressed and packed and we want students to learn almost everything within the shortest possible time?-this is outrageous! What then is the aim of our education? To rush students through compressed syllabi within a short period is to defy the principle of allowing learners to progress at their own pace.

As indicated, there is a positive correlation between the load of curricular and the duration for its completion. By implication, if for any reason we will not buy the idea of extension, then we should consider reduction of the quantum of the curricular. For what profit will it bring if students spend less time in school and learn very little? This is consistent with the words of Alexander Pope, “a little learning is a dangerous thing, drink deep or taste not the Pierian Spring”!

From the illustrations, we can have at least a rough idea about the state of the Ghanaian education- the struggles, the reforms, and what the future holds for Ghanaian students. There are a lot of issues I have not discussed, but just like the Apostle John in the Bible, if all that Christ said and did were to be written down one by one, I guess even the whole world could not contain it. But I am very optimistic that with such a brief illustration, we can at least perform an objective discourse about what is actually wrong with the Ghanaian education and how to plan an intervention.

I do not want to use this platform to skim milk from the cow. However, a change of the Ghanaian education is necessary and possible if the right research is conducted, and the right intellectual mind is employed.

Gyasi Bawuah
Department of Psychology.
University of Ghana, Legon

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