After a year or less of an African child’s introduction onto the continent (world), he or she is soon introduced to a kind of education; a preschool format, approach and content, that in many cases, hinders or fights the very “new” breed of Africans the continent cries for.
Education for centuries, has proven to be the medium through which humans can be developed to harness their potential and natural resources for the good of societies. It is however not a mistake that at every place where humans have lived, diverse attempts have been made to introduce a form of education to streamline their activities.
But what kind of education does the African continent require again, when after almost every stage of learning on the education ladder, is already provided for its people, citizens for decades continue to abuse the environment and many leaders continue to seek power to guarantee their luxury lives? What kind of education is needed if what we have is unable to guarantee basic necessities of life such as decent healthcare centers, schools, technology-driven public services, roads and other infrastructure?
Seriously, if same education has seen some countries described as ‘advanced’, but with majority of economies on the continent described as lower and other negative descriptions, then certainly the approach, format and content of education on the continent ought to be looked at again.
It requires a review because no amount of work by civil society groups, citizen movements, religious organizations, benevolent foreign donors and well-meaning Africans will bring the “modern Africa”, if the very vessel entrusted to spearhead this change; education, remains the use of same old format, approach and content. Question is, must we expect anything new?
It is for this reason we need to be honest, but critical with ourselves of how we are orienting the next crop of Africans, our African children for this dream. If there could be a reason to continue believing that the dream is within reach, then we need to be extremely mindful of what and how we introduce education to our children, right from their sensitive formative years spent usually in preschools across the continent.
New children, same old system
Children are clean in heart, ‘empty’ in brains, with arguably insignificant knowledge of their environment. The path we put before them, the system we expose them to, become what they grow up to exhibit its end results.
Children on the continent are introduced to the ‘system’ first, through preschools in almost every country followed by primary or basic education. A preschool, also known as nursery or kindergarten is an educational establishment or learning space offering early childhood education to children before they begin education at primary school. This is a critical stage where children encounter formal education after entering the world.
However, in many preschools in Africa today, is a curriculum that is yet to be infused with attitudes and traits that the modern African requires. There are teachers lacking the knowledge and skills required to start children right in these schools. There is the absence of a tech driven teaching and learning environment. There are classrooms and school blocks that are dusty and rusty where children write in the sand among others.
This is the kind of education that has produced corruption infested governments and civil servants at different levels, a system that has produced political leaders who prefer handing over governance through guns as it happened in Ivory Coast in 2011, one that has produced citizens and leaders who grossly disrespect the environment among others, certainly cannot produce the new breed of humans for a “new” continent.
Reality battles Vision
Two key issues continue to hinder the achievement of “modern Africa” driven preschools. First, is the ‘indirect’ shift in focus of some African governments from preschool education to one that will win them elections, and second is the format, approach and content of the preschool curriculum itself as we have it today.
Education for political gains
Many African governments focus on fixing educational challenges that has a high return for winning elections, and not necessarily building a formidable education system. A typical example is what is happening in my home country Ghana.
In 2008 and 2012, the focus of the present ruling party, then in opposition was making Senior High school Education free. Even though they did not win those elections, it forced the then government, now in opposition, to shift its attention on basic school education to a Progressively Free Senior High Education because free SHS had somehow become popular among voters.
The outcome of this shift for political gains was a disgraceful experience of an ‘abandoned’ basic school education in the country. A significant example was in July 2015, when a basic school headmistress in Ghana’s eastern part, had to publicly demand for Chalk, Registers and Teachers’ Log Books from the then Second Lady, Mrs. Amissah Arthur.
Mrs. Amissah Arthur had gone to donate computers to a primary school which had no electricity; the Kukurantumi Presbyterian Primary School, where this headmistress was struggling for these materials the government was to supply before the commencement of every academic year. It took some Ghanaians to donate boxes of chalk, teachers’ log books and registers when Citi 97.3fm, a private radio station in Ghana’s capital called on them to help the school.
The next disgraceful outcome of this politically motivated shift was what I experienced as a journalist. I had visited the Twifo Ayasi Primary School in the Central Part of Ghana to check on oil funded projects when I met teachers in this school who were those buying basic teaching and learning materials from their pocket. Just watch this video.
It is even more likely that the situation may be worse with this present government which won the 2016 general elections on a message, among other things to make Senior High School Education Free. Already, over $400 million oil revenue was directed towards this free SHS policy in 2017. Focus is on senior high education because it is what will get the votes in the next general election.
That is Ghana. In Nigeria for example, preschool only became part of the compulsory basic education policy in 2012. Again, according to the Nigeria Digest of Education Statistics for the years 2014-2016, published by the Federal Ministry of Education, the number of children in preschools in public schools across the 37 states declined from 4,672,908 kids in the 2014/2015 academic year, to 2,721,736 kids in the 2015/2016 records, a reduction by some 1,951,172 kids.
The situation wasn’t any better with performance of Private Preschools in Nigeria. The number of preschool children across the 37 states also declined from the 2,076,420 in the 2014/2015 academic year to 1,454,461, a reduction by some 621,959 kids.
So in just one academic year in Nigeria, a total of 2,573,131 children ‘dropped out’ of preschool; a number more than the entire kids in preschools in the private category for the 2015/2016 academic year.
If this had become a political game-changer for votes, certainly some drastic changes might have been initiated by politicians.
I found in Burkina Faso too, that it is only in 2016 that a diagnostic work carried out by the sector ministry in its Programme Sectoriel de I’education et de la formation – PSEF, looked at an equitable and inclusive early childhood development for the period between 2017 and 2030.
Similar stories are recorded in Togo and Ivory Coast.
Changing dynamics, static approach
The world is moving at a supersonic speed with ever-changing demands. Technology is at the center of this evolution. For Africa to catch up, we need to quickly identify the gap, and after, look for ways of identifying the world’s next move and to prepare for it. This means the one-sided curriculum, the incompetent and insufficient human resource, the use of traditional methods of teaching, as well as the sorry state of schools and classrooms for our preschools must be given deliberate attention.
A ‘one-sided’ curriculum
First symptom of a static educational system is one that assesses educational performance on one kind of intelligent. Child development experts have theorized that children come to the world with their own kind of intelligence (talents). Each of these intelligence requires nurturing by preschool centers so they are developed to become a useful resource. In this direction, structures should be in place for those with linear and analytical intelligence to develop them whilst those with spatial, creative, musical, navigational, naturalist etc. intelligence is groomed to compliment the analytics. That ensures that the diversity of intelligences needed to have a complete set of Africans ready to matchup the world trends is produced.
Sadly, in almost all schools in Africa, you find in preschool centers a ‘one-sided’ curriculum where all children are taught same things, (usually rhymes, pictures) same exercises, same examinations that are passed under such narrow margins, whilst children with different kinds of intelligence other than the analytics and linear, who are unable to shift are deemed block headers.
Apart from this, the curriculum should be ‘regularly’ upgraded to recognize the direction the rest of the world is going. This is very crucial if the next generation of Africans can rewrite the African story.
Incapable, insufficient preschool teachers
In Ghana, for example, many of the nursery schools in both urban and rural areas are handled by people who are untrained for the job. They are unprofessional teachers largely without any form of tertiary education. In the 2013/2014 academic year, in the Western part of Ghana for instance, out of the 22,000 teachers who were teaching at the basic level, 11,000 were untrained teachers handling such critical stage of a child’s life.
The renowned Nigerian Educationist Michael Ugochukwu C. Ejieh writes on challenges confronting Preschool education in Nigeria in his paper “Pre-Primary Education in Nigeria: Policy Implementation and Problems” that “…Significant provision is yet to be made in any public or private teacher training institution in the country for the production of specialist teachers in early childhood education”.
Sorry state of early childhood centres
Apart from the human resource challenge, the environment in which these “empty minds” sit to receive the all-important training to revolutionize African is a big problem. The problem is more heartbreaking in many rural areas in many African countries.
In Ghana, it is not hard to find these preschool children studying under mud sheds and other makeshift classrooms in rural areas. Very tragic are those in cocoa growing communities in the Western part of the country.
For the present leadership on the continent to initiate the process for a modern Africa, a critical look must be on how new children are introduced to the system that is to prepare them for the times. If millions of funds are pumped into addressing things that are the product of the system, little can be achieved if the agent producing the products remains unfunded.
By: Obrempong Yaw Ampofo|citinewsroom.com|Ghana