?Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of a farm worker can become the president of a nation? (Nelson Mandela).
This largely uncontestable fact has been echoed and reiterated by many. That education can transform the lives of people is indubitable. That education can be a sure way of changing the mentality of a people for good is certain. But what kind of education? I ask. Is it the kind of education that encourages thought and challenges the youth to be creative? Or the kind of education that merely churns out people as certified illiterates?
The orientation of education where examination is used as the yardstick for the assessment of students – system which makes students only as good as the grades they make – will not produce any meaningful graduates no matter the content. There has been much talk about re-aligning the curricular of the Universities to industry needs. This many believe will help solve the graduate unemployment conundrum that has virtually become a canker. These concerns largely talk about relevance of the content of our educational system. But is it content or structure of the educational system that is the problem? We may need a scientific research to answer this question most accurately. What is certain is that even if the content is changed without the corresponding change in the overall orientation of the educational system, nothing will change.
In Ghana, and in fact in many other countries across the world, examinations are the main means of assessing the abilities of students in schools. Right from primary school up till to University, students have to pass one exam or another in order to be promoted from one class to another and from one level to another. To gain admission into Senior High School, one has to pass the BECE and WASSCE in order to proceed to University.
Although examinations have proven not to be a reliable means of assessing students overall capabilities, they have continued to enjoy extensive use across the world and this is manifest in several ways. In Ghana, over the years, many Junior High Schools have had to assess the academic reports of primary 6 leavers before admitting them. Some even conduct entrance examinations before admitting pupils. Progress to Senior High School has become tighter with so called class A schools admitting students who obtain only the best ranges of grades. Senior High School leavers have not only to pass their WASSCE; they must pass desirably before they can be admitted into University. Indeed, they have to pass with C6 or better in all the core and elective subjects to stand a chance of being admitted, ceteris paribus. In furtherance of this tightening of so called standards, even polytechnics which are supposed to teach mainly technical content were asked in 2013 not to admit people with grades E8 and D7. It took dwindling enrolments to convince the authorities that the policy could not work.
The universities are not exempt from the tightening of academic requirements. In University of Cape Coast, several students have no time left to engage in co-curricular activities due to their tight academic schedules; quizzes here, quizzes there. The University of Ghana in 2010 introduced a new grading system raising the pass mark to 50% and requiring 80% for an A (previously one had to obtain 70% to get an A). A more thorough analysis of the grading system will reveal the immense academic pressure this system puts on students. Such an analysis is beyond the scope of this article.
The above is evidence of the unremitting belief in examinations to improve standards and almost always, when policy makers and managers of educational institutions talk about standards of education, they talk about examination. The effect of this orientation is that it has produced students who are only interested in obtaining grades and not in the knowledge per se. It is little wonder then that pupils and students will do whatever it is in their power to get the grades. Is it surprising that examination malpractices increase year on year. A look at the figures of the preceding years shows that as the years progress, malpractices increase. There are even reports of parents making efforts to obtain exam questions for their wards before the exam ? what has become known as ?apo?.
Let us assume in a hypothetical case that there are two final year students of a Senior High School. One of them is lucky enough to obtain an ?apo? and makes eight (8) A?s whilst the other one makes four (4) A?s and (4) B2?s. If the two happen to apply for the same programme in the same University, who should genuinely be considered first? It obviously is the one without access to apo. But this deduction is wrong because the student who got eight (8) A?s would be chosen over the other one by any school on earth. And any school that does this will be right by the popular criteria, only that such criteria are wrong. Examinations and accumulation of grades must not be the basis for determining people?s abilities.
In conclusion, much of the discourse on quality education in Ghana has bordered on improving the standards. To a large extent, improving standards has almost always meant getting more people to pass their exams. Examinations are so central to our educational enterprise so that people are seen as good or poor based only on the grades they obtain. So many people will do anything including exam malpractices to pass their exams. Beyond this, such a system obviously cannot produce the manpower with the requisite creative verve to transform this country; no wonder we are where we are. Our universities produce graduates who are deemed unprepared for the labour market. Most people blame this on the content, forgetting that overemphasis on examination as a mode of assessment has created a culture of schooling merely for grades, for which therefore the problems with the educational system will persist even if the content or curricula were changed. Unless there is a corresponding change in the mode of assessment, that is to say moving away from examination to more holistically practical way of assessing or evaluating the abilities of students.
Y. M. Hardi,