The Appointments Committee of Parliament has resumed vetting of ministerial nominees Thursday.
The nominees to be vetted today are Minister-designate for Education, Prof. Jane Naana Opoku Agyeman and Minister-designate for Communications, Dr Omane Boamah.
Watch the vetting below
Responses by the minister-designate and questions from the committee:
Nominee: The education strategic plan is in place, and kindergarten is more important than other levels of education, because the beginning is important. Attaching preschool to primary is a new phenomenon, so we need to work on further integration and importantly training personnel to specialize in working at that level. In terms of the absence of teachers in the rural areas, we need an effective system of deploying teachers, they must want to teach and teach well. Supervision is important. If all students at a school fail a test, that tells us something about the quality of teachers there. Iíve explained the lack of adequate personnel at the tertiary levels. Our graduate students need more money to achieve international standards. We need to use our resources to ensure quality. I have faith in our system.
Hon. Opoku: The foundation of the educational process is kindergarten education, which has unfortunately been long neglected. Iíve heard that a national strategic plan to integrate kindergarten into basic education is underway. What assurances can you give us that you will ensure the planís full implementation. Regarding the petition before us, we have committed in our Constitution to ensure that everyone has access to equal opportunities and facilities. To achieve this, the document arranged policies that will actualize this access. How far have we come along these lines?
Nominee: We are surrounded by French speaking countries and should take the language more seriously. That English is more widely spoken is not a good excuse. It fits into the issue of language acquisition. A child learning English in school and speaking a mother tongue at home. We need to build a strong language base and we need to improve our methodology. I had a nephew learning French prepositions in JHS, and because they entered into technicalities too early in the instruction, he lost interest. This may account for the lack of interest in math and science as well. We need to rebrand technical training, people must want to do it as their first choice. Regarding the use of transfers as a disciplinary measure, it will not solve any problems, it only sends the problem to plague another school. The school should be a welcoming environment. Prayers can even be offered in such a way as to marginalize no religion. When we decide to have even Sunday or Makarata schools, we must see that students are enabled and encouraged to gain personal skills.
Hon. Baba Jamal suggested that she has done so well in her answers, she must have had consultants. There was laughter and the chair called the comment out of order. What do you think about French learning in this country? Our neighbors are all francophones, but as a country we havenít taken the language seriously. What about technical schools whose shortcomings disadvantage their students? There are teachers who involve themselves in bad practices and are simply transferred as punishment. What do you think about this? Can we have an arrangement whereby rural teachers make more money than urban ones? Is it possible? There is a controversy about religious discrimination in schools, especially against Muslim students and especially in church schools. Will you ensure that all churches treat all students equally regardless of religious affiliation? We have about 270000 teachers in this country. With such a huge number, canít we have a system whereby some money for teachers can be put into a special welfare fund for teachers who will retire instead of depending on a meager pension? (The chair instructed her to only answer two of these questions.)
Nominee: The person shouldnít have gotten pregnant but she did. Life goes on, and now that she has a dependent, she should return to school. But we must help our daughters to delay parenthood, to let their bodies grow before they grow someone else in their bodies. Adolescent reproductive health is important, and they must understand why it makes no sense to rush into this. These children are not being fair to themselves or their parents, but if she wants to return to school, she should go to a school other than the one she attended when she became pregnant so that she is not discriminated against by her classmates and distracted from her studies. These girls do not understand how significantly this disrupts their lives, they should not fall prey to this unnecessary pressure. I have heard of sex for grades, but itís not an overriding thing at the universities, itís a rare exception to the rule but that doesnít make it right. These ladies are smart and donít need anyoneís bribery. If they study, itís easy to pass. It depends on their own efforts. The idea of scholarship and fairness go down the drain with this practice. No one should have to do something they donít want to to get ahead in life. The satisfaction is knowing that you tried, this is what you were able to do, and you can learn and grow through your experience.
Hon. Azuma Mensah: Regarding students who become pregrant and have to come back after giving birth, what are your opinions? Also what do you think about sex education? What about sex for grades, have you heard about it at the tertiary level, or is it just a rumor? If it exists, how can we curb it?
Nominee: Regarding unaccredited universities, we have a duty to educate the public on which institutions are accredited and we must stop the operation of illegal institutions. Iíd like to see the National Accreditation Board better empowered to do their job. In terms of ranking, weíd obviously like our universities to be rated higher internationally, but the problem is a lack of resources. The average lecturer has to teach far too many students. What magic can they perform, especially when for lack of space, some students canít even sit inside the classroom. We donít have enough lecturers who are willing to spend those long years pursuing a Ph.D. and then go on to teach. We need to aggressively recruit quality educators, pay to get them trained and then incentivize them to come back. We should also improve our domestic training programs because we spend too much sending an educator abroad for training when that money could educate more lecturers here in Ghana. In terms of labor relations, we simply need advocacy and dialogue. We must be able to sit down and talk, so letís start there and see where it gets us. We must make good on our promises too, because we set our own deadlines for a reason. We all need to talk about NAT and NAGRAT. In terms of social justice, thatís one thing that attracted me to this job, because education plays a role in ensuring security and social justice, especially basic education. Itís about skills, but just as much about tolerance, respect, and the teaching of peace. And the law does not allow students to be sacked from a school over fees. A headmaster who must feed a student who hasnít paid should be resourced so that the need to sack the student doesnít arise.
Hon. Ablakwa: Regarding accreditation, there are concerns that students attend schools and upon graduating, realize their degrees are worthless because the schools are not recognized. What will you do about this? Regarding our universities international rankings, there have been concerns about that. Having served on international education boards yourself, how do you think you can bring your experiences to bear on improving the quality of our universities. Regarding labor relations, the education sector has a stormy history in government-teacher relations even though teachers are a major part of our workforce. How will you improve these relations? Finally, regarding the three wise men charged to build some educational facilities, will there be conflicts between you and they? And as an author on the slave trade and other pan-African issues, I can see your dedication to social justice. Along these lines, will you as a social justice advocate allow children to be sacked for owing fees? (The chair struck the question of the three wise men)
We can retain teachers in rural areas by prioritizing rural schools for school and water supplies, good facilities. The school must be a welcoming place, and we need teacher housing built by the government or the private sector. The rural area must be livable for everyone. People spend their whole lives there and also deserve water, electricity, and other amenities. Quality of life must come up. When someone teaching in such a rural area is dissatisfied, we should, for example, fast track promotion, especially if the studentsí results are improving. In terms of the design, Iíve had serious reservations about some of our basic schoolsí designs. The walls are not high enough, roofs cut out light, thereís too little ventilation and natural light, so we need a conversation with our architects to make classrooms more spacious and conducive to learning. Infrastructure will have to be designed to make it learning friendly, and this can be done easily. Basic education is being decentralized to district authority, and districts should also have a role in recruitment.
Regarding subsidies district assemblies have given as incentives to teachers working in out of the way rural areas, we should work to raise the quality of the school so the teacher is happy there. If, for example, we fast track promotions of teachers who accept rural work and perform well, that could improve quality. Houses and cars are also good incentives, and we must improve the teachersí competence and confidence. We can do this by making the work attractive to teachers in rural areas, where the impact of education is most immediate. Discipline is not corporal punishment, hitting kids is a form of intimidation. A child should understand what the punishment will be for an infraction, as should parents. No child should have to drop out of school because they are brutalized, that is not education.
Public schools should be up to the quality level of private schools. We should isolate schools whose BECE results register 20% or less and do a survey to find out whether the problem is teacher absenteeism, the curriculum, or something else. District directors, GES, NAGRAT, parents, and other actors have a role to play in this because we all want quality education.
Regarding parliament legistlating fees, I donít know if that is the way to go because there are ways in which the fees are set and ways in which they are to be collected. As an association, the PTA can choose to take its dues separately. Like legislating morality, it may not work. But fees alone must not prevent students from attending school.
The University of Cape Coast has a medical school, so donít fault us for doctor shortage, that was our response to the problem, establishing the med school, but I agree there is a shortfall of science based professions, but that wonít be solved in university, it will be solved in basic and secondary. By the time they get to University, we donít have enough, so letís put a center in place so basic school teachers teaching science and math can be helped to teach it properly. In training colleges, on average, it wasnít a first choice for a lot of them, maybe because they didnít enjoy the subject, but in any case, theyíre obliged to teach a subject they hadnít been strong in or didnít like. But without teaching the kids from an early age, we canít hit our goals of 60% science 40% humanities. Weíd love to see this in university, but we donít have enough qualified students at this point. Iíd like to collaborate with the Ministry of science and tech, Nagrat, and others, parents, to come on board. Math and science can be learned, we must believe that, and as students show interest the humanities will be less flooded. UCC is playing our role to fix the doctor deficit, but we must expand existing facilities to take in more students. Itís not just having a big room for them all to sit in, after premed they do clinical work, so we need more teaching hospitals that will be crucial in teaching. You need to consider all these factors, expansion is important and must be done carefully. Finally, the GET fund is in place but not performing itís mandated function, so weíll need to bring it back on track. Some funds from VAT to fill the GET fund line donít come as quickly as they should, and sometimes the money that would go to GET goes to salaries instead. This fund was established for goods reasons, but universities are also helping themselves to make funds into the IGF, set up student aid offices, to help students who need help to survive their programs, professors even need to do fundraising. Districts and so forth are playing a role but this role must be deepened because we need more support.
FCUBE was introduced in 95 with a 10 year enforcement program, but we have not achieved that for many reasons. There are multiple components, Free, universal, compulsory, etc. So much has been done to improve access to education, but we have not been able to enforce the compulsory part because in this nation, everything else is not quite in place. Some children live in hard to reach places, in some places even small fees are prohibitively expensive to parents. To ensure compulsoriness, these bottlenecks must be removed. Some include physical access to schools, and free uniform and textbook programs need to be sustained, and capitation grants must be watched closely so that the poor get them. Basic education is essential to social justice and moving us to middle income status. In some areas, we need more flexible offerings. The school for life model is a good alternative, so in places where children must really help parents farm or participate in other intensive work, they can adjust school time for these kids. When all these variables are put in place, the C part of FCUBE will be enforced. Itís possible.