Friday, November 26, 2010

Making our education relevant

Methinks that education should be part of society’s tool of development. In many countries outside Africa that I know, universities and polytechnics and other tertiary institutions are closely linked with industries and agriculture. Of course, since the state’s set the agenda, it also has a lot to say in educational maters and in countries like China, japan and South Korea, the best students are attracted to the civil service. This makes very eminent sense since they have the overall say in setting national agenda.

It is sad to say that in our part of the world we still have not make the decision to transform our education to make it relevant to our society. We continue to derive very little from all our investments in our educational sector as we continue to import virtually everything we consume domestically and industrially. It was only recently that an engineer have to be flown in from South Africa to fix one of the pumps at one of our waterworks.

Sadly the education sector which gulps upward of 40% of our budget contributes little to our development agenda.

Of course, our tertiary institutions continue to produce the manpower that man our very few disarticulate industries. The fact of the matter is that they have not gone very much beyond the ‘chew and pour’ system whereby students are graduated with nothing more in their heads than the re-hashed theories our lecturers have been teaching for eons. We have not yet got to the stage where our graduates will do more than push files to where they will provide real solutions to real problems.

The reasons are myriad and principal among this is that although we allocate huge sums to the education sector, the largest bulk goes into consumption.

“The education sector received the highest chunk of government budgetary support. The actual education expenditure as a share of GDP for the period 2006-2008 based on the findings was above 8% of GDP, increasing from 8.3% in 2006 to 9.9% in 2008. In 2006, the recurrent expenditure as a share of total education spending was about 82%, this was reduced marginally to about 80% in 2007 but went up to about 87% in 2008. This means that in 2008 capital expenditure was only about 13 % of the education budget.” - http://allafrica.com/stories/201003151343.html

What this means is that only 13% of the funds we allocate to the education sector form our meager earnings will go into developing our schools’ infrastructures. Do you now begin to understand why some children in our land in this time and age still get their lectures under trees? Some of them risk their lives travelling in rickety boats to go to school. I do not know how this whopping expenditure is justified.
Oh, we really should not be too surprise as one economist recently calculated that we expend 75% of our budget in recurring expenditure, leaving only 25% for capital expenditure. That means that running the machinery of our government is consuming fully 75% of our national income. That should explain why we continue to lag behind and why we continue to get dizzy when foreigners ‘dash’ us money. That should explain why many of our roads remain unattended; why schools are ill-equipped and why hospitals are mere dispensaries. It also explains why the four-wheel jeeps of our officials are getting bigger, and why you will see more 4*4 Jeeps at our parliament house than you will see at the Dutch parliament. The Netherlands is one of the countries helping us to balance our budget.

If we expend 87% of our educational budget in paying staff salaries, the least we could expect is that we get some tangible results from all our investment. But sadly, this is not the case. Two of the unions representing the lecturers at our tertiary institutions were recently on strike.

Don’t get them wrong, they were not on strike to lower the stupendous percentage of the education budget they are consuming. No, they want more money that should be dollarized. But have these lecturers paused to ask themselves how exactly we are benefitting from our investment in them? Have they met to deliberate on what they can do to help to move our developmental agenda forward? Have they considered asking the government to task them with solving some of the specific problems bedeviling our beloved republic?

There are no doubts that many of our lecturers are brilliant and could hold their own anywhere in the world, but the central question remain how and what are they contributing to help the society?

I cite hereby specific problems that should have engage the attention of our tertiary educational institutions:

Ghana has been exporting timber for many years. We earn pittance when we export our timber in their raw state. Among the by-products of timber is sawdust. Since the beginning of time, we have been burning the sawdust. A little research on the Internet tells that sawdust can easily be converted into briquettes which could serve as alternatives to coal. Whereas coals come from trees which have to be fell, briquettes are made from waste product. Burning sawdust is not only an economic waste, it is also environmentally harmful.

Instead of striking for more pay from our pitiably small national budget, why can’t our lecturers, professors and engineers meet and come out with proposal on turning our tertiary institutions into self-sustaining, even profitable enterprises. The brains are supposed to be there. We have many of them pontificating about entrepreneurship, why can’t they start practicalising what they are theorizing? Why can’t their charities begin at home?

Again, many of our tertiary institutions boast of quality IT departments. Many of the world’s youngest millionaires made their fortunes in ICT. The question then is where are our own people when it comes into translating ideas into fortunes? Facebook and Google are among the IT behemoths that were started by students who today are immensely rich.

There is no doubt that our people knows all the nuts and bolts of ICT, but the question here again is what is stopping them from setting up companies to provide IT consultancy services? We must be among the most IT deprived regions of the world, so our people should come up with ideas to help the society as well as helping themselves. The telecomm companies, the oil companies, movie industries must all need some ICT services.

Anyone who lives in Ghana will know that the effects of the global warming are all around us. This is one sector that should need no urging from the people at our tertiary institutions before they come up with ideas.

It doesn’t have to be altruistic; they can make fortunes from it. In one of my trips to Europe, my girl-friend gave me a gift of solar lamp after I have complained about the erratic power supply in Ghana and lamented about how the ‘simple’ process of generating and distributing electricity remains a big productions around here.
The lamp’s design and implementation was simplicity in itself. You simply take it out in the morning and bring it in the evening and you have lamp to light your house. Clean and cheap (it uses one rechargeable battery which last about three years).

Several questions boggles my mind, among them is: what exactly is wrong with us in Ghana, in Africa? We have sunshine all year round but we still sleep in darkness. Why are we incapable of generating ideas and providing solutions to many of the problems that appear intractable to us? Why are simple, very obvious solutions like the solar lamp escaping us?

Again, it was reported recently that two school pupils in Nigeria have invented a power generator that does not use fuel. http://odili.net/news/source/2010/nov/19/803.html

One can only marvel at the ingenuity of the boys in coming up with such a brilliant idea. The same ingenuity must certainly be here as well – waiting to be discovered and tapped.

We yearly spend big money importing pharmaceutical products from all over the world. And foreigners are taking full advantage of our gullibility in believing that everything foreign is best – a Chinese was recently arrested for peddling sanitary pads as medicine. Why do we forget that the world’s first recognized doctor was African? His name is Imhotep.

Why do we forget that we Africans were treating ourselves before there was a European? Why do we forget that many of the pharmaceuticals we are spending fortunes to buy are substances synthetize from our herbs?

Our tertiary institutions should collaborate with Centers like the Herbal Center at Mampong to create a multi-million dollars industry that will not only take care of our health but earn us good fortunes.

I have intimated in several writings that it is time we in Africa change our mindsets into thinking that the western-world paradigm is the only one. Any student of history knows that the West remains an upstart. The Africans mastered several environmentally-friendly sciences before the advent of the Western man whose mind cannot conceive of a non-polluting science.

Many African mystics claim the knowledge of invincibility; recently western scientists prove that it is possible. We laugh at our people who claim to have the power to traverse space. Sadly, our western education makes scoff at such ideas.
Is levitation a science or magic? We would never know unless we research it. Sadly our mindsets is so warped we cannot think of sciences that does easily falls into neat mathematical formulas. The Ancient Africans in Sudan and Egypt did not use machinery in building their pyramids. This should tell us that there are knowledge within and around us that, if unleashed, could transform us and perhaps save the world from the abyss of environmental and ecological annihilation Western science promise.

Again, we have many universities in our capital, Accra. Many of them offer degree courses in environmental sciences.

Once again, the failures of our tertiary education become glaring as we move around our capital cities. Many of the lagoons that used to beatify Accra are dead, dead!

They have all been killed by our unbecoming activities.

Those who have been to Paris or even Amsterdam will see how water could be channel to make a city truly awesomely beautiful.

The Dutch re-channeled the Amstel River and other water bodies into canals to make Amsterdam one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Not only that, the canals also provide substantial income as many businesses sprung up to provide leisure cruises on the many canals.

Once again, the question is beggared: what exactly is wrong with us that we cannot think of how to help ourselves? Are we waiting for the Chinese or Japanese to come and help desilt our canals? What do we think that other races think of us when they see us wallowing in such dirty environment without our appearing to do anything about it? That they should give us respect? Forget it.

Methinks that it shouldn’t be beyond the competence of the people at the environmental sciences at our universities in partnership with the Architecture, Economics, Finance, IT and other departments to formulate plans to transform Accra and our cities, towns and villages into beautiful, livable environs we all could be proud of.

Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology boasts that it is: “The premier centre of excellence in Africa for teaching in science and technology for development , producing high calibre graduates,” I say that it is time it live up to this billing.

2 comments:

The Jajah said...

a very fantastic piece! until we realised these facts we will continue to be the laughing stock of the world!

sinaisix said...

OK first I can swear you literally stole every word in this post from my head...be prepared to face my lawyer for copyright infringement...

On a serious note, like I keep saying, when the western media portray us as a backward living, stone aged people, we take offense. But I keep asking, what are we not doing to attract such negative reportage of Africa?

Wise saying:

" Never use both feet to test the depth of the sea." - African proverb