Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Craze For Certificates in Ghana: Anything to Worry About?

Benjamin Franklin

Once upon a time, there lived a young man in the United States of America [USA]. Born in Boston, Massachusetts in January 1706, he was a printing press apprentice who had only two years of formal education and dropped out due to his parent’s inability to pay his school fees. He literally taught himself how to read and write. He would use his money for launch at the workplace to buy relevant books to read. 

That young man grew up to become one of America’s foremost diplomats. He founded a national daily, Pennsylvania Chronicle and the University of Pennsylvania which Ghana’s first President Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah was an alumnus. This young man was called Benjamin Franklin

A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat. According to Wikipaedia, as a scientist, he was a major figure in the American enlightenment and the history of physics for his discoveries and theories regarding electricity. He invented the lightning rod, bifocal lens, the Franklin stove, a carriage odometer, and the glass 'armonica'. Benjamin Franklin helped draft the Declaration of Independence and the U.S Constitution, and negotiated the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which marked the end of the Revolutionary War. 

In the words of historian Henry Steele Commager, "In a Franklin could be merged the virtues of Puritanism without its defects, the illumination of the enlightenment without its heat." To Walter Isaacson, this makes Franklin "the most accomplished American of his age and the most influential in inventing the type of society America would become." His colorful life and legacy of scientific and political achievement, and status as one of America's most influential Founding Fathers, have seen Franklin honored on coinage and money; warships; the names of many towns, counties, educational institutions, namesakes, and companies; and more than two centuries after his death, countless cultural references.

Michael Faraday
A similar story is told of Michael Faraday, one of the world’s greatest scientists, who was born in England on 22nd September 1791. He also had only two years of formal education and dropped out because of his inability to pay school fees. Like Benjamin Franklin, Michael was also a printing press apprentice. He was paying money to attend scientific exhibitions. His interest in science grew stronger as a result of often reading science fictions which people brought to his work place to print. 

One day, he attended a scientific exhibition organized by Professor Humphrey Davy, a physicist and as he sat down watching what was going on, he was able to catch a few things. Excited by the experiments, he took notes, bonded them and sent them to Prof. Davy later on. There came a time the lab attendant of Prof. Davy left and he needed someone to replace him. So Prof. Davy rode on his horse back and went searching for Michael since he had interest in science so that he could help him [Davy] in his lab. Michael left the printing press job and began nurturing his ambition in science as a lab attendant and after Prof. Davy passed away, this was what Michael’s biographer said: “After a while, they discovered that Michael Faraday was a far richer logical thinker than his master.”  Today Michael Faraday is on the lips of anyone who has something to do with science. 

The scientist whose discoveries led to the development of the electric motor has been hailed as the greatest inventor in British history. He was well known as a physicist and a chemist. He had several endeavors in the fields of electromagnetism and magnetism during his life time.

Faraday is responsible for the invention of: Discovered the basis for the magnetic field concept in physics; Shielding effect is used in what is now known as a Faraday cage; He discovered electromagnetic induction, diamagnetism and electrolysis using the voltaic pile; He established that magnetism could affect rays of light and that there was an underlying relationship between the two phenomena; His inventions of electromagnetic rotary devices (motors and generators) formed the foundation of electric motor technology; homopolar motor. 

In chemistry he discovered benzene, investigated the clathrate hydrate of chlorine, invented an early form of the bunsen burner and the system of oxidation numbers, and popularized terminology such as anode, cathode, electrode, and ion.

Dear reader, you may be wondering why I’m bothering you with 18th century life stories of two profound personalities who walked the surface of this earth leaving behind their footprints which many people in the current generation of their countries have made attempts to step into with some form of achievements. Well, it dawned on me recently as I was having one of those usual quiet moments with myself, thinking of also making a point regarding Ghana’s educational sector and job market. As to whether that my point would be taken or not, I didn’t care; but I believed it would not take long and posterity would judge those who called themselves leaders of this country, yet failed to take the right decisions.

Dear read, kindly read the above two stories again and ask yourself, how far has Ghana come as a nation in terms of advancement in the field of education and economic development. Personally, with my lay man view I seriously think that there is something wrong with our educational system and the earlier we sat down and rethink, repackage and redesign everything for the classroom, right from the basic school level to the tertiary level, the better it would be for us as a country. 

For instance, if any of our children go through fifteen or sixteen years of uninterrupted formal education [primary 1 to college or primary 1 to university] and can’t achieve even one of those things done by Franklin who only had two years of education, then one will agree with me that that should be a cause for concern. In the same way, if lecturers of our university, polytechnic and teacher training colleges can’t be result-driven [by letting that reflect in the knowledge acquired by students], then that should be a source of concern to all right thinking Ghanaians. 

Truth be told, a lot of tertiary students these days engage in nothing but competition to emerge at the top of their class and not to come out with knowledge and expertise that will solve societal problems. And so, they do everything they can to pass their exam. Besides, a greater number of tertiary students copy project works of past students that have been parked in their schools libraries; revise them and present them to their project coordinators who also fail to do due diligence and approve of these works by the students. 

If academic institutions in Ghana were teaching their students how to be innovative and creative and not just how to pass exams, which lecturer would have the guts to demand for sex from a female or male student before awarding s/he marks? If lecturers were not arbitrarily failing students based on silly conclusions that they refused to buy their handouts, why would any student engage in unconventional practices to attain A+ or first class? Nonetheless, why should a student fail because s/he does not belong to the political party that the lecture belongs? The end result of such absurdity is a teeming number of unemployed graduates some of whom can’t even write application letters, let alone think outside the box when it comes to taking critical decisions.

Regrettably, it is only in Ghana that most people now go to the university to pursue higher degree or certificate programmes because they want better conditions of service or fat salaries at their places of work and not because they want to bring some new expertise to their places of work. Yes, that is how far we have come as a country, where certificates are glorified by employers instead of them paying much attention to the creativity and innovativeness of the job seeker or employee. And to make matters worse, some heads of department/lecturers are conniving with students who don’t attend lectures yet are awarded certificates at the end of their course mostly by buying the certificate. 

None of the personalities I’ve mentioned above including Microsoft and Facebook Founders Bill Gates and Mark Elliot Zuckerberg, respectively acquired degrees before they could achieve such great feats. In Ghana, we have the likes of Apostle Dr. Kwadwo Safo Kantanka, Ghana’s engineer, herbalist and agriculturist extraordinaire, Abdul-Malik Kweku Baako, Managing Editor of The New Crusading Guide Newspaper, Kwame Sefa-Kayi, one of Ghana’s “Five-star Generals” in Broadcast Journalism and host of Kokrokoo on Peace FM, and among others. 

Recently, as I was busy in class [facebooking] one of my lecturers [name withheld] passed a comment on his wall that Ghana’s Premiere University, the University of Ghana plans to stop offering courses in diploma in the future. I hope this is a joke; that was what I said to myself. I said so because, in most parts of Europe including the United Kingdom and the USA who we use as a yardstick to measure our own achievements, they still have most of their higher institutions of learning offering diploma programmes. 

So you ask, what at all is wrong with Ghana as most of her citizens and institutions are so obsessed with certificates when there is enough evidence to suggest that most of those with so-called big certificates are not too intelligent as they ought to be. In fact, I think as Ghanaians, we’re too known and often want to let everyone believe that we know more than those [Western countries] who invented most of the things we are learning in our schools. If after 56years of independence we still import toothpick, handkerchief, matches, used underwear, etc into our country, then what shows that we know too well, especially when most of our leaders have some of the biggest certificates one can imagine. I am worried. How about you?

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