Growing up in rural Ghana, I had to walk about 8 kilometres on a daily basis on foot to access formal education. While this was not comfortable, several of my class/schoolmates were doing about 15-20 kilometres daily. At grade 5, classes were conducted under a mango tree with no furniture. My friends and I had to daily carry our tables and chairs to school and back. Several contact hours were lost during the rainy season. When we graduated from primary school (grade 6) and started the 7th grade (JHS 1), I was filled with joy but this was cut short when I realised the only Junior High School in the community at that time had only one teacher. While he did his best to engage the different classes from grades 7-9, it turned out to be highly ineffective. By the second term of the first year, we were fortunate to have three additional teachers and two national service personnel who accepted postings to the school to augment the efforts of the single-member teacher.
For some subjects, the only time we had a teacher explain concepts to us was the week preceding the qualifying examination. There was no way we could cover the syllabus and fairly compete for space in the highly ranked senior high schools (grades 10-12) across the country. Yet we had to sit the same examination and be assessed the same way all other students across the country were assessed. For a number of my classmates, this marked the end of their formal education journey. Their results were either not strong enough to continue to the next level (grades 10-12) or didn’t have any support or the motivation to persevere. The system simply dropped them off and completely left them to their fate for no fault of theirs. The talents, skills, and creative powers of some of these ‘dropouts’ remained in their natural state and never got explored. As heart-breaking as this may sound, the education system could not support and nurture their dreams and potentials. As a result, Ghana and the world lost great potentials due to systemic failures.
After over two decades, as I travel across Ghana in search of answers to social and economic challenges, I still see several communities that are deprived and human beings who live under conditions that threaten their very survival. Children in such communities are faced with similar or worst conditions as I experienced in my childhood days. While successive governments have attempted to address these problems through different policy initiatives, the time has come to draw the attention of the government and all other stakeholders in education to join forces to make education truly accessible and equal to all.
SDG Goal 4 enjoins the government to leave no child behind. The country cannot continue to lose its potentials to the current system. Access to education is a basic human right and every child in Ghana deserves an equal and fair opportunity in accessing quality education. It should not matter whether a child lives in an urban or rural area, attends a public or private school, born to an affluent family or not, the Ghanaian child deserves better. The Ghanaian child is not interested in which government built which classroom/facility. What matters is that they are given equal opportunity to develop their potentials and meaningfully contribute their quota to society.
The statistics on enrolments and other indices may be nice and show how well the country is doing to achieve specific targets. The time has however come for an honest conversation to interrogate the qualitative issues beyond the statistics. This is a conversation that I again invite all stakeholders to in our collective effort at building an equal and fairer society.