Youth Unemployment in Ghana is a Global Challenge
July 26, 2017

Is Our Education System Training Us for a Nonexistent World?

Image of the University of Ghana Balm Library by Jesse Johnson Via 500px

Everyone has a right to education. Ghana has made headways in that respect as it “seems to have an overall good legal and policy framework guaranteeing the right to education” and “is often quoted as a model in Western Africa for its efforts in favour of education.” So, if you’re a Ghanaian and were born in Ghana, you’ve probably gone through—or are going through—the motions of the 11-year Basic Education from Kindergarten through to Junior High School, to the 3-year Secondary Education either through Senior High, Vocational, or Technical School, and finally to the Tertiary Education phase at the university, polytechnic or college, where you should be ready—for all intents and purposes—to face the world on completion.

At least, that is the plan.

But what is the reality?

On the day of graduation, your gown dance to the wind and you can’t help but feel a sense of heroic accomplishment in the charged atmosphere of friends and jubilation. I am a graduate. I am a degree holder. We made it. Finally!

Then, like everyone else, you do the graduation jump and toss your graduation cap to the skies as if to join in a collective saying: “The Sky is the limit.

So, with beaming confidence, you wave the world of campus goodbye to step into the brave outside world. . . Only to be hit by a bitter irony.

The scene before your eyes was alien. The world had long since moved on. A sharp mismatch between knowledge gained in school and knowledge currently being applied meant only one thing: the world you studied for does not exist. Or rather, it no longer exists. But I’m a graduate! Yet I’m not qualified?

Whatever Happened?

The Business and Financial Times bluntly reported: “Graduates need retraining to fit job market.” Retraining? You’d think that after at least three years of tertiary education and thousands of Cedis paid for tuition fees (and more) later, graduates would be—should be—ready to transcend the theories and make the seamless transition to practical work.

Ah, but alas, a retraining is required after all!

So, it is only apt to wonder whatever happened to all those years (and money) spent on school?

It seems to me the principal problem lay less on graduates in general but more on the education system itself. Prince Kofi Amoabeng, President of UT Holdings, concurs similarly and says: “It is not about the graduates, it is about the resources and facilities which are inadequate.”

In truth, inadequate resources and facilities are only a subset of the problem; that is, the encompassing education system itself has proven inadequate. It has not been able to keep up with the ever-progressing world which is particularly evolving faster than ever in the digital information age. This leaves our system in the role of playing perpetual catch-up as it fails to sail with the tide. Hence, three years spent at a tertiary institution is most likely to translate to three years of studies that are no more relevant. You would simply be indulging yourself in a false present that is actually past or phasing out.

The world did not wait for you. Time had streamed on. You might as well have been studying history all that time—the irrelevant kind, that is.

This is simply to say, we learn within a system of education developed for a world that more and more does not exist. So, now what?

Whatever Happens Now?

One effect of the rapid world progress is that certain jobs are becoming increasingly obsolete at a quickening rate. Jobs that sustained the previous generation are either being supplanted or completely re-imagined and upgraded in skillset requirements all in the spirit of progress.

Now, just think of how such advancements affect one who spent a considerable amount of time in an education system that trails behind.

On why Ghanaian graduates can’t find jobs, one journalist, Raymond Acquah, hit the nail on the head when he said: “Students leave school at various levels every year in this country with the hope to get the same non-existent jobs” (emphasis mine). Now isn’t that obviously true? This is not to say there are no jobs, but rather the jobs graduates studied for are likely to have been displaced, being phased out, or have evolved beyond their competencies.

Michael A. Potter, the well-known management development trainer and writer, spoke to Ghana’s Daily Graphic and critically acknowledged that perhaps “the curriculum used to teach young graduates. . . is a little bit out of date or that the focus is so much on theoretical teaching methods and completion certificates than practical work experience supported by proper training and mentoring.” He accordingly said: “there is a gap between what employers are looking for and what the universities are churning out. . . graduates looking for jobs in many cases do not have the right kind of skills, expertise and competencies.” Thus, Mr Potter noted how “only those candidates who were in tune with the global market demand” (emphasis mine) would be selected for jobs out of the multitude.

Yet here we are, in a system not in tune with progress. How likely then is it that graduates will be ready for the progressive market? Whatever can be done?

Whatever Can Be Done?

Isn’t it glaringly evident that there has been an imbalanced focus on schooling more than on education—or rather a confusion of the two?

Schooling, that is, attending a school to be taught, is not necessarily education—which is the enlightenment gained from knowledge acquired. The EFA (Education for All) Global Monitoring Report on The Quality Imperative stated that: “In many parts of the world, an enormous gap persists between the numbers of students graduating from school and those among them who master a minimum set of cognitive skills.” In other words, it is possible to go to school and miss out on relevant education, where relevant or quality education is defined by the “learners’ cognitive development.”

So, the Ghana Ministry of Education can report on increases in schools, access, facilities, and teachers on all levels (Bravo, really), yet, on its own, that is really no guarantee of education. Education should go further than just having an environment to study but rather, having an environment that enables study. Noting this disparity between education and schooling, one news headline,  with reference to a quote by former director of the Ghana Education Service, Michael Kenneth Nsowah, proclaimed: “Focus on quality education; not more schools.” That is, our sense of achievement as a nation shouldn’t end with merely providing a material facility but should actively seek to bridge the gap between attending school and the relevant education it should provide.

Under a quality education system, students would learn to exercise and train their cognitive abilities in reasoning and comprehension to gain insight in order to engage in the solemn three-way act of creation, exploration and discovery through design, storytelling and computational thinking (what I also call the three-way thinking). These human qualities are what drives progress.

They are future proof.

For now, one stopgap way to help graduates, who are by and large victims of the frankly lacklustre education system, is what Michael Potter later proposed in the aforementioned Ghanaian newspaper: “Offering work experience opportunities underpinned by mentoring and coaching are one way of assisting an inexperienced graduate in finding his or her first job.”

This is imperative in light of the fact that the Ghanaian educational system is not dependably “adding the value and teaching the skills that matter most in the marketplace”, as stated by another former director of the GES, Jerome Djangmah. Graduate training programmes should, therefore, be widely encouraged and effected for the sake of the latent potentials within unemployed graduates that could be wasted — are being wasted (and the number is rising).

From a future thinking perspective, however, Jerome Djangmah eyes the problem when he quotes one top executive in a big establishment as saying, “We can teach new hires the content, and we will have to because it continues to change, but we can’t teach them how to think—to ask the right questions— and to take the initiative.” He then drives home this point: “This is why the goal of education today, should not be to make every child university ready but innovation ready. . .  The capacity to innovate—the ability to solve problems creatively or bring new possibilities to life—and skills like critical thinking, communication, and collaboration are far more important than academic knowledge”. Now, let that sink in.

More than ever, we will have to invent a job than finding one. The arguably robotic jobs (like accounting and finance) will phase out, for the true robots are coming for them. In other words, don’t aspire to be a robot; engage yourself in creating something truly inspired and innovative. Robots will never reach that.

Concerning unemployment, Raymond Acquah, for instance, laments “a visit to the nearest bank” and asks: “What business does a University graduate have carrying the title ‘receptionist’—as has been recently christened ‘front desk executive’—or even being a teller at a bank? What critical thinking skills does one need to smile and say ‘hi’ at the reception or better still count money?”

Yet that is the robotic reality we face.

The lesson here is that the Ghanaian education system needs a complete overhaul from the staid perspective of ‘schooling to pass exams by all means and get a certificate’ way of thinking to an enlightened one that is inspired by embracing and peering into the future in the spirit of progress, rather than embracing the past in the spirit of ‘this is how we’ve always done it’.

Tradition should only be maintained if it makes future sense, that is, if it augments advancement. And that is how the education system of Ghana should aspire to be. Progressive rather than passive. Engaging rather than dull. Inspiring rather than lifeless. Thinking rather than feeding. Honesty rather than corruption. Relevance rather than obsolescence.

Indeed, education rather than schooling.


Richard Yaw Baafi
Richard Yaw Baafi

Richard Yaw Baafi is a Writer and Senior Editor at siro360 covering just about everything profound and intriguing. He has a bachelor’s in Banking and Finance from the University of Professional Studies, Accra, where his paper on Internet Banking garnered the highest appraisal. And true to the thinker that he is, he believes storytelling thinking, much like computational and design thinking, is a major lens through which the world can be understood, for everything is a story.