Speaking for himself and the CPP, the 2008 Presidential candidate, Dr. Paa Kwesi Nduom called for the abolition of the BECE.
This columnist took part in a CITI FM discussion programme on the issue.
Today’s column discusses the implications of senior high school admissions without the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE).
What is wrong with the BECE??
What is wrong with the BECE is likely to be wrong with competitive examinations generally. They are a ritual which all school systems go through.
What is the alternative to examinations for selection when 350,000 students seek admission into senior high schools which can take about 175,000 students? Pupils who are better taught generally earn the best grades, aggregates 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 which take them to the top senior high schools.
Their counterparts largely from public basic schools, many of them not so well taught, earn lower grades.
Their aggregates range from 24 to 30 and so enroll in poorly performing senior high schools. Candidates whose grades are lower than 30 are not considered for admission.
The BECE is good when it is testing children from the same social and economic backgrounds and who attend the same quality of schools. Children, who have attended crèches, kindergartens and the best primary and junior high schools, have no problem with literacy and numeracy.
Such children will have no difficulty competing in similar tests in the UK, the USA, Canada, indeed anywhere in the English speaking world.
Placing such children in competition with their poor relations in the depressed parts of the city and rural Ghana exposes the deficiencies of examinations for selection purposes.
Selection systems which in addition to examinations recognise and also use quotas, interviews, etc., to compensate for socio-economic differences are more likely to be fairer to the disadvantaged.
This is what the BECE is unable to do. Children from disadvantaged schools and communities therefore have little chance to attend higher quality senior high schools where their opportunities to excel are higher. The solution is not to scrap the BECE but to think more deeply about what it measures and how it can be improved.
Psychologists and experts in educational measurement are the people with the appropriate skills to confront this problem. Building more quality senior high schools to minimise differences between schools would of course be the ideal solution.
What about a selection process which depends on assessment by teachers alone? The continuous assessment grades which are submitted by schools enable class teachers to make inputs into the BECE and therefore the selection process.
Many people would argue that external assessments of performance such as the BECE have higher objectivity than school assessment.
Whatever the merits and demerits of these positions, performance in the BECE has over the years concentrated pupils from the fee-paying schools into the best endowed and best performing schools while the majority of pupils who attend the public basic schools largely end up in the poorer endowed and lower performing senior high schools.
This is serious lack of equity which must be addressed. The attempt to address it by reserving at least 30% of places in top schools to pupils from local schools could not be implemented. It must be reconsidered with respect to public basic schools as a whole.
A better education workforce is required!
The CPP flag-bearer linked his call for the abolition of the BECE with making the senior high school the terminal point in compulsory basic education rather than the junior high school. This would create a better educated Ghanaian workforce.
The average educated Ghanaian now is more likely to be a JHS graduate than a senior high school graduate. Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, countries which were not different from the Gold Coast at independence have secondary school enrolments which are closer to 90% of the age group.
Between 60 to 70% of the age group also graduate from universities and polytechnics. The gap between them and us, socially and economically is therefore as much an educational gap, as a science and technology gap.
We need a new Model of Senior High School!
Dr. Nduom’s desire to take basic education beyond junior high school to senior high school is well founded and laudable. The position of this columnist is that the challenges to overcome in order to make his vision a reality must however be better understood and debated.
We need a model of a senior high school that can deliver quality and a diversified curriculum to cater for the different talents and skills that any cohort of young people possess. Secondly until Ghanaians are weaned away from the attraction of the large boarding school we would not be able to focus on the essential features that make a good school.
The failure of the NPP Model Secondary School concept to be multiplied, one for each district, was due more to cost constraints and therefore feasibility. It is an inappropriate model at this time when we must think about the large numbers to cater for.
The CPP may wish to develop a model which is appropriate and feasible for rapid replication nation-wide? It is amazing that in the mid-1990s some of us had to drive from Legon to Dzorwulu about midnight to make telephone calls and to fax messages to the USA.
In this era of the cell phone, this has become most unnecessary. Some homes have as many phones as there are people. It is therefore the appropriateness of the cell phone technology that has brought telephone communication into the hands of very many even in Ghana.
The landline could not spread in the numbers desired. That is the lesson we must learn. What is feasible is what is “doable”!
May be with oil and gas revenue soon to “arrive” we may have the capacity in the very near future to fund our educational system better and also establish more technical and vocational schools at the senior high school level.
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