What does your school certificate and the job market have in common? They both share your training at school, which is defined by teaching and learning in the school system.
This article is an honest look at some of the pressing challenges in our teaching and learning endeavor in Ghana.
I begin with a disclaimer; I am NOT a formal expert in pedagogy, which is the study of teaching and learning. But I am a student on the subject of teaching and learning, with a global perspective having been both a student and a teacher in Ghana and two other countries abroad. Perhaps, why worry yourself to read this piece from a student?
Well, I hope to contribute to the subject in ways I feel have not been clearly communicated, particularly to students, parents and guardians, school management and teachers.
Teaching and learning is a challenge facing every country in the world and it is NOT unusual to Ghana. But as a sovereign state, our society attempts to address the challenge in ways it best sees fit, hence the chosen focus.
This piece is not a diagnosis of the state of teaching and learning in Ghana, but some pointers to focus our energies towards shaping teaching and learning in the country.
Teaching and learning require learners and teachers within the context of a school system handled by a school management.
Like buying and selling, a teaching and learning transaction requires a clear distinction of the roles of learners and teachers. I focus on some pressing challenges on teaching and learning in Ghana.
- Globally, we are still learning about how learning works. This does not imply that the facilitators of learning, i.e. teachers are incompetent but an acknowledgment that our knowledge of learning is imperfect and a work in progress. In other words, the approaches and tools used in learning can always be improved. Both the learner and the teacher need to recognize this because the improvement can come from either side or both. This is insightful for learners, school management and guardians so that they can challenge teachers to address how their instructional lessons are designed towards continued improvement.
- Learning should be play: usually, plays come naturally to kids; put simply, no one teaches children how to play. However, we guide children how to play safely, teach them new plays, explore new environments with them, and among others. So learning must be play first, to unlock the imagination of learners towards acquiring the skills they need to develop. This way learners become more self-aware of their own learning, and adjust in the face of new challenges. Accordingly, teachers and school management need to readjust their approach because most Ghanaian learning environments and classrooms are not play-friendly or question-friendly. For teachers, perhaps the immediate question is how can we connect instructional lesson to plays or experiences which are familiar to learners?
- There is no universally agreed standard on what good teaching looks like. Perhaps, a familiar way to express this is that there is no national standard of what a good jollof looks like! Yes, this jollof debate will have no end because there will always be an equally good one elsewhere. However, when people receive a good teaching they know it, and we know the key ingredients which make up a good teaching. That is, most teachers know a way to teach that works or know the things to do to deliver a good teaching such as spend time getting to know students, connecting material to their experiences, help students to better organize knowledge, motivate students to direct and sustain their learning, provide environment for practice and feedback, among others. But the lack of a universally agreed standard leaves room for outrageous approaches which are often been proposed with limited practical evidence.
- Good teaching is expensive! Someone must pay for all the ingredients needed to deliver a good teaching for learning to happen. Perhaps, the local saying is apt here: “if you do not give chop money you should not expect a good meal”. This point is worth noting by government, school management, and learners. In some cases, some of the costs are borne disproportionately by teachers, while in cases where teachers are unwilling to bear the costs the outcome is unskilled learners with certificates but of little value to add to society. Note that the costs of good teaching is not limited to the teacher’s salary, it includes costs covering resources for teaching and learning, safe learning environment, adequate teaching staff, learning support staff, instructional support, among others.
- Growing student population: now, there are more learners or students which is reflected in large class sizes where it is mostly beyond the teaching capacity of teachers. A growing number of learners is good for the business of teaching and learning, but an overwhelming student-teacher ratio is not good for anyone, neither the learner nor the teacher. Certainly, this is an area where government, school management and teachers can collaborate effectively with support of technology to better address large class sizes, and ensure everyone has access to learning.
- Changing job market: the competences needed for entry and survival in today’s job market are changing and complex. There is now more focus on critical thinking and integrative skills, which require a shift towards teaching learners how to learn, and to become self-directed learners. School management and learners need to recognize this and accordingly challenge teachers on this shift for them to better plan and deliver instructional lessons to achieve this.
- Definition of student success: it is widely recognized that having high grades as a student does not directly translate into adding value to society. We know that school certificates do not add value to students, but should be a confirmation of the value students possess to add to society. There is now more focus on competence-based learning to ensure that learners develop the
requisite skills through their progress in the school system. School management, teachers and other stakeholders need a discussion to broadly define student success which can be integrated into instructional lessons and to better assess students.
- Changing learner behavior and technology: we know that the way students learn today is changing and different compared to how most teachers learn when they were students. Now, there is more technology and varied media (videos, audio, online, social media, phone, gaming, etc.) for learning, and the learning materials are widely available from several sources. This requires a re-calibration on the part of teachers in order to better take advantage of these changes in developing their instructional lessons.
The above challenges indicate that teaching and learning is one piece with several parts which need to work together to produce skilled learners.
That is, a school system which is unable to match its training to the competencies required by the job market is the result of not one stakeholder but all stakeholders. As in all human institutions, clear and transparent procedures must be in place to keep all stakeholders responsible and honest.
The author, Gift Dumedah, is a senior lecturer at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KUNST), Kumasi, Ghana. This article is disseminated in the interest of information exchange.
The contents of this article reflect the views of the author, who is responsible for the facts and accuracy of the information presented herein. The contents do not necessarily reflect the official views or policies of KNUST.