Africa asked to build on knowledge base of its people

Professor Catherine A. Odora Hoppers, South African Reseacher Chair in Development Education, University of South Africa, on Saturday said the information revolution that has greater significance for Africa was not a revolution in technology, machinery, techniques, software, or speed, but a revolution in concepts, which should affect the peoples’ way of thinking.

She said Africans need to move firmly towards acknowledging that knowledge primarily rests in people rather than in ICTs, databases or services, and thus that for Africa the challenge has to be that of how to build on local knowledge that exists in its people as a concomitant to working with global knowledge and information.

“As we survey the wreckage and note the unprecedented evacuation of billions of people from the arena of substantive innovation essential to their existence, we need to turn with force to the task of redefining key concepts such as ‘innovation’, its link with the goals of building sustainable societies and cognitive justice as key to the attainment of the long-term, and sustainable development,” she added.

Prof. Hoppers was speaking on the topic; Lifelong Learning Accelerated National Development: Speaking the truth to African Society and Truth to Humanity,” at the 60th New Year School in Accra.

The New Year School, organized annually by the Institute of Adult Education, University of Ghana, Legon brought together over five hundred participants from the academia, trade unions, politicians, students and the business society.

It was under the theme; “Lifelong Learning for Accelerated national Development”.

For the next seven days, participants would deliberate over topical issues affecting the country and would make recommendations that would promote good governance.

Prof. Hoppers said the type of innovations needed in Africa goes beyond the formal systems of innovations done in universities and industrial research and development laboratories, to innovations from below, taking into account the full participation of all producers of knowledge including informal settings of rural areas.

She said many societies in the developing world have nurtured and redefined systems of knowledge of their own, relating to such diverse domains as geology, ecology, botany, agriculture, physiology and health.

Within that, she said, the emergence of terms such as ‘parallel’, ‘indigenous’ and ‘civilization’ knowledge systems were also expressions of other approaches to the acquisition and production of knowledge.

She said indigenous knowledge and innovation systems needed to be sustained through active support to the communities who are the custodians of their ways of life, their languages; their social organization and the environment in which they live.

“The issue of value addition to innovations going on in local communities is key to authentic development. In the era of bio-diversity, value addition will help local communities co-exist with bio-diversity resources by reducing primary extraction and generating long term benefits.

“There is also the need to connect creative people engaged in generating local solutions, which are authentic and accountable, thus facilitating people – to – people learning,” she added.

Professor Clifford Nii Boye Tagoe, Vice Chancellor of University of Ghana, Legon, said the New Year School has been a source of pride to the University, given the platform it creates for Ghanaians from all walks of life to contribute to finding solutions to the myriad problems confronting the nation.

He said the New Year School was treasured by the university since it was a means through which the university shed its perceived ivory tower image and “descend” to interact with the public and for the school to have survived 60 years from colonial times, through the various civilian and military governments to this day deserved to be mentioned.

The Vice Chancellor said through the New Year School the University of Ghana has kept faith with the nation in fulfilling one of its main objectives to disseminate knowledge through extension activities.

“The school has enabled the University to open its doors to the Ghanaian public for a few days to enable people to take time off their busy daily responsibilities to reflect on national issues in a relaxed, yet in an academic atmosphere provided by the University campus,” he added.

Prof. Tagoe said the choice of the theme for the 60th Annual New Year School should serve as a reminder to all and sundry that; ‘we could only achieve our aims in life if we could engage in learning for life.

“—- the speed at which we learn today becomes obsolete in a very short time, means that we must run to, at least literally remain at the same place. Anything less means that, as a nation we will never be competitive in this global village.

“Let us continue to learn and educate ourselves throughout our lives; it is the only way by which the nation can develop the needed human resources capacity to reach and cross the middle income barrier into an advanced state of development,” he added.

Prof. Tagoe announced that the University’s Distance Education programme currently has enrolled over 2000 students at levels 100 and 200 and expressed the hope that in the not-too-distant future more structures for Distance Learning would be built to enable them to admit more students.

Prof. Yaw Oheneba-Sakyi, Director Institute of Adult Education, UG-Legon, in his progress report and vision for the future, said the IAE had provided uninterrupted information to the public on diverse topics, assesses public opinion on matters of national interest and provided a platform for the initiation of public policy for the development of the human resource base of the country.

He said the sustenance of the annual event for six decades, under changing socio-political climates were clear indications of the deep commitment displayed by both the Institute and the University of Ghana over the years.

He continued that the Institute for the past years had lived up to its mandate of providing university-based adult education to the broad masses of Ghanaians in both areas of formal and informal educational programmes.

Prof. Oheneba-Sakyi said a proposal had, however been made to change the name of the institute to the “Institute of Continuing and Distance Education”, to reflect the institute’s current focus on providing excellent university credentials through continuing and distance education to all Ghanaians.

He said there had been persistent pressure and demand over the years on the IAE to offer additional programmes.

He said in re-defining a radical new direction for the University, its Corporate Strategic Plan considered the context of ensuring universal access for all and generating sufficient financial resources to maintain standards of quality.

Prof. Oheneba-Sakyi noted that, as skills and requirements for the job market kept changing in a globally competitive environment, the concept of lifelong learning had gained prominence.

“Undoubtedly, this new direction of the University re-affirms the centrality of the mission of the Institute as the key provider  of excellent university-based Adult Education and lifelong learning opportunities throughout the country in recognition of the individual’s dignity and ability to learn, regardless of age, sex, religion, ethnicity and region of residence,” he said.

Prof. Oheneba-Sakyi said the proposed name was also designed to raise the profile of the University’s DE programme that recently received major grants and loans of 8.2 million dollars from the government of the Peoples Republic of China to equip the Institute with the necessary hard and softwares and other accessories for the implementation of ICT-based DE programmes.

He said the project, which was to be managed by Unisplendour Software systems Company Limited, Tsinghua University, China, was also in line with the National ICT Policy on Education developed by the Ministry of Communications and the Ministry of Education, Science and sports.

He said the new name would also give visibility to what the Institute had already been doing, strengthen the current set-up of the De Centre as well as re-enforce its centrality in complementary delivery mode for the University and expand its collaboration with other foreign Universities to create mutually beneficial arrangements for students and staff and enhance the ability to attract both internal and external funding to support scholars from abroad.

He said, a Bachelor’s degrees programme in Adult Education had been approved by the University Planning Committee to be offered in the first semester on the 2009 2010 academic year with Development Education, Distance Education, Library Education and Peace Education as options at levels 300 and 400.

An MA programme in HIV/AIDS Management (HIVM) had been proposed for consideration by the University Academic Board.

Prof. Oheneba-Sakyi, recounted that, what began as a social event at the Komenda College in the Central Region in 1949 by a group of young, enthusiastic Gold Coasters, with David Kimel as its first resident tutor, had now become a national event that discusses issues affecting the nation.

“The New Year School concentrated on themes including nationalism, nation building, history, colonialism, the Gold Coast and its people and community development,” he said.

He mentioned Justice Arko Korsah, Nii Armaa Ollenu, J.P Griffiths, Raidolf David Moowbrary, Peter Ala Adjetey, M. Balme, Mr J. Mensah and Prof. George Benneh as some of the institute’s tutors over the decades.

He said the growth of the school was pivoted around the People’s Educational Association (PEA), which organised activities in the regions, districts and in towns such as Akropong, Cape Coast, Hohoe, Kumasi, Mampong, Obuasi, Sekondi, Tarkwa, Tamale and Techiman.

“These towns become vibrant centres of learning for participants and a point to collect their library materials, but as learning progressed and the need for certificates emerged, many of these learners were encouraged to pursue the Rapid Results College and Wolsley Hall General Certificate of Education (GCE) programmes from England through the correspondence causes to upgrade themselves and progress at their workplaces,” he said.

Prof. Oheneba-Sakyi said the school had not only trained members of the public, but was also mandated by the government of Ghana to train newly elected members of the Legislative Assembly from 1951 to 1254.

“As a result, the Government of Ghana, in its seven-year development Plan of 1963 to 1970, provided a chapter for the establishment of the Institute of Public Education, out of the Institute of extra-Mural Studies, to provide formal adult education to the broad masses of Ghanaians,” he said.

He said various proposals, including the concept of District Assemblies, the establishment of a third medical school and the institution of an Educational Trust Fund had been adopted by governments and were now functional.
He said the IAE’s mandate for the past 60 years had been to provide mainly teaching of the disciplines of Adult Education, Research and Extension work, “thus it had become the vehicle that transported the University of Ghana’s rich traditions of teaching, learning and research into Ghanaian homes”.
He said initially, training of personnel was undertaken in Britain, Germany and Denmark with scholarships awarded by these countries, however due to socio-cultural problems encountered by African students, the venue was relocated to Ghana in 1973 as the training centre for non-degree Diploma in Adult Education for students in Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra-Leone, The Gambia, Kenya, Uganda and the Southern African Region.

The Institute during the year 2003 and 2004  academic year re-opened the non-degree Diploma in Adult Education, which currently 922 students, while another avenue for MA programme on sandwich basis with about 160 students was also opened in the year 2004/005 academic year.

He mentioned other programmes as the Diploma in Youth Work and the University of Ghana’s Distance Education programmes.

Prof. Oheneba-Sakyi however mentioned some challenges such as lack of vehicles, personnel and physical facilities such as a lecture hall.

He appealed to the University of Ghana and the Ghana Education Trust Fund (GETFUND) to help restore the Institute’s physical facilities at the Regional Centres and build a new multi-purpose Distance Education Complex at its site on the Legon campus.

Source: GNA

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