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Both three and four year SHS not good; Prof Yankah offers alternative

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Prof. Kwesi Yankah - Vice Chancellor, Central University
Prof. Kwesi Yankah – Vice Chancellor, Central University

In place of a ‘one size fits all’ three or four year tenure in senior high school, the Vice Chancellor of Central University, Professor Kwesi Yankah, has prescribed a flexible four-year tenure with room for better endowed students to complete it in three years.

His recommendation emanates from his study on the effects of the toggling of the senior high school (SHS) tenure from three to four years by the New Patriotic Party (NPP), and back to three years by the National Democratic Congress (NDC). The NPP has hinted it will switch again to four years if it wins power.

The professor who presented his paper in a public lecture at the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences in Accra, Tuesday May 3, 2016, concluded that a one-size-fits-all senior high school tenure is not the best: a tenure of three years adversely affects students from less privileged backgrounds who are often ill-prepared for their final exam, while a four year system may create redundancy for some bright students from the upper strata of society.

“We should henceforth abolish or repudiate the policy of a one size fits all and spend more time and energy dealing with the details in fleshing out a flexible policy system,” Professor Yankah said, explaining that many students from less-privileged basic schools enter senior high school without the necessary cognitive skills to survive the system, while the wards of the elite enter with a background that puts them ahead of the pack.

The insightful lecture themed “The three-year-four-year school pendulum: Towards a stable public policy on senior high school education in Ghana” was to have been delivered as part of activities marking the 21st endowment fund of the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) but was cancelled at the eleventh hour by WAEC, fearing its potential to generate and drag the council into political controversy that could distract it from its core mandate.

In what turned out to be a highly intellectual exercise that was not political, Professor Yankah shared his analysis showing how the four-year system proved more promising in terms of students’ performance.

He expressed the view that under the three-year system, students practically do not get three years of education due to slow admissions under the Computerized School Selection and Placement System (CSSPS). In the first year students trickle in at different times and no real teaching occurs. Teachers mostly use the first year for fine-tuning their students and addressing gaps among those who lack solid foundations.

In the third year, the WASSCE, designated ‘June examination’, actually begins as early as February and ends by May, leaving students with a year and little more to prepare for their final exams: a task that students from the lower strata of society find more challenging.

Under the circumstances in which the four-year system appears to be the lesser of two evils, Professor Yankah stressed that neither a rigid four-year system nor early admission into SHS would solve the problem due to the inequality factor which can only be resolved in the long term. Government needs first to address the challenges of public basic schools, especially those in the rural areas, while giving thought to a flexible four-year system, he said.

“Whether three or four years, the inequities will get more and more pronounced except that the four year system is more all inclusive and within it you can manipulate and embed a three year system, as against having a three year system which precludes and completely hurts the majority of the public schools,” he said.

“As a nation, we are hurting every passing day as governments and sometimes mere party manifestos capriciously fiddle with our policy pendulum. As the elephants fight, it is the grass Ghana’s human resources that bleeds. Innocent school children are often the biggest victims but it is the nation as a whole to whom the final invoice is submitted.”

Four Year System Better

Using the four core subjects – English, Social Studies, Core Mathematics and Integrated Science – and the elective subjects – Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Elective Mathematics, Professor Yankah found that performance in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) improved with the four-year system.

The Professor’s analysis showed that average performance (credit passes within A1 to C6) in the WASSCE in these subjects peaked in 2011 and 2012 when written by students who had undergone four years of senior high school education. It reduced marginally in 2013 when written by the combined host of three-year and four-year graduates who graduated at the same time due to the switch, and fell in 2014 and 2015 after the reversion to three years.

English saw its best performance in 2011 (75.9 per cent), Integrated Science in 2012 (55.3 per cent), Social Studies in 2012 (87.1 per cent), and Core Mathematics in 2012 (49.4 per cent).

Of the four science elective subjects, only Biology defied the trend slightly. From 53.62 per cent as at 2009, performance in Biology peaked at 73.60 per cent when written by graduates of the four-year system in 2011. The second batch of four-year graduates recorded a lower performance of 59 per cent in 2012, while the combined two batches had a performance of 62 per cent in 2013.

The trend in failures (students who had F9) was a reflection of the passes. Failures in the WASSCE were at their lowest during 2011 and 2012 when the four-year group took the exam. In the two years after reverting to three years, the percentage of failures rose again.

English language saw its lowest rate of failures in 2011 (3.80 per cent), Integrated Science in 2012 (9.10 per cent), Social Studies in 2011 (3.20 per cent) and Core Mathematics also in 2012 (18.80 per cent), with the four science elective subjects exhibiting similar manner.

Silence of the well-to-do

Unfortunately, amidst the problem of inequality and the lack of a consensus among the two dominant political parties on the length of tenure of SHS education, Professor Yankah lamented that most people prefer to be tight-lipped on the issues while those who receive their basic education in less-privileged areas of the country bear the brunt of an unequal society.

He noted that the topic was deemed controversial by WAEC which cancelled the lecture, people were self-censoring and not willing to yield data and information for his study, and the powerful in society are content to circumvent the challenges of the system.

“We have been quiet; those of us who have mouths and bigger mouths and voices to speak, mostly because we are not affected. Our children – yours and mine – are in schools where they register for foreign examinations.

They are quietly avoiding the canker of the WASSCE. The WAEC system is being quietly avoided and then we who could speak for them do not feel it. So then who speaks for the majority?” he asked.

By Emmanuel Odonkor

Copyright © 2015 by Creative Imaginations Publicity
All rights reserved. This article or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in reviews.

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