The 2020 West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) is plagued with uncertainty and a bit of trepidation as the Covid-19 pandemic has rudely interrupted its normal flow. Ghana decided to free students, parents and other stakeholders from the anxiety of when the exams would be written by announcing reopening of SHSs in the country on June 22, 2020. Final year SHS students were expected to start their WASSCE after six weeks of teaching and learning.
The examination finally got underway with practical exams for some elective subjects. Finally, all candidates got a taste of the exam when they wrote the Integrated Science paper on Monday, August 2, 2020.
The aftermath of that paper is, as politicians would put it, unprecedented. Never in the history of educational system had there been such an outpour of rage by students after writing their exams — and the reason for the outpour of rage by the students is difficult to understand.
The anger of these students is, ironically, directed at a government that has bent its back (or rather broken the nation’s back) to make things smooth for them. Some of these students resorted to crying uncontrollably, others went scattering school property, some went on demonstrations, others issued threats to their teachers and school heads, and shockingly, some blatantly insulted the president of the republic. But how did we arrive here?
The average age of this crop of final age students should be around 16 or 17 years. That means that most of these students were born after 2000. These are the golden generation of freebies. President after president, from 2000 to date, have churned out policies that were aimed at getting things to this generation for FREE. The Free Maternal Health Care policy came to replace the ‘Family Planning for Better Life’ mantra. It is safe to say that most of these students started enjoying free things from the womb.
A few years later, free things were lined up for them when they were of school-going age. There were free meals aka School Feeding Programs, free school uniforms, free sandals — all of which happened the (FREE) basic education level. Then came the climax: Free SHS! It started as a campaign promise and then three years ago, implementation started. The first beneficiaries of this free SHS are graduating this year and there is chaos!
One may ask if these are the first free secondary school education graduates in Ghana. The answer is an emphatic NO. Free education has been with us as a government intervention that aimed at bridging the intellectual gap between the northern and southern part of the country. The results are overwhelming! There is no sector of the economy that does not boast of extremely gifted and resourceful personnel who have been beneficiaries of the premier free education.
So what did we get wrong this time round? It definitely looks like we have left our cooking pot unwatched (while salivating over its content) and our food got burnt hence the nasty taste in our mouths now! Over the period of these freebies, the standard of discipline in our schools has been lowered such that school authorities and teachers have been rendered toothless and impotent. It started with obnoxious child rightism.
We weeded out corporal punishment from the system. School authorities were directed, first, not to dismiss any student. Then they were directed not to issue indefinite suspension, or suspension of any kind. Canes were banned from the system. Teachers were even advised against holding canes on campus. School heads and teachers who went contrary to these directives were ‘shown where power lies.’
The consequence is that offences that would have warranted dismissals during the premier free education era are now addressed with counseling. Few years back, there was not even the thought, let alone the attempt to use mobile phones in SHSs in the country. Those who dared were given indefinite suspensions as the least punishment. But today the student is so ‘golden’ that educators are not even allowed to use the word ‘punishment’ let alone attempt anything that resembles it! They are to counsel (advise) no matter the offence.
I am no proponent of child abuse and or brutalities. Neither am I against the use of alternative disciplinary measures. But while we were busy fighting teachers over mode of discipline, we had juveniles languishing in adult prisons and remands, and we were still giving prison sentences to minors who offended. Clearly we were holding the child in (or while at) school as the golden geese.
So students have the temerity and audacity to bring phones to school and use it not only publicly on campus but to hold it aloft like world cup trophy or an Olympic medal or a Nobel prize for the whole world to see. That’s why we woke up to acts of rowdyism and vandalism which are climaxed with insults to the first gentleman of the country.
We can only condemn the acts and ask for pardon on behalf of these students. But while doing that, we should ask ourselves, honestly, why as parents, we kept quiet and watched as directive after directive, we made our children intoxicated with a false sense of superiority and armed them with so much indiscipline.
Were we merely dazzled by the freebies that took away parental responsibilities so much that we forgot about morals? How did we forget about morals to the extent that girls in an all-female school would refuse to even sweep their environment and quiz their District Director of Education if they were brought to school to sweep or to learn? Did we sacrifice the future of our children on the altar of foreign aid to roll out the freebies?
Were we coerced to give up the disciplinary measures that birthed the likes of Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah and other distinguished Ghanaian personalities and are now left with rascals? Did we shoot ourselves in the foot by disarming educators and handing over power and authority to children?
Our body politics has really raised monsters that now prey for our blood. Gone were the days that nicknames of teachers and elders were whispered. Now, insults are thrown like dirty water to everyone — even God Almighty! We sit on TV and insult each other.
We use social media to make a mockery of those we ought to venerate. We spew garbage at people in authority. These children grow up in the evolution of technology and the sad culture of insults. While mastering vocabulary, they were exposed to the “na…..na cocaine”, “all die be die”,” babies with sharp teeth”, “incompetent…..” etc.
I believe the time has come to make a decision. The decision to separate politics from education and education from politics. The decision to educate our children enough for them to decide whether they want to become politicians, and not to politicise our children enough before they decide to be educated.
The writer is a teacher.