The long wait and calls for the running mate of the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) is over with the naming of Professor Jane Naana Opoku-Agyemang. Since the beginning of the year, calls have intensified mainly from the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) for the flag-bearer of the NDC, John Dramani Mahama to name his running mate. This debate has been settled on Monday July 6th, 2020.
The choice of an accomplished educationist, Professor Jane Naana Opoku-Agyemang who is said to hold remarkable master’s degrees as well as Ph.Ds, seems to have shifted the expectations into the 2020 elections. While many were of the view that the incumbent Vice President, His Excellency Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia would be the motivation for a choice of a running mate with economic background, HE John Dramani Mahama appeared to have shifted focus from the use of Dr. Bawumia as a benchmark for his choice.
Education remains an important issue to the Ghanaian people. Just as economic issues which reflect the livelihoods of the people is of paramount interest, so is education which spells out the future of any nation. Going into the 2020 elections, the NPP is expected to tout its achievements in the education sector key among which is the introduction of Free Education at the Senior High level.
While many of the promises in the area of economy remain unachieved, including reducing the exchange rate and inflation rate (it’s important to note that Ghana has lost a grip of single digit which lasted some 3 months, and had run back into the double digits), remain largely lost. The pledge to drive down the cost of fuel, which has a great bearing on the livelihoods of Ghanaians, remains unachieved. Today, the cost of transport is seeing increases outside of the control of leadership.
Many issues would come up and play important roles in the choice of leadership for the next four (4) years for Ghana. The country had, since the inception of the 4th Republic, elected presidents and vice presidents from different backgrounds.
However varied their backgrounds, the Ghanaian people expect constant supply of water, constant supply of electricity, good roads, access to medical care which comes with the building of hospital infrastructure, provision of decent educational infrastructure, among other things.
The choice of Professor Opoku-Agyemang, has brought about some enthusiasm as well as disappointment for some who perhaps might have expected their preferred choices within the NDC. Generally, she appears to have been accepted by the Ghanaian public which is an important currency to carry for trade.
She brings to the ticket of John Dramani Mahama, credibility, integrity, expertise in academia, experience, maturity, calmness, intelligence, and accessibility. She obviously presents a different world of intellectualism, articulation of ideas, and policy initiatives. Her 53-paged Curriculum Vitae outlines her varied experience in her chosen field.
While these positives are so overwhelming, a scan of the media landscape and discussions thereof, reveals an attempt to taint her with some policy decisions that were taken when she was minister in charge of education ahead of the 2016 elections.
It is important to build a discussion around the motivations. She remained a minister at the time, whose decisions and policies were not implemented without approval. However they came, their intentions ought to be examined to ascertain their intended outcome.
For instance, allowances at the Teacher Trainee level were withdrawn, and replaced with student loans for teachers. We must apprise ourselves with the fact that at the time, Teacher Trainees who passed out of school, were upgraded to Diploma Certificate holders, making them fall within the tertiary category. It came along with improved salaries and conditions of service.
It is also important to understand that the introduction of teacher trainee allowances, was done to motivate teachers into training colleges to enable the nation train more teachers to meet the rising demands. Fast forward, ahead of the decision to withdraw the allowances, there were teachers within the Ghanaian society who were not receiving postings due to unavailability of funds, as well as schools, as teachers have become abundant in supply. Having increased conditions of service, and having accompanied same with improved certification statuses, the decision was then taken to ensure that the situation as pertained to other tertiary certificate holders, are made even for teacher trainees.
As with other tertiary institutions such as university and polytechnics (Technical Universities), students are only able to apply for students’ loans which they pay after they secure employment. It must be emphasized that many of these students go many years without landing jobs while their loans begin accumulating interest from the very day the students are adjudged to have completed school as there are no automatic employment mechanisms in place.
On the contrary, in addition with the allowances that teacher trainees were being paid, the provision of jobs rests solely on government hence, they have to wait on government to post them to their duty posts. While this was the case, they are bound to serve the nation mandatorily for a number of years before they could break ties with government to pursue their personal dreams if they so wish to.
The new offer, which was implemented under Professor Jane Opoku-Agyemang was that students at training colleges would lose the monthly allowances being paid them, allowed to pick student loans, which they would pay for while government remain obliged to post them after their graduation.
What was again on offer was that as a result of the cancellation of allowances, graduates are no longer bound to serve government for the mandatory number of years. They are therefore free after school, to pursue their private interests. A student who wishes to remain in government employment, would be required to apply for same before completing school, with government obliged to provide them with the employment.
The introduction of allowances came with its own challenges. For instance, teacher training institutions that had the capacity to pick over 500 students, were restricted to pick less than 200 students because government could not afford paying the 500 students the allowances. This hindered the enrollment of students, and prevented the nation the opportunity to train more teachers, while locking up resources that could be used to build additional decent classroom blocks for employment after school. Following the withdrawal of the allowances, the quota system that saw to the reduction of intake at admissions, was removed and for the first time, Teacher Training Colleges or Colleges of Education were able to admit to full capacity. Indeed, records show that that year saw a greater number of admissions in our teacher training institutions.
This phenomenon took away the issue of inability to afford. However, it is important to note that while the intervention cleared the notion that many could not afford as admission were higher even though students were aware they would make full payment without allowances, we need to apprise ourselves yet again with the fact that there are some who could not secure admission because the allowances were cancelled. To some families, a withdrawal of such a support, means a lost hope.
What could be the case is that scholarship packages are to be set up to identify such needy families and placed on government scholarships. The problem with our country is that many who are truly in need, hardly get such opportunities to pick such facilities. To the many who would even get out of the few, reports would tell you that they have to pay one way or the other. But, that could have been the perfect arrangement in order to ensure equity in the admission process which would be expected to mitigate the impact of the withdraw of teacher trainee allowances.
Like the nursing trainee allowances which were equally withdrawn and replaced with students’ loans with government commitment of the use of resources to create the needed hospitals that would guarantee employment for the trainees which didn’t go well, the education sector decision was faced with similar upheavals.
Following the promise by the Akufo-Addo campaign of 2016, the Ghanaian people gave them the nod to steer affairs. Even though the allowances were restored as promised, the quota system was also restored surreptitiously. It was a reversal to the situation that existed before the Mahama administration took the decision to take off the quota system and to allow full admissions. The government of Nana Akufo-Addo restored the allowances, but limited intake. Evidence abound that from the 2017 admission, the number of students admitted into training colleges and nursing training colleges reduced since the allowances were announced to have been restored.
It is important for the country to reach a discussion as to continued paying of allowances to students while we lack the infrastructure to employ those who have passed, graduated and ready to work. It appears we cannot offer both at the same time as a developing nation that is battling infrastructure deficit at all fronts. That choice needs to be made. The Jane Opoku-Agyemang (Minister of Education) and Mahama administration took a step that was apparently used against them in the 2016 elections.
The other issue that is worthy of note is the discussion over the withdrawal of Research Allowances of lecturers. The alternative on offer at the time was to stop the wholesale payment of research allowances, and to create a fund that would see lecturers who wish to conduct research, applying to the fund for resources to be allocated for such research work. As stated above, it is important for a national debate on what we want as a nation; to continually pay research allowances to all lecturers, or to fund specific research requests which ensures that when resources are drawn for the purpose of research, the outcome satisfies the state’s commitment of such funds.
It is important to acknowledge that no ticket can ever be prefect. However, each ticket can be examined on its merits and what it offers potentially, to the people it seeks power from. The two administration that would lock horns for power in 2020, have records to their names. The Ghanaian electorate would measure the extent to which the Akufo-Addo-Bawumia ticket had faired on their promised ahead of the 2016 elections. Fortunately for the electorate, there would be little or no time for rhetoric of which of the tickets can do this or that. There is measure! Given the opportunity in the past, what have you done? And based on that it is possible to predict that given the opportunity once again, this or that would be done.
The Jane Opoku-Agyemang’s choice, comes to shift the anticipated political temperature. It is important to reiterate the fact that the Ghanaian voters now is more concerned about who can best improve their livelihoods and not who can throw the best political jabs. Over the past years, these jabs have proven worthless and needless in providing the comfort and safety the Ghanaian people expect from their governments. Obviously, the running mate chosen, Professor Jane Opoku-Agyemang doesn’t appear a person who would dive into such unproductive political journey.
The NDC has a lot of explaining to do on the issues that would come up during political debates with regards the few issues analyzed above. It is important to raise the intended outcome for which these measures were all pursued, and to get the Ghanaian reason with them. If the party wishes to pursue those interventions, it requires some effort at engaging the public for its approval and acceptance. If the party intends to abandon them, their manifesto into the 2020 elections perhaps might give a clear direction in this regard. Whichever way, the nation needs to have a direction in dealing with this phenomenon in the not-too-distant-future.
It remains a fact that under the previous interventions, academic freedom remained protected unlike today where efforts are being targeted at government control of the academia. It remains also a fact that no measures were instituted to reduce the number of teachers who would be employed by introducing licensure exams which require teachers to pass before they are posted. It also remain a fact that those interventions never required teachers to proceed on a one year mandatory national service, subsequent to which they would be posted subject to a successful pass at the licensure exams.
The party requires to identify and analyze as well as project the impediments that have been placed ahead of securing a job as a teacher even upon receiving those allowances that have been restored. The quota system reintroduced, must also be discussed to elucidate on the challenges it portends for the growth of the country.
The lecturers who were offended by the replacement of the research allowances, must be engaged properly. If the Mahama-Opoku-Agyemang ticket would revert to their plan, there is need to enable the lecturers cherish the difference between sacrificing their academic freedom for continued allowances which could easily be altered once the proposed Universities Bill is passed with government having the largest representation out of which a quorum for meetings could be formed with decisions binding on the whole.
The party must also communicate its achievements in the education sector with the named running mate as Minister. Key among the interventions that came to the rescue when the free Senior High School was commenced is the Community Day Senior High Schools which were doted across the country. As a matter of record, construction of 123 of those schools were commenced. By the exit of the then NDC administration, over 40 of those schools were completed which provided safety to contain the excesses of the free SHS. On record, each of those schools has the capacity to admit one thousand four hundred (1,400) students. Each facility has a General Science Lab, Physics Lab, Biology Lab, Chemistry Lab, a Library, a Computer Science Lab, Teachers’ Rest Room, 16 Washrooms, Headmaster’s Office, among others.
The ticket provides a solid ground for assessment. It provides a clear focus of the NDC into the 2020 elections, and provides a complete revolution in women representation in politics. Indeed, if the ticket succeeds, that is the second highest office of the land. On several occasions, the Vice, Professor Opoku-Agyemang, would act from the top office. The first of its kind that a woman is nominated on such a huge ticket.
It is appropriate to congratulate her, and wish her well. The campaign for the 2020 elections is set for the NDC and the NPP, and I believe that issues would lead the discussions as the John Dramani Mahama ticket presents an experienced ticket to take on the Akufo-Addo ticket.
By Stephen Kwabena Attuh (ASK)