|''On the Threshold'': The Identity of Student Teachers in Ghana (CIE, 2000, 41 p.)|
|1. Background and Context|
Ghana is ranked among the world's poorest countries with a per capita income estimated at US$390 in 1995. Since 1983, however, its economic growth has been higher than most other countries in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), averaging 4.3% per annum between 1990 and 1995 (World Bank 1997) Investment in education, and basic education in particular, is a central feature of Ghana's economic strategy and is based on the experience of countries that have made the transition to sustainable economic growth through the promotion of human resource development.
Ghana gained independence from British colonial rule in 1957 and since then its educational system has been financed and provided mainly through the public sector, although private provision has been an important part of primary schooling and technical training. The population of the country as at 1995 stood at approximately 17 million, with an annual growth rate of 2.7%. The fast growth of the population puts nearly half of its population under 15 years, and coupled with a low average income per head of $450 puts a strain on the resources for education, health, water and sanitation.
The late 1970s and early 1980s saw a sharp economic decline during which GNP per capita fell by 23% between 1975 and 1983 (Nti, 1997:5). As a result, the real value of government financing for education fell sharply from 6.4% of GDP in 1976 to 1.4% in 1983, and resulted in near collapse of the education system (World Bank, 1996: 2). Teachers were not paid promptly, there was little supervision or inspection, schools were in disrepair, and there were few textbooks or instructional materials. The deteriorating economic climate and working conditions prompted an exodus of trained teachers to find better paid work in other countries. Untrained teachers were employed to avoid disintegration of the education system, and in sharp contrast to the predictions of the early 1970s, by 1985 the percentage of trained primary school teachers had fallen to 56% (Konadu, 1994: 41). Consequently, the quality of teaching deteriorated and gross enrolment rates at the primary level decreased from a high of 80% in 1983 to 70% by 1987.1
1 Using data from the Ghana Living Standards Survey 1988-89, Glewwe and Ilias (1996) find that after controlling for years of schooling, older Ghanaians score higher on mathematics and English tests than younger Ghanaians. They suggest that this is due to the deterioration in educational quality in the early 1980s.
The severity of Ghana's economic problems peaked in 1983 at which time the Government of Ghana launched the Economic Recovery Programme with financial assistance from the World Bank and international donor agencies. In 1987, as an integral part of its plan for economic recovery, the Government initiated an education sector reform programme to reverse the decline in the education system and reorient the schools towards a more cost-effective, relevant, and practical programme. Its major goals were to increase access to basic education, improve the quality of basic education, make education more relevant to Ghana's socio-economic needs, and ensure sustainability of the reform programme after the economic adjustment period (MOE, 1994:13). The main elements of the reform agenda were - reduction of the years of pre-university education from 17 to 12, reform of the curriculum within a clear national philosophy of education, raised entry requirements for teacher trainees, and mobilisation of local community participation in the provision of basic education (DFID, 1998:26).
Although no large-scale evaluation of the 1987 reforms have been conducted, there is increasing evidence from some small-scale studies of aspects of the reforms that suggest the impact has been less than anticipated. An evaluation study of the World Bank-supported Primary School Development Project (PSDP), for example, revealed problems of teacher absenteeism, loss of instructional time, poor instructional quality, poor management and instructional lapses and, inadequate textbooks in schools, as limiting the impact of reform inputs (Fobih, Akyeampong & Koomson, 1999).
However, there have been some significant gains in either access to, or quality outcomes from, the education system. Explanations for the slow rate of change include the following: (a) a lack of commitment to change among education professionals, (b) underestimation of the extent of institutional change, (c) lack of accountability at all levels of the system, (d) lack of an agreed and integrated approach to the reform programme, and (e) lack of focus in the contribution of external funding (DFID, 1998: 26).
Some of the more specific reasons for the deterioration of the educational system, particularly at the primary level were:
1. That in many schools, school children and teachers were without textbooks and stationary items as a result of foreign exchange constraints;
2. Building, furniture and equipment had deteriorated as a result of lack of replacement and repair - enrolment levels had declined over the years while dropout rate from the school system continued to rise;
3. Enrolment levels had declined over the years while dropout rate from the school system continued to rise;
4. There was an exodus of significant numbers of trained and highly qualified teachers. This had led to the recruitment of untrained teachers in primary schools resulting in less effective instruction at the Basic Education level;
5. Government's finance towards education had drastically reduced
6. There was no data and statistics on which to base any planning
The 1987 educational reforms did not specifically target the teacher training institutions for reform. However, there were certain implications of the reform for teacher training due to the expected changes in the curricula of the basic education level. For example, the objectives of the revised school curricula placed a lot of emphasis on hands-on activities and student-centred approaches to teaching. Thus, in response to the basic education changes that were taking place, the ODA/British Council in collaboration with the Teacher Education Division of the Ministry of Education launched the Junior Secondary School Teacher Education Project (JUSSTEP). JUSSTEP was a 4-year project (1989-1993) which targeted the 38 teacher training colleges in five subject areas (Mathematics, English, Science, Technical Skills and Education) for improvement.
The central thrust of JUSSTEP was to up-grade the professional competence of college tutors and to disseminate ideas on appropriate teaching methodology through INSET workshops and tutor-support instructional materials. The strategy to achieve this main objective, as was pointed out earlier, was to introduce student-centered, interactive models of teaching. Five subject areas in all the 38 teacher-training colleges in Ghana became the targets of this approach.
In 1993 the Teacher Education Division and the ODA carried out a study to assess the impact of the JUSSTEP reforms. It concluded that:
Tutors (were) positive about the new methodologies and in certain areas (such as) Mathematics, Science and Technical Skills (were) applying a more student-centred approach. However, the study reveals that the impact of JUSSTEP is limited by certain major structural constraints; the main ones being an overloaded curriculum, excessive student-tutor ratios exacerbated by insufficient tutors per subject, over-enrolment, high staff turnover, and lack of classroom facilities. These factors, combined with pressure to cover the syllabus and prepare for examinations, present an excessive workload in terms of teaching and assessment requirements and act as major impediments in the effective implementation and adoption of new methodologies in teacher education in the training colleges (GES/TED/ODA, 1993)
According to Akyeampong (1999), not enough attention was given to certain critical aspects of the teacher training system, in order to make them more responsive to the kind of changes that were being introduced. For example, he points out that although innovative instructional/learning and assessment strategies were introduced at the classroom level, the teacher training assessment system was still narrowly focused on timed written examinations. Consequently, this had the effect of undermining certain aspects of professional teacher development competencies that were not amenable to written testing. Thus, a key limiting factor of the impact of the JUSSTEP teacher training reforms was the effect an examination-oriented culture was having on teaching and learning decisions. In addition to that was the lack of appropriate management structures in the colleges to promote and support the changes.
In effect the JUSSTEP reforms, intended to improve the competence of teachers to improve the quality of teaching and learning in basic schools, did not make the desired impact. The reason was mainly the poor conception of changing practice as evidenced in the insufficient shift in assessment philosophy and practice and inadequate management support structures to facilitate the change process (Akyeampong, 1999).
However, what has been largely ignored is the important role beginning teachers' characteristics, beliefs, and attitudes play in education policy change (Jessop & Penny, 1998). As Jessop & Penny point out 'educational development is cultural and ideological, tied as it is to people's perceptions of knowing, doing and worth' (p. 401). In other words, it is not simply the institutional contexts and programmes that have an effect on how teachers behave, but also significant in this context, are the characteristics, dispositions, and abilities of individual teachers (Zeichner 1986). Similarly, Tabulawa (1997) argues that:
teaching is not just a technical activity whose solutions require technical solutions. As such when teachers ... fail to adopt certain innovations we should not just concentrate on technical issues associated with the innovation delivery system. We must analyse the proposed innovation in relation to the values and past experiences of those who we expect to adopt and/or implement the innovation. Where the values embedded in an innovation are incongruent with the values and past experiences of teachers, tissue rejection might be inevitable (p. 203).
As indicated earlier in this paper, we seek to explore some of the images, experiences and expectations of beginning teacher trainees as a way of raising issues that may need to inform teacher education programme change or re-structuring in Ghana.