Maame Boatemaa on the Ghanaian Educational System: Akwaaba

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Everything is different yet nothing has changed.

The roads in my old neighborhood are still untarred but there is a pizza spot that wasn’t there before. My favorite juice box is three times its original price but the lady who sells it at my junction hasn’t expanded her business. The waakye sellers still close their stands by noon but these days, they add plantains to the orders.

Everything is different yet nothing has changed.

I am a rising junior at Gallatin concentrating in Postcolonial Development, specific to Africa. My research this summer is an exploration of the intersection of education in Ghana and economic development. I am asking questions surrounding the production of an intelligentsia equipped to cater to local needs, political influence in the educational system, the syllabi and teaching methods employed by schools in Ghana and solutions to problems in the educational system.

My inspiration to pursue this line of research work surfaced from a reflection of my educational experience while I lived in Ghana. My introspection led to the realization of how much detail was overlooked in courses pertaining to Ghanaian and African history. My hypothesis after said introspection was that had my educational experience been heavily laced with traditional and local school of thought, it would have been more beneficial to me.

After over a month in Ghana, I realize how misled I have been.

My research has and continues to be carried out in the form of conversations with people across the educational and professional spectrum in Ghana. I have decided to divide my research by the types of education provided in the country and then look up solutions that have already been put in place to fix problems that may be present in the structures.

An example of a pressing issue in the educational structure at the universities is the lack of a department that caters to internships and job searches, like Wasserman does for NYU. Without these structures, students after a semester of studying, go back home every summer without the opportunity to take advantage of their time to practically explore their fields of study. This lack of job and internship opportunities has led to hundreds of university graduates who are only theoretically qualified for their field of work. Owing to this, many graduates tend to lack the practical skills necessary to create start-ups in their field of study.

Furthermore, the atmosphere in academic settings, as per a university student I spoke to recently, discourages working on projects outside of the classroom. The belief that ‘putting too much on your plate’ will lead to a failure in classes and ultimately university deters many students, particularly Computer Science students, from pursuing personal projects that could lead to start-ups. After all, Bill Gates begun work on Microsoft while still at Harvard. Ghana could have a Kwame or Ama start up a billion-cedi computer engineering company if the myth that only book work must be done during the semester is discouraged.

At Alpha Beta Educational Centre, my alma mater, a new leadership program has been woven into the curricula. The main goal of this course is to provide students with hands-on practice in the world of entrepreneurship while securing the students with internships outside of the school. This initiative created an event called the ‘Student’s Market’, where students were given a budget, money, and a space to come up with an idea to expand businesses they created themselves. This event introduced many of the students to entrepreneurial and business concepts unavailable to them in textbooks. This solution, offered to tertiary students, gives them the opportunity to explore areas of study prior to university, therefore allowing them pick majors that suit their interests. In Ghana, once a major is chosen at the university, it is quite difficult to switch to a different one unless the student is ready to start afresh from freshman year.

My IRB is still in the review process but as soon as I receive certification, I will move on to the next phase of my research. I want to explore the music, art, engineering, science, mathematical, economics, history and social science sectors under the educational umbrella. My conversations will be with professors, students, researchers, educators at tertiary schools, members of the work force, and creatives. The questions I raise during these conversations will be tailored to suit the interviewee’s expertise. For example, the musician will be asked about music education and the impact of music on the youth and the role musicians can play in pushing for a change in the educational structure.

I have high hopes for the remainder of my time in Ghana in terms of my research and look forward to sharing my journey with the rest of you via blog posts.

P.S.: the mosquitoes here are so rude!

The Independence Arch in Accra
I got an exclusive tour after hours at a gallery in Jamestown.
My go-to breakfast of Waakye.