By Dr. Stephen Agyefi-Mensah

Background

wpid-graduates.jpgMy experience with the curriculum (syllabus) in our Polytechnics has not been a pleasant one. Here, I refer to the curriculum for the HND Building Technology programme which I also use in teaching. There are inherent anomalies and deficiencies which make teaching and learning experience unpleasant and less effective. And it is not as if I have sat on the fence. About five years ago, before I started my doctoral studies abroad, I raised the concern at a seminar I organized in my institution, Cape Coast Polytechnic, to draw attention to some of these deficiencies and anomalies. After that seminar, together with a colleague staff, I submitted these concerns in an article to be published in the NCTE Journal. The paper passed the reviews. Strangely, however, after the review, I was informed in a letter by the Editor that the paper could not be published because it was not of interest to the readership of the Journal. Possibly it did not meet the required academic standard. But I still think it is an issue that deserves our attention as a nation.

 

My first experience with a school curriculum as a teacher was during my National Service in 2003. Though was not a professional teacher, by simply following the requirements of the curriculum/syllabus ? aim, objectives and stated content – with my knowledge as a Science student, it was possible to teach seemingly weak JHS pupils in some village school to pass the BECE Science with 3 as the worst grade. In fact, of the 53 candidates that were presented, only 13 had grade 3. Two of those students are now in the medical school. Then in 2006, I also had the privilege to be part of a team of Polytechnic staff who visited the Technical University of Eindhoven, The Netherlands, in connection with the development of a competency?based curriculum for the Bachelor of Technology Programme in Building Technology in Cape Coast and Sunyani. In addition to these, I ever perused the A-Level Syllabus, and anybody with that experience will affirm how detailed and clear it was as a guide to teaching and learning. These experiences, in addition to some background knowledge in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education have shaped my expectations of what a school curriculum should be, hence, my concerns with the HND Building Technology curriculum currently in use. But what are these concerns?

 

My concerns relate to observed inherent deficiencies and anomalies with respect to courseaim and objectives, as well as content and organisation of courses in the teaching syllabus. Some courses have no defined objectives, only content, while others have content without boundaries. They are so vague that a lecturer could at best simply teach everything he/she knows, or if constrained, teach what is deemed necessary within the limits of his/her knowledge and experience. In other cases, whole content for courses is absent. One would question how lecturers teach those courses then? In yet another observed case, the content of the course has been exchanged with or misplaced for another. These problems are further compounded by typographical mistakes which confuse the meaning of important concepts.These errors best make what is taught a function of the subjective interpretation of individual lecturers.

 

The effects on both students and lecturers have been very unpleasant. Sometimes lecturers? examination questions are rejected outright by NABPTEX?s moderators because what is taught based on the content provided is at variance with what the course should be by name. Here, I make reference to my own experience where my end of semester questions was once rejected because the content I taught did not match what the course was supposed to be, by name. It was such a demoralizing experience.The students also suffered unduly because they could not write that paper that semester. The department had to fashion out what the content should be, and had to teach the new course the following semester before the students could write the examination. This meant an additional course load for both students and the lecturer that semester. Sincerely, this is unacceptable!

 

I should not be surprised that some of my colleagues in the 7 out the 10 Polytechnics where Building Technology is offered have had similar experiences and have similar concerns. But even if not, after more than thirteen (13) years of being in use, in the spirit of what a school curriculum should be, and what experts think, one would appreciate that the world of work has changed so much as to make a review of the curriculum imperative. This is besides the problemsit creates for students and lecturers. So I ask what plans the National Board for Technician and Professional Examination (NABPTEX) has to review the HND curriculum, and how soon will that be.

 

How important is the school curriculum and its review?

Why is this of national interest and a concern that NABPTEX should respond with immediacy? We would agree that education constitutes one of the fundamental elements in the development and improvement of the quality of human life. It allows individuals and societies to unlock their potential, expand their horizon and adapt to changes in a dynamic world. Education involves the acquisition and development of the skills and attitudes which assure effective exploration and efficient exploitation of national resources. Thus education builds up the capacity of a society for the production of larger quantities and higher quality of goods and services.The key to the realization of these goals is the educational curriculum.

 

The curriculum is the soul and spirit of educational experience. It embodies the purpose and programmes of an educational institution, providing the means for achieving educational goals.It captures the totality of the philosophy of an educational programme, in the form of stated aims and objectives, related in the content of the study programme (the course syllabus), activated through selected teaching and learning methodology, and assessed through a system of feedback. The curriculum provides the plan for, and guides learning experience, the acquisition of skills and development of competences. This is achieved through clearly defined learning outcomes, formulated through systematic reconstruction of knowledge and experience, under the auspices of the school, for the learners? continuous and willful growth in personal-social competence. Through the curriculum, rising generation becomes knowledgeable and competent in the life of society. Thus, as a function of societal needs, the curriculum spells out the aims and objectives of a programme of study,the nature and scope of course content in an organized manner, as well as the systems and methods of assessing learning outcomes.

 

NABPTEX and Curriculum Leadership in our Polytechnics?

For educational goals to be achieved, curriculum leadership is important. This is an oversight responsibility concerned not only with the planning and development, but the periodic review and improvement of the school curriculum in line with societal needs.It is here NABPTEX comes in for the HND programmes in Ghana. In 1994, NABPTEX was formed to provide oversight responsibility for all non-University tertiary institutions including Polytechnics under the NABPTEX Act, 1994 (Act 492). Under this Act, NABPTEX was given the mandate for curriculum leadership in the Polytechnics – to develop and review syllabuses for general curriculum enrichment (NABPTEX Act, 1994, Act 492, section 2 clause 2d). As a function, curriculum development involves the analysis of educational needs, in terms of the knowledge, skills and attitudes required, the selection and organization of the programme content, the design of the teaching and learning methodologies, as well as the systems of assessing learning outcomes. Curriculum review on the other hand, becomes necessary to ensure that the developed curriculum is comprehensive (complete in terms of the knowledge, skills and attitudes required to be developed) and relevant (responsive) to the needs and demands of society at any point in time. It involves taking practical steps from time to time to identify and correct inherent deficiencies and observed anomalies, while introducing new ideas or innovations for quality enhancement and overall curriculum enrichment. It is for this latter case that I have concerns and call upon NABPTEX to respond.

 

Evidence of Anomalies and Deficiencies

The first deficiency with the present curriculum is that some courses have no clearly stated aim and objectives. Clearly stated course aim and objectives give direction to teaching and learning experience. It helps to define boundaries, sequence content, choose teaching methods, and design assessment. While the aim provides a general statement of what the course hope to achieve, the objectives indicate what learners should be able to do (or do better) after working through the course. In other words, the objectives help clarify what skills and/or competences are required to be developed after what learning experience. It is important to note that neither the course content nor the course aim/objectivescan be a substitute for the other. Like vitamins, they are independently necessary. Sadly, in a number of the courses in the HND Building Technology curriculum this is not so.I cite few courses: Building Science (I&II), BuildingMaterials, Strength of Materials (I, II &III), Building Management, and Building Economics. These courses have content without stated aim and objectives. In the case of Research Methodology, there is a clearly stated aim, but the objectives are stated as a substitute for the content. These are the shortfalls. Presumably, the lecturer concerned should fashion out the deficits based on his/her knowledge and experience. Of course, much of teaching as an activity involves personal creativity and innovation. But for the curriculum to miss out on clear aim and objectives is to have no curriculum at all; it is a blind curriculum.

 

My second concern relates to anomalies and deficiencies in the content of the curriculum. The content of a course determine what should be learnt; it defines the boundaries of what students should know and hence what must be taught. Without clearly defined content, it becomes laborious and ineffective to teach a course, more so when there are no stated aims/or objectives. Consider the following topics in the Building Management course: Finance, Administration, Corporate Planning and Strategy, Motivation, and Information and Communication. This course in particular has not course aim and objectives. So without any details of the topics, what does student need to know, and what should be taught? In other extreme cases, the entire content of courses is not present. An example is the content of Land Surveying (I&II). What lecturers have done since 2000 is to use the content of the course of Civil Engineering. Yes, some similarities exist between Civil and BT courses. But is it to mean that the Civil Engineering and Building Technology students require the same competence in Surveying? Another observed anomaly is a situation where the course content differs entirely from what its name suggests it to be. An example is the content of Measurement of Construction Works II which is in principle, Pricing or Estimation of works. The question is which one should be considered as a mistake: the course content or the course name? Given the content, one would consider it safe and prudent to teach the content supplied than to devise a new content because of the name of the course. Here, a lecturer faces rejection of questions by NABPTEX moderators.

 

My final concern relates to typographical errors. Of course, some typographical errors in a text document can be expected. But while some errorsin the curriculum are minor and could be ignored, others indeed thwart the meaning of important concepts. Under Building Law, the topic ?Toris? Relevant to the Construction Industry? could be understood to mean?Torts? at least looking at the content. However, is the topic ?Moral? development and use supposed to mean ?Morale? development under the course Human Relations in the Construction Industry? Yes, I think, taking it in context. But what of the lecturer who religiously supposes that it is indeed Moral Development and teaches ethics in construction organisations instead of morale development? Shall NABPTEX moderators not simply reject the questions set based on this interpretation? These errors create ambiguities and a great deal of confusion, and difficulty for teaching.

 

My presumption is that nobody has brought these to the attention of NABPTEX and the relevant stakeholders. But even if this is true, the quality of the curriculum is as critical to our educational and societal development as to be left unattended to, for more than a decade.

 

 

The quality of the Polytechnic curriculum is a concern for Ghanaians

The curriculum is intended to reflect the demands and expectations of the larger society ? local and global. Beyond the challenges presented to lecturers and students, constantly reviewing national curricula in general and those in our Polytechnics in particular is important for a number of reasons. Professor Anamuah-Mensah in one educational review report in 2002 noted that one of the challenges we face as a nation is the relevance or responsiveness of our national curricula to the changing needs of society and other external factors. One JICA report:?The Study for Development of a Master Plan to Strengthen Technical Education in the Republic of Ghana?also observed that the curriculum in Polytechnics is too theoretically-oriented with little or no content for practical training of students, thus, making them unproductive on the job market. Similarly, Professor Afeti and his colleagues in 2003 also noted that the curriculum in Ghanaian Polytechnics are out-of ?date and non-responsive to the needs and demands of industry and the labour market. The Commonwealth Association of Polytechnics in Africa at its conference in 2005 also noted with various degrees of emphasis, the need to make the curriculum in Polytechnics relevant to the demands of society. Thus, academicians, researchers and civil society are not happy with the state of our curriculum. The Presidents in his recent State of the Nations address said it all. He noted with concern and invariably attributed the problem of unemployment in our country to the irrelevance of the skills and competence set of graduates to the demands of industry. It is important then to review and diversify courses beyond the traditional ones being now offered and incorporate emerging competencies into their curriculum.

 

What am I Asking NABPTEX to do?

So in calling for a review of the curriculum, what am I asking NABPTEX to do? If I follow what Professor Anamuah-Mensah suggested, then on a global thinking level, I am asking NABPTEX on the basis of identified market needs, to consider the changes taking place in our society and account for them in the curricula. NABPTEX should also examine the external forces affecting and shaping our industry and national needs and take steps to respond appropriately in the curricula. These forces include changes in the demand for higher education, from mere head knowledge to the development of clearly stated competences. This is because whereas it was once possible for a student to master a specific field of knowledge, it is now more realistic to expect that graduates acquire the necessary reasoning, critical thinking, and communication abilities that will enable him or her to acquire specific job-related skills continuously throughout his or her life. These should inform what is taught and learnt in schools.

 

To this extent, a recent study published by the joint effort of Ministry of Education (MoE) and the Council for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (COTVET) on the skills demand and supply in the construction industry in Ghana is a useful first reference. Experts think the curriculum should be review at least every five years. But of course this is contingent on the demands of the market, KNUST shows the way. In response to market demands, the Building Technology curriculum that was used from 1998-2002 (which I followed) was reviewed in 2004, and in 2008 the entire curricula was overhauled. Consequently, the Building Technology programme has now been rationalized into two different programmes namely BSc. Construction Technology and Management and BSc. Quantity Surveying and Building Economics.

 

Practically, I am calling on NABPTEX toliaise as always with the relevant stakeholders to identify and correct these inherent deficiencies and observed anomalies.There is the need to clearly define the goal and objectives of each course, to show the boundaries of the contents and to supply missing contents. Perhaps, an interesting example in the present curriculum is the Mathematics course in the programme which has clearly stated General objectives and Performance objectives as well as content. Beyond aims and objectives, it is now recognized to tailor teaching and learning towards the development of specific competences. Examples are the design of the curriculum for B.Tech in Building Technology programmes in Cape Coast and Sunyani Polytechnics.

 

Some collaboration with the relevant stakeholders is also needed. It is not clear to me yet where the Academic Boards of the Polytechnics stand now in this curriculum review and improvement given that the HND is still overseen and awarded by NABPTEX. But under Section 15 Clause 1(a), (c) and (d) of thePolytechnics Act, 2007, the Academic Board of the Polytechnics as part of its functions, (as was the role of NABPTEX under NABPTEX Act, 1994, Act 492, section 2 clause 2d) has the mandate to:i) determine the criteria for admission of students; ii) determine thecontent of curricula; iii) determine academic standards, validation and review of courses iv) assessment and examination of students. Whatever the interpretation of these laws are, it suggests to me that some collaboration is needed between NABPTEX and the Academic Boards of the Polytechnics as a matter of immediate national interest to review the curricula.

 

One might ask if this review is not too late, or it is necessary at all given that the President in his State of the Nations address indicated the conversion of our Polytechnics into Technical Universities. Yes, I still think it is still necessary. On one hand, it is better late than never. On the other, a bird in hand is worth two in the bush. Thus, while we wait to make that political dream a reality, the HND programme is still running and the problems I have pointed out require attention. Besides, it serves as preparatory grounds for the realization of the new vision.

 

Conclusions???????????????????????

Change is not only inevitable; it is necessary if any system is to stay relevant. So the Holy Scriptures for example, enjoins us that we need to put new wine into new wine skins. In other words, we need new systems to be able to accommodate and respond to the new challenges that changing times and circumstances presents to us.To respond to our educational needs and challenges, the school curricula is one such key system. It requires constant study and review for improvement and general enrichment. This will help us to respond effectively to the challenges that we face in a competitive and modern globalizing world. It is also perhaps the only way to assure the relevance of our graduates for employment both home and abroad.The implication is that while we hold on to the vision and mission of Polytechnic education, – to produce skilled and competent middle-level manpower for industry – it is important to continuously examine what those industry needs are in order to tailor education, training, skills and attitudes development towards them.To this end, curriculum leadership is important and NABPTEX cannot be found wanting. It is a matter that requires urgent attention as a nation. I therefore call on NABPTEX to take immediate steps to review the Engineering curriculum in Polytechnics and the Building Technology programme in particular.

 

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? Dr. Stephen Agyefi-Mensah

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? ??????????? Lecturer, Department of Building Technology

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? ??????????? Cape Coast Polytechnic

?????????????????????????? ?????????????????????????????????????????????Email: [email protected]

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