By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.

While delivering the keynote address at the Eighth Annual International Applied Research Conference at the Koforidua Polytechnical Institute, recently, Prof. Kwesi Yankah was reported to have asked the government to rethink its decision to converting all the country’s polytechnical institutes into full-fledged university colleges. His rationale, we are told, is that such academic and technical upgrading could further aggravate the existing organic disconnect between graduates of the country’s flagship technical university, namely, the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST, Kumasi), and industry as currently prevails in the country (See “Ghana Urged To Rethink Establishment Of Technical Universities” Ghana News Agency / Ghanaweb.com 7/19/15).

The President of the Central University College (or the Otabil University) did not specifically mention KNUST in his keynote address. At least not in the reporting of the same by the GNA correspondent who covered the conference from Koforidua, the Eastern Regional Capital; but it was unmistakably clear that Prof. Yankah was referring to the largely theoretically oriented graduates annually churned out onto the labor market by KNUST.

Well, there is no gainsaying that the former Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ghana is quite accurate in his assessment that, by and large, the graduates of our flagship technical academy are so theoretical in their training and orientation that they become practically inorganic fits as industrial employees and managers. In other words, the current diploma- or non-degree awarding polytechnical institutes in the country train and graduate students with more practical knowledge and skills that are far more organic or relevant to the development of Ghana’s industrial market. This may be generally quite accurate.

Where I disagree with the renowned cultural anthropologist is the unspoken presumption that KNUST graduates are, somehow, research-oriented. To be certain, the problem with the academically – as opposed to the vocationally – trained Ghanaian scientist is the near-total lack of good writing skills and/or productivity in high-end disciplinary research. Our graduate science scholars and intellectuals do not publish much that is worthy of clinical consumption by the global academic and professional community. Which is why nearly every one of our leading tertiary academies has no enviable ranking in the international community. The fact of the matter is that our leading academies produce very little either theoretically or pratically that adds much value to global knowledge and productivity.

Now, what needs to be happening presently is for KNUST graduates to be producing the sort of cutting-edge theories of technological development that are then transformed and/or translated into applied or usable technological know-how and material products/technics for the advancement of both our national industry and society at large. In fact, both levels of productivity could occur in the same institution, i.e. KNUST. If I understand him properly, what Prof. Yankah seems to be saying is that the massive upgrading of our diploma-awarding polytechnical institutes into degree-awarding polytechnical universities would further erode whatever practical benefits Ghanaian industry and the labor market presently gain from the hands-on or practical skills taught our polytechnical institute graduates.

If I have my interpretation of the gist of his keynote address down pat, as New Yorkers are wont to say, then my quick response on this score is that the problem with the inorganic orientation of the KNUST graduate is two-fold, namely, the problem of curricula design and the commitment of the central government and industry to materially supporting our flagship science and technology academy. Prof. Yankah himself aptly identifies one such crucial solution, which is the imperative need for our major universities to forge close working relationships with industry and the labor market by, for instance, having students intern or take some of their courses in the field, thereby acquiring hands-on experiences to enable them to fully appreciate the culture of some of the workplaces they may want to seek employment upon graduation.

The preceding admittedly disturbing state of affairs, however, ought not to stall the progressive need to upgrade our polytechnical institutes to at least baccalaureate or bachelor’s degree-awarding institutions or colleges. The curricula of our secondary-technical and vocational schools could be promptly upgraded to take the place of the present polytechnical institutes in the most basic areas. What Prof. Yankah seems to be suggesting may be aptly termed as the “Applied American Model of Technical Education.” This is absolutely no accident at all, for Prof. Yankah is himself partly American-educated.

Of course, the Central University College president is not the first Ghanaian educator to both recognize and propose such practical approach to the development of the country’s educational system. Nevertheless, the key operatives of the so-called National Development Planning Commission had better sit up and pay heed.

By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
Garden City, New York
E-mail: [email protected]

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