President John Dramani Mahama
President John Dramani Mahama

In the wake of the release of this year’s results of the West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (WASSCE, or Wasscert?), President John Dramani Mahama was reported to have pooh-poohed calls for a reversion from the country’s current 3-year Senior High School system to the 4-year SHS system introduced by the Kufuor-led New Patriotic Party (NPP) in 2007 (See “Calls for Return to 4-Year SHS Needless – Mahama” / 8/12/16). Mr. Mahama claims that statistics show that students of the 3-year system have outperformed those of the erstwhile 4-year system.

There are several problems with the preceding kind of analysis. For example, a better gauge of the performance of students of the current 3-year SHS system would have been for the President to have compared the performance standards and quality of students attending the 4-year SHS system in other countries in the West African sub-region as well as students in some of the most advanced countries, both in the Eastern and Western worlds. Merely measuring the performance of Ghanaian SHS students of the 3-year and 4-year systems internally does not get us very far.

We need to also compare the respective levels and quality and the range of examination questions given students of the two systems, as well as the amount of study materials covered between the two systems. I don’t suppose for one second, except in terms of scoring cheap political points, that President Mahama would dare compare the quality, curricular breadth and depth and range and standard of the 7-year system of which he himself was a product to the current 3-year SHS system. As a product of the “O”- and “A”-Level systems, I can confidently declare that it was our privileged experience with the old system that enabled Ghanaian immigrants here in the United States to readily and routinely trounce our fellow American college students to went through the 4-year high school system.

Indeed, so advanced was the old British-inherited system that I used to bitterly complain to my professors at the City University of New York (CUNY) that I felt as if I was being held back in high school once again. Which, by the way, is not necessarily to imply that we ought to blindly revert to the old unnecessarily protracted and tedious system. What is clear, however, is that far many more countries subscribe to the 4-year SHS system, including the United States, Canada, Britain, India and Australia, than the 3-year system, which more geared towards vocational training than academic and high-end professional education.

A recent casual research that I conducted revealed that only Bangladesh, among the multitude of Anglophone educational systems around the world, pursued the 3-year SHS system. And I don’t suppose that Ghanaians are content to be ranked among the bottom-most rungs of the best-performing nations. As a college professor, I have encountered an adequate number of poorly performing Ghanaian high school, and sometimes even college, graduates to convince me that the current 3-year system of SHS is scarcely the most conducive preparatory regime for producing high school graduates of global caliber, as an OECD ranking of high school students indicated not very long ago.

I also don’t know how Mr. Mahama reached such an acrobatic conclusion when it is all too clear that, generally speaking, Ghana’s public high school system is woefully under-resourced. At least the 4-year SHS system facilitated a broader range of curricular coverage. One only needs to sample the general quality of Ghanaian journalism and the media at large to effectively put the decidedly porous argument of the Chief Resident of the Flagstaff House to rest. Mr. Mahama may also need to explain precisely why a remarkable percentage of his cabinet appointees and other highly placed members of his government have resorted to schooling their children and wards abroad, both at the secondary and tertiary levels.

There can be no gainsaying that there are serious problems with our current system of secondary education, and the sooner our leaders recognized these problems and devised meaningful and constructive solutions for them, the better Ghanaian society stands to gain therefrom within the long- and short-term development trajectory of our country.

By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
English Department, SUNY-Nassau
Garden City, New York
August 13, 2016
E-mail: [email protected]


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