DELIVER OUR CHILDREN FROM LIFE ON THE STREET: I am writing to wish you a happy fathers� day and wish you well in your campaigning to remain the flag bearer of the National Democratic Congress and to discuss with you the two important events that happened in Africa this week.
The week witnessed the celebration of the international day of the African child (street children) and Fathers� day. A very interesting co-incident indeed.
A cursory walk through our cities and large towns will tell you how massive the problem of street children is in Ghana. Whilst political and other developments at home is enabling many Ghanaians who moved to Nigeria, Gambia and Cote d�Ivoire to come back home, the streets of most West African countries are littered with a large number of Ghanaian shoe shine boys. I was, therefore, surprised that the government did not find it necessary to celebrate the two occasions with any event that will draw the attention of fathers to the phenomenon of the problem of street children in Ghana and to start discussions on its solution.
I think any observer of developments in Ghana knows the main cause of children moving into the street is poverty. It is poverty that is breaking up homes and families; it is poverty that makes grown-ups turn children into sources of income or into articles for sale; it is poverty, particularly in rural areas, that is making young children move from their homes and, it is poverty that is turning society into a vicious and uncaring society.
Thanks to the determination and efforts of all Ghanaians, the country is witnessing rapid and wide ranging socioeconomic and political changes. But there is rapid urbanization, run away population growth and increasing disparities in wealth. So there are those who argue that the emergence of street children is bound up with the totality of urban problems - that the phenomenon is exclusively urban: there are no "rural street children." I agree with researchers who believe that while it is true that street children are usually found in urban areas, many of these children have rural origins. So the problem extends beyond urbanization.
Many commentators have found that some of these children are the offspring of women involved in the ever increasing area of prostitution. Handicapped street children, rejected by their families, also constitute a distinct and relatively large category. A number have been disowned by a "respectable" parent unwilling to acknowledge the embarrassing outcome of an affair. In such cases, the children do not invariably come from the poorest families. In addition to the "pull" of the excitement and glamour of living in great cities and the hope of raising one's standard of living, there are also the "push" factors that increase the migratory flow from the rural areas.
In many rural areas, natural increase has pushed the population above the carrying capacity of the land. Families are, therefore, forced to move to urban areas in search of employment and a way out of the poverty trap. Once in the cities, many families break up because of unemployment and the harsh reality of city life with children being forced into the streets. Fathers devalued by enforced idleness, alcoholism and socially unacceptable activities cannot nature confident children and the father inevitably loses the authority he needs at home.
Studies by a number of institutions including the World Bank have shed light on the possible factors that are responsible for the massive unemployment in most African countries. In Ghana, these factors may included: 1) the decline in, or indeed the discontinuation of civil service recruitment; 2) the limited employment opportunities in the private productive sector; and 3) the sharp increase in the social demand for higher education linked to the expansion of primary and secondary education.
Unfortunately, the expansion in education has produced a mass of fully and half educated people roaming the street because of the lack of jobs to go with the development in education. In Ghana, it seems that the priorities of education adapted to serve the demands of a modern economy have lead to the neglect of training relevant for the rural population. In the present educational system, there is low transition from lower to upper secondary schools. Large groups of school-leavers from primary schools seeking further education are experiencing that their educational aspirations cannot be met due to the underdevelopment of the next stage (secondary education) as well as a reduce possibilities for traditional occupations or employment in rural areas.
Equity of admission is hindered by disproportionate level instructions and passing of entrance exams between urban and rural areas and privilege and under privilege populations. Students are trained as if they had equal non-school resources, equal starting places, equal educational opportunities, and equal job and career possibilities.
There is the need, therefore, to aim at making the flow between grades and levels more efficient to reduce dropout and repetition. Success depends both on the provision and the motivation of the individuals as well as the quality of teaching and learning environment in secondary as well as primary school. We should aim at bridging the gap between primary and secondary education to cover as many people as possible.
The system should ensure as many people are moved from Junior High to Senior High schools as possible. Also, effort should be made to make it possible for those who could not move from Junior High to Senior High School to have the chance to do so with little hindrance and without sacrificing quality and disturbance to the system. As at now, if you fail to enter SHS after JHS, that is the end of your education and you may have to look somewhere else.
There is also the need to change the objective of secondary education in Ghana. We should ask ourselves what happens after Senior High School. Perhaps the most important problem of relevance of secondary education in Ghana is that it is almost entirely academic. The traditional role of secondary education has been to prepare for and to be selected for entry into the universities. This tradition was also inherited from the colonial era and the educational reform does not seem to have made great changes to it.
Most industrialized countries during the last couple of decades gradually have changed this role of secondary education, and have moved toward universal access and a broader scope of secondary schooling, including the preparation for work. Training of vocational skills is an option for only a small proportion of the relevant age groups.
Both the World Bank and UNESCO have found out that a strengthening of vocational secondary education could both contribute to economic development; serve as prevention of large youth groups falling outside the society and the world of work, and probably also increase the general interest for being enrolled in secondary education. In addition to opening up new alternatives, and hence attracting new groups, vocational secondary education could play an important role in the transition of youth to the labor market.
This will demand extra money, but unfortunately, politicians don't have a lot of incentive to favor vocational education because vocational school students don't riot if you cut their scholarships. Budget allocation decisions often focus on student assistance services for the growing student population that is voicing its demands more and more loudly, to the detriment of maintaining the quality of education. During our time in the Universities, Aluta was very profitable because it brought the returns we demanded. It was very easy to cartoon, our father, the honorable Harry Sawyer. All you needed was to seek ye first his goatee, and all others will be added onto it.
Alternatively, the government should explore the possibility of expanding Polytechnic education as well. Funding should be sought to establish more polytechnics in district capitals to be involved in the training of motor vehicle mechanics, metal construction, electromechanical engineering, carpentry and joinery, cabinet making, building electrification, maintenance mechanics, information technology, electronics, office work, building and plumbing. These are areas mostly related to a �modern� economy and therefore beneficial for the transitions of the economy.
The government should also review contract with foreign donors to weed out the foreign labor components. Contract agreement with multinational companies should ensure that only a skeleton staff of the donor countries is allowed to come and work on the projects in Ghana. The situation where donor countries give the contracts to their companies and an army of company staff and workers from donor countries come to work on the projects should be discouraged. We don�t need construction workers and middle level personnel to come from China and Korea to work on projects financed by these countries. This is a way of pulling a fast one on us to support their unemployed.
The problem with unemployment and street children does not end with only primary and secondary schools only. How do we manage the paradox that exists between the disproportionate numbers of students compared to the number of student places and the proportion of the population of the appropriate age group who enter universities? Also, how do we increase the economic and social return on higher education in a situation where the level of opportunities in the labor market is much lower than the level of new graduates? The objectives of higher education should include the training for self-employment to raise the productivity of the informal sector. The transition rates from the Senior High Schools to the Universities are the results of a combination of individual decisions and contextual factors which interact with each other.
A World Bank report says that the transitions from one level to the next depend, on the one hand of the availability of school places within realistic reach (geographically and economically), and on the other hand, on individual decisions of the students (and their families). The individual decisions depend on a series of structural factors: students must be adequately prepared from previous schooling, and going to school must be considered beneficial both by the individual student, his/her family, and the community.
There are a number of quality aspects decisive for the transition into higher education in Ghana. Unsatisfactory quality of secondary schooling may lead to potential students being rejected who under different circumstances had been qualified, especially if there are tests or entrance examination on which entrance is decided. In addition, because the quality of secondary schools varies considerably between urban and rural schools, as well as between private and public schools, the situation in secondary education generates serious inequalities in transitions into the universities.
Therefore, more efforts should be paid to higher education as much as the reforms taking place in the primary and secondary levels. There is the need to promote more degree awarding institutions and diversify their programs to include professional development whiles avoiding the devaluation of the degrees that will bring unfortunate consequences of international comparison. In Ghana, we have Polytechnics in almost every regional capital. The Polytechnics can get involve in training of other professionals such as Physician Assistants and Nursing.
This will have the extra benefit of decentralizing university structures away from the metro centers. But higher education is expensive so the government cannot do it alone, so effort should be made to promote the private higher education sector which could provide a credible and complementary alternative to the public sector. It should be noted that education is not profitable enough to entice the private sector so the government should come out with packages that will entice them into it. We can start with a private public partnership in developing the education infrastructure and institutions that can include tax rebates.
Government alone cannot finance education in Ghana so funding of higher education should involve the private sector.
Students� loans to cover every aspect of training in higher education including feeding and tuition, should be provided by private commercial banks channeled through a public financial aid secretariat to ensure uniform conditions and fairness. That will limit the share of the budget allocated to student assistance and release funds for infrastructural development and research activities. The many emerging private higher institutions can generate their own income in addition to public resources, in particular by offering attractive professional and vocational higher education courses, continuing education courses (either degree courses or not) and by providing expertise.
More private universities should be encouraged to go into high paying and in demand health professions education such as Medicine (including Physician Assistance and Patients Care Technician and Nursing (at all levels including Certified Nursing Assistance) and Medical Laboratory Technology. Retraining and continuous education courses should include passage into law certification and management by people with any degree.
Also all higher education should be based on the modular system so that students who have left school finishing some modules can come back at later time to continue. For students who have had to leave school because of economic constraints, family obligations or other, this offers a more flexible system. The higher professional programs in the universities should concretize what they have started by not admitting students straight from Senior High School into their programs. It should be possible for any science student with the required grades from pre-requisite courses to be able to write an entrance examination to enter a medical or pharmacy program.
Your Excellency, this is but a few reforms that can be added to the ones started already to help with employment problems and to reduce the street child situation in Ghana. Also t he government should put in place a program to lobby for outsourced jobs that demands cheap labor. That is what started the massive investment in China and India � the scramble for cheap labor. What we have in abundance in Ghana is cheap manpower resources, so let�s make it attractive for investment.
Last but not the least, is the problem with certain NGOs in the country.
Many observers have noted that there is to date an increasing number of international and local based NGOs with the supposed aim of helping and protecting street children. Indeed the welfare of children and their rights is a fast growing industry attracting huge amount of money aimed to go towards improving the welfare of children in Africa.
The reality is often one in which many of these NGOs do not advance the interests of children. Money is often diverted to other activities instead of addressing the needs of children. For instance, it has been reported that many NGOs solicit and receive money to help street children or disabled children but end up using most of the money for administrative services. There is, therefore, the need to clearly define the role of NGOs in addressing the problems of street children and the welfare of children in general. A code of conduct based on ethical considerations for children is necessary if NGOs are to assist in the advancement of children's welfare.
I wish you a belated Happy Fathers� Day.
Source: Kwame Yeboah Harding University College of Pharmacy, Searcy, Arkansas. USA [email protected]
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