The question of what constitutes a quality education is one that fascinates me. It is dependent on context, culture, and perspective and is a contentious subject whether being discussed in the field of development or in western education systems. I recently wrote on the subject in the context of Ghana – a country I spent some time in as a teacher in a poorer, rural setting.
My experience of education in Ghana was very different from how I was trained in Australia and how I practice in the international school system. Instruction was exclusively teacher-centred and students did find it difficult at first to adjust to my style of teaching. Resources were scarce. Students had a textbook and the school had a library but there was no internet access. Teachers had use of chalk and a blackboard but that was really the extent of it. Lack of resources though was not the biggest problem. There was a very closed off culture in the school which seemed typical in that the staff weren’t comfortable with opening their classrooms to others or sharing teaching and learning strategies. Creativity was not valued. This meant that the teachers saw no alternatives to the status quo.
Having said all that, the students did very well in the WASSCE (West African Secondary School Certificate Examinations) which is the university entrance examinations. Clearly, the system worked for these students in this context. The system worked for the teachers too as they excelled within it and hence saw no need for change.
The question of the large proportion of students that don’t make it to the end of secondary education, however, is not addressed. There are many contributing factors such as poverty and gender but to what extent the institutionalised pedagogical practices are to blame is not understood. Students who do complete secondary school are not trained in critical thinking and creativity is stifled. These skills are not important for success in a knowledge based examination system and are therefore not valued. But what type of student does an emphasis on rote learning within an authoritative system produce and are these students prepared for life outside that system?
Some argue that imposing a student-centred, inquiry-based model of teaching and learning on African countries like Ghana is another example of Western hegemony. Others argue that a progressive education is the best way to prepare students for the challenges they face as adults in any context.
I wonder how much of learning is independent of culture. I wonder if there is just one way that is the best, universally. I also wonder if it even really matters when such a range of different outcomes to education are expected in different contexts.