On a normal day, I would not be writing about an educational policy that is clear in terms of its intended objectives but what I witnessed yesterday scared me. It scared me so much that, I could not believe what I was hearing. I had a call from Adom TV to be a guest on the Big Agenda show at 5.30 pm.
We were to talk about a release from our institute, IFEST, on the proposed National Standards Assessment Test (NSAT). IFEST had released a statement commending the ministry for such a proposal and recommending that we ensure that the validity and sanctity of the NSAT are protected to guarantee almost flawless implementation. IFEST further advocated that the Agency responsible for curriculum and assessment should be made to partner with WAEC to conduct the maiden NSAT.
This was the crust of my contribution to the discussion until the Member of Parliament (MP) for Amenfi Central, Mr. Peter Yaw Kwakye-Ackah was called to join the discussion. The MP who is also a member of the Education Committee of the Parliament of Ghana rubbished the need for the NSAT and indicated that numerous challenges are facing basic education and conducting a national assessment would not solve those problems (I wonder who even said the NSAT is going to solve all the challenges facing basic education in the country). He further alleged that the motivation for such a policy is more about the award of contracts and financial benefits and nothing else. Sadly, the MP even smuggled into the discussion the teacher licensing examination and rubbished it. This was when I got seriously scared. For me, if a member of the Education Committee of the Parliament of Ghana would have such opinion on an educational policy to the extent that, not even the prompts from the host would make him pause and reflect on what he was saying, then, there was a need to do more public education on some of these educational policies to shape public debates.
Assessments form an integral part of teaching and learning. There are two forms of assessment; formative and summative. Formative assessments are carried out to ensure that daily instructional sessions are achieving their intended objectives, while summative focus on the achievement of the broader goals after going through a curriculum for a specific level of education. The adoption and subsequent implementation of the standard-based curriculum required that we change the nature of school assessment. This is because such a curriculum comes with set standards that students are supposed to imbibe at each stage of the educational journey. You will therefore need an assessment framework that monitors the wholistic attainment of these standards at certain stages of the childâ€™s education to identify learning gaps and proffer possible interventions when need be. A careful analysis of the National Pre-Tertiary Curriculum Framework presents the rationale for the adoption of a new assessment framework and the need for the NSAT.
The NSAT just like any other international or national assessment is key for policy formulation in the education sector. The benefits include:
- tracking studentsâ€™ performance alongside monitoring the fidelity of implementation of the standard-based curriculum is key to ensuring improvement in learning outcomes,
- foster good teaching and learning,
- identify students for remedial interventions,
- identify what the learning gaps are that need to be addressed,
- provide information to aid resource allocation and provision of targeted intervention, which schools and districts need specific intervention, and what the intended outcomes will be for such schools and districts.
In Ghana, the NSAT will be carried out at Basic 2, 4, 6, and JHS 2. The maiden NSAT will be for only Basic 4 pupils due to the changes in the school calendar caused by Covid-19. These and a lot more benefits can be derived from implementing a robust NSAT.
At the international level, the data could help with global educational comparisons and rankings, which is evidence of the extent to which our educational system is competitive in the global educational front.
This is the reason why getting it right should be non-negotiable. The importance of the authenticity of the data gathered from the NSAT is huge. To achieve this, planning of the NSAT should be thorough and enough clarity should be given to all relevant stakeholders for a successful maiden NSAT. Information such as modalities of the test, nature, and structure as well as the areas to be covered in the curriculum should be provided. These are needed to ensure that all schools are on the same page and well prepared for the maiden NSAT.
In talking about ensuring uniformity for all public basic schools in terms of information dissemination and materials needed for the smooth conduct of the maiden NSAT, I have to indicate that, our basic education is faced with numerous challenges. Over the years, various governments have taken steps to safeguard the provision of basic education to the citizenry.
In the 4th republic, one can mention interventions such as the FCUBE, capitation, school feeding, free exercise books, free uniforms, removal of schools under trees among others. Despite these interventions, our public basic schools still grapple with serious infrastructure challenges, lack of needed educational resources, and a wider gap in resource allocation between the rural and urban public basic schools. In recent times, the lack of textbooks after the implementation of the new curriculum has added to the woes, and stakeholders over the years have consistently brought this to the attention of the authorities. One cannot forget the achievement gap between public and private basic schools in the country.
Despite these challenges, education policies and interventions need to be carried out. So one might want to ask if we can fix all these problems before we address the target of achieving improvement in learning outcomes. Should we wait to clear all schools under trees before we introduce a national assessment? This is why I was scared. That, in most cases, you expect people of a certain calibre to appreciate some of these dynamics in the education sector, but, regrettably, I was wrong.
I am not a believer in tackling educational challenges using the piecemeal approach. I believe in a multifaceted approach to solving educational problems. So yes, we can improve infrastructure, remove some schools under trees, supply educational materials to some schools, improve the teacher-student ratio and at the same time roll out a national assessment that will give us a broad picture of how our pupils are doing at the basic level. This will help us find answers to the questions - who, why, what, and where - concerning the introduction of educational interventions and distribution of educational resources.
The writer is an Education Economist, Researcher, and Curriculum Expert. He is currently the Executive Director (Ag.) of the Institute for Education Studies (IFEST), an educational policy think tank in Ghana.