When people accuse Ghanaian education of having colonial roots they usually refer to the content of what is being taught. Yet in spite of moves to update and Africanise the content, I would argue, it is still colonial. The problem is not the content.

Nana Yaw Asiedu highlighted the roots of Ghana’s colonial education in his blog post Atavistic Parrots. He noted that the education system under colonialism was intended to teach Ghanaians repetitive tasks so they could serve as petty bureaucrats within the colonial institutions. He might also have added that obedience to authority was also part of this system – perform but do not question! The colonial project of Christian conversion added an external authority to this enforced subservience. This legalistic approach to Christianity along with the teaching of simple repetitive tasks through rote learning  is still taught in many Ghanaian schools today.

Patrick Awuah, the founder of Ashesi university, also highlights part of the problem in his Ted talk Educating Leaders and calls for the teaching of critical thinking and problem solving.

What I learn from Nana Yaw and Patrick, is that what Ghanaians need is not necessarily a different content, but to be taught differently. Schools need to encourage independent thinking, the ability to critically evaluate new ideas and think through their implications, teach problem solving techniques and to blend theory and practice. It is the entire teaching methodology that needs to be changed.

That’s not to say that content is not important as without an interesting and, dare I say, provoking, curriculum, the will to knowledge could be crushed.

But the difficulties in achieving this are many.

It should be a simple case of the Ministry of Education making changes in the approach of teacher training institutions. Schools would then have to insist that every teacher has gone through one of these institutions.

The problem is teacher shortage will not allow it, which is why untrained, and sometimes barely literate people are employed to teach. There needs to be a drive to recruit more highly educated people into the profession, but with appallingly low pay, most qualified graduates will be considering jobs in business not education. Government needs to find money to prioritise education – easier said than done it appears!

Large class sizes, poor teacher to student ratio and lack of accommodation within schools and almost no resources means that interactive teaching approaches are difficult to implement. In this environment it is almost impossible to determine whether each child is actually understanding anything that’s being taught. My dream is to walk past a school and not hear the children reciting, on mass, like an aviary of parrots.

But…making these changes in teaching style means those in authority giving up a certain amount of control. Classrooms will become noisier and students will challenge authorities. And this, I believe, may be getting at the crux of the issue.

Ghanaian society is very much about control. Are its citizens ready to develop this new kind of student that may question existing structures and traditions? Can those in positions of authority (parents, teachers, etc.) be brave enough to allow a little more freedom to the youth?

Could it be that the values of contemporary Ghanaian culture are actually reinforcing its colonial education?