Let’s debate return of schools to churches -Ablakwa (February 7, 2014) pg 28
The Deputy Minister of Education, Mr Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, has called for an open debate about the return of mission schools to the churches.According to him, the government will not shut the door on such a debate, since it is of the view that churches are partners in development.
“We are willing to engage further on this matter, but we want the public views to also be heard,” he said.
The debate about the return of mission schools to the Presbyterian, Methodist, Catholic, and Evangelical Presbyterian churches, among others, was recently revived in Parliament, with some members arguing that handing over the mission schools to the churches would be an antidote to falling academic standards and morality in schools.
The debate in Parliament appeared to have gingered the Christian Council of Ghana (CCG), which has over the years made a case for the return of its schools, most of which were taken over during the Kwame Nkrumah regime.
The council, in a press statement, reasoned that returning the schools to the churches would “restore the once enviable moral values and quality that was seen in students who attended these schools”.
However, speaking to the Daily Graphic, Mr Okudzeto maintained that the churches had not been relegated to the background in the country’s educational system.
“We believe that the current system gives education in Ghana collective ownership. It is not as if the Church has no role to play.”
Morality and IndisciplineIn the statement signed by the General Secretary of the CCG, Rev. Dr Kwabena Opuni-Frimpong, the council expressed dissatisfaction with the state of education in the country after the state took over mission schools.
“Ever since the state took over the management of mission schools in the country, we have been concerned with the continuous decline in the provision of quality education and moral formation among students. Also, the inability of the state to manage the schools effectively to fulfil the purpose of the Church is worrying.”
This comment appears not to have found sympathetic ears in Mr Okudzeto, who stated that contrary to the CCG observation, churches taking over mission schools as not necessarily the panacea for indiscipline.
“There are some people who have argued that even today, the schools aside, when they go to church, they are not impressed with the morality—the way Christians are dressing to church, even on Sundays. I have heard pastors complaining about dressing of some members of their congregations.
“In any case, the churches are still in charge of morality—they appoint chaplains, their doctrines are even taught in the schools. We have even received petitions from other religions and denominations that the influence is so strong that it is violating the rights of others. I think the disciplinary issue is more of leadership.
“If you have committed heads of institutions and housemasters who enforce discipline and there is no interference with discipline… sometimes the heads of these institutions maintain that when they want to enforce discipline, the society does not allow them. Sometimes parents and big people in society come to interfere. The church taking over is not a guarantee for greater discipline or greater morality,” he added.
Making a case for their demand, the council said the Church in Ghana had since the pre-colonial era contributed to Ghana’s educational sector, by establishing schools across the country.
“Since that time, the Church has been at the forefront of providing education at every level in the country with the purpose of training the mind, heart and soul.”
While acknowledging the role of the Church in the development of education, Mr Ablakwa was of the view that even though the Ministry of Education paid teachers’ salaries and bore the cost of other infrastructure, the teachers had a hand in who headed such institutions through the schools governing council.
That is not all. Mr Ablakwa also said the system allowed the Church a hand in the educational system, to such an extent that their religious doctrines are pursued in the schools, and the churches are allowed to name the schools.
Government’s concernsHe raised a long list of concerns which he stated needed to be at the heart of any discussion on the matter.
“If we hand over the schools to them, what happens to the investment the government has made in classroom blocks, dormitories we have built with the taxpayer’s money? Should this be done at the expense of the taxpayer?
“We have fears about whether others who do not necessarily belong to these denominations would be able to attend the schools. The issue about who pays the teachers, whether academic standards would not be jeopardised.
“These churches are rich but when it comes to payment of teachers…there is implication also on school fees because if the churches take over, they may have to generate more money to pay the teachers, pay utility bills and all the bills that government subsidises.
“In Ghana, tuition is free. It is, however, not free in private schools. What will be the cost on parents? So we have genuine fears, and I believe members of the general public also have greater fears,” the deputy education minister said.
He further anchored his argument on Article 25 of the Constitution, which he said clearly indicated that “education in Ghana must be a right and not a privilege”.
The debate elsewhereThe debate about the return of public schools to churches is one that is not only limited to Ghana.
In November 2011, the Anambra State government in Nigeria handed over 1,040 primary mission schools to their former owners and disbursed about N6 billion (in instalments) to the schools as take-off grants.
In the Delta State also in Nigeria, the state responded to calls by civil society and religious-based organisations to restore morals and quality education through missions and returned 40 schools to the Roman Catholic, the Church Missionary Society (CMS), otherwise known as Anglican Church, the Baptist and African Church Group Missions in September, 2011.
However, according to reports, the main challenge was that none of the teachers from the affected schools currently employed by the government opted to join the missions. They preferred to serve in the public schools rather than work with the missions who they alleged could not pay them well.
Likewise, most parents still prefer public schools, as their students still enjoy government free education, particularly free registration for the Basic Education Certificate and West Africa Secondary School Certificate examinations.
In some cases, the schools returned to the missions, but even after passing the required national examinations, the students had to take aptitude test to gain admission to the school.
In Tanzania, the Anglican Church is renewing its call on the government to return its confiscated schools, arguing that it is able to educate more children at a higher standard for less cost than the government.
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