Author: Charles Hutchison was born in Ghana, where he earned his B.S. at University of Cape Coast and taught General Science and Biology. He then studied Immuno-Genetics in Hungary, worked at Georgetown University, and then got an M.A. at Oklahoma Christian University of Science and Arts. He taught Science (7-12) in Atlanta for nine years, and earned his Ph.D. at Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia. He is currently professor of education at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. He is author of Teaching in America (Springer), and the forthcoming books, Teaching Diverse Learners with Basic Principles  (Allyn and Bacon), and When Students Experience the Minority Effect  (Rowman and Littlefield)

Ghana is a West African nation with a population of about 18 million, a gross domestic product (GDP) of about $462.8 (1993), and a landmass comparable to the state of Oregon (238,537 sq. km. or 92,000 sq. miles). It lies just north of the equator, and on the Greenwich meridian. It was colonized by the British, and had its independence in 1957.

Science education has always been a part of the Ghanaian (and Sub-Saharan) culture. Prior to the advent of modern education in Ghana, there were both “formal” and “informal” forms of education. Both forms generally took after the apprenticeship model, although direct instruction was prevalent in specific situations. “Informal education” involved working with a close relative to learn a family trade, in a relatively casual climate. In “formal education,” a child would generally be sent to learn a trade from a master craftsman, with some type of specific arrangement. This arrangement would then be formalized with some form of symbolic seal, such as a drink. On completing the apprenticeship, there were formal graduation rites and celebrations.

Modern education in Ghana came with the advent of European missionary and mercantile enterprises, and has largely become the vehicle for social upward mobility. Education in general, and science education, for that matter, are serious issues for all Ghanaians.

Educational Administration in Ghana

Education in Ghana is centrally administered under the purview of the Ministry of Education, which is responsible for the formulation of the national educational objectives. This ministry oversees the Ghana Education Service (GES), which is responsible for pre-tertiary levels of education, and the National Council for Tertiary Education (NCTE), which is obviously responsible for tertiary education. 

The GES organizes its constituencies into a 6:3:3 format: Six years of primary education, three years of junior secondary school (JSS), and three years of senior secondary school (SSS). All children in Ghana are compulsorily expected to enroll in school at the age of six, for a free, nine-year basic education (primary and JSS). Those who enter the SSS generally pursue their education with their economic future in mind.

The Science Curriculum and Delivery

The Ghanaian science curriculum follows the “spiral approach,” treating the same themes at different times and in greater depths within each educational level. At the primary and JSS levels are environmental studies and integrated science. The curriculum is the modern replacement of what used to be called “nature study.” This is a generalist, survey course, which exposes the child to the universe. At this level, the students would get the basic exposure to scientific ideas, and learn about the history of science. They also learn the basic scientific vocabulary at this level.

At the SSS level, the science curriculum comprises integrated science. At this level, the students are exposed to the rudiments of physics, chemistry, and biology. Following the “Ghana Science Series” for three years, the students spiral through the following topics:

A. The nature of things around us: Some properties of matter; measurement; the nature of matter

B. Some effects of energy: Energy; some effects of heat on matter; movements of living and non-living things; making work easy (machines)

C. Life activities: New life from old life; seeding in plants and animals; uses of food in living things; getting rid of waste materials from the body

D. Humans and their environment: Crop production; raising animals; food processing; a balanced diet; hygiene and health.

At this stage, students are prepared for one of five programs at the SSS level, endorsed by the GES. Science education is held in the highest regard in Ghana, and only the best students are admitted into the SSS program with the science concentration option.

At the SSS, all students take, at minimum, integrated science (comprising general science, agriculture and environmental studies). For those who qualify to enter the SSS science option, their science curriculum includes the individual disciplines of physics, chemistry, biology, and physical education. The agricultural science option’s curriculum includes general agriculture, crop husbandry, animal husbandry, physics, and chemistry. The SSS integrated science curriculum guide employs the “SSS Science,” authored to seamlessly follow the JSS science book series. The curriculum outline is as follows:

Year One: Introducing Science:

Diversity of living and non-living things; the cell; matter and energy (I); air and water; matter and energy (II); acids, bases, and salts

Year Two: Interactions in Nature:

Life activities in man; matter and energy (III); change and equilibrium

Year Three Variation:

Inheritance and evolution; matter and energy (IV); some elements and their compounds; compounds of carbon; science and society; science and technology.

At the university level, students enter the science departments corresponding to their SSS program. The science curriculum is further delineated into zoology, botany, physics, and mathematics. The agricultural option is also delineated into animal and crop sciences, agricultural economics and extension, agricultural engineering, and soil science. Students have the option to major (concentrate) in any of the more specific areas toward the final year of their program.

The Art of Pedagogy in Ghana: How and Why

Ghana, despite her colonial past, still cherishes her cultural heritage. A part of this cultural heritage is respect for the elderly—naturally including teachers. For this reason, the cultural tradition strongly influences the classroom environment. In this tradition, the elders are deemed as the custodians of knowledge. Consequently, the teacher embodies the proverbial “sage on stage.”  The result is that, children generally are less apt to ask questions in class, and the teacher is the final authority of knowledge. The concomitant method of instruction for the majority of teachers is the lecture approach; delivering knowledge, as it were, into “empty, but willing vessels.” This teaching method, although a somewhat expected spillover of the general cultural climate, shares a European heritage: Since the modern Ghanaian educational system began with the missionaries, there was a basic evangelic-ecclesiastical orientation. Obedience, memorization of material, and the “direct delivery” approach were all a part of the ecclesiastical scholasticism Ghana inherited in the early missionary days of education—and such went to buttress the cultural tendency to do the same.

It must be mentioned, however, that science teaching and learning inherently resist the all-lecture approach, and readily lends itself to practical work. For this reason, it is common practice to find the Ghanaian science teacher doing demonstrations or lab work, where facilities are available, and employ the guided-discovery approach in instruction. One would readily find the science teacher taking the students to the school farm to learn agriculture by practice, or going to the nearby stream to collect live specimen for dissection.

Granted the relatively lecture-heavy method of science instruction in Ghana, it must be noted that a good instructor could masterfully execute a science lesson, by incorporating analogies, anecdotes, and personal narratives, by employing the inherently rich, colorful language forms of Africa. As opposed to a cultural environment where students may be less apt to sit and listen for longer time periods, the typical Ghanaian student would listen longer—because they are motivated. In the Ghanaian cultural milieu, the science teacher has the additional cherished facility: the student’s “cognitive presence,” for longer period of time—and he or she takes advantage of it.

Educational Reforms and Science Teaching in Ghana

During the seventies and the early eighties, Ghana experienced serious economic problems, which created a brain drain; many teachers left the country to work in the neighboring countries. There was also the general feeling that the educational system was not responding to the realistic economic future needs of the students and the nation. There was a reorganization of the educational system into the current one, mentioned above (more about this at Interestingly, there was also the sense of failure of the prevalent educational processes and methodologies to create an understanding of the information taught. This has brought about a new movement in methodologies, whereby “best practices” are being viewed as the provision of more hands-on, minds-on experiences. This is a new phenomenon in the Ghanaian scene, and may bear some counter-culture implications. Although it will take time for the teacher-sages to step down from their “stages,” and the students to move from their relatively “passive-assimilators-of-knowledge” roles to engage their teachers in science discussions, this new movement is a step in the right direction.