Mr. Chairman, I wish to express my gratitude to the administrators of our great school- Ebenezer Senior High School for the honor done me to deliver this Keynote address on the occasion of its 62nd Speech and Prize-Giving Day. I received the invite with great joy because this year also marks the 75th anniversary of the establishment of this school and to be chosen among other eminent old students to deliver the Keynote address is a rare honor that I will always remember. EBENEZER! – “THUS FAR HAS THE LORD BROUGHT US.”
Mr. Chairman, before I continue with my speech, may I humbly appeal to you to permit me to pay a short tribute to the founding fathers of this school for their foresight in establishing an educational institution that has served and continues to serve the needs of ordinary people for seventy-five years. It was not an easy task. But in keeping with the motto of the school- Semper Perstate- they sailed through the storm and today we have gathered here to celebrate their achievement with pride. To the founder- the late Mr. Robert Teiko Aryee and his able lieutenants, I say “Ayeekoo”. EBENEZER! THUS FAR THE LORD HAS BROUGHT US.
Mr. Chairman, the topic of my address on this great occasion is- “Achieving Excellence in Education: The Role of the Stakeholder.” I speak on this topic not as an expert on education but rather as a person who is a beneficiary of excellent education and upbringing from this school built on the foundation of perseverance, dedication and honesty. These time-honored principles are the hallmark of this school. Wherever we find ourselves we strive to be efficient. It is no coincidence that Ebenezer Senior High School is also one of the most efficient schools in Ghana. This therefore, introduces me to the first part of the topic- Achieving Excellence in Education.
Education in simple language is the acquisition of knowledge and skills by those who pursue it to become capable people ready and able to contribute to the welfare of their families, communities and country. This presupposes that education is not an end in itself; it is a means to an end. As Malcom X, the late African American civil rights leader put it:
“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today” (Malcom X, 1964).
We go to school to acquire knowledge and skills for a better future. The knowledge we acquire enables us to overcome ignorance. If the education we get does not equip us to fight ignorance, then it is void. Any educational system that produces ignorant people is to say the least- a useless one and must be rejected by all. It is knowledge that guides the use of the skills we acquire. Acquisition of skills must be supported by the acquisition of knowledge in order to produce responsible citizens. Knowledge creates awareness and enlightenment in people. This enlightenment makes us good citizens; and a good citizen is the one who uses his or her skills wisely and for the benefit of society.
Those who pursue education must have one goal. That is, they must achieve excellence. Indeed, achieving excellence in education is a noble goal that must be pursued by everybody in a given society. It is the most important step in building a progressive and prosperous country. Achievement is about accomplishment and excellence is a quality that surpasses ordinary standards. To achieve excellence in education is to accomplish or attain the best in education and only the best is good for everybody- credit to Dr Kwagyir Aggrey of blessed memory.
Mr. Chairman, the question therefore is how do we achieve excellence in education? To achieve excellence in education there are certain things that must be done. For the sake of time, I will mention just a few of them.
The first thing an educational institution should do is to make the pursuit of excellence its number one objective. By so doing it commits both staff and students to work hard to meet the highest standards. There must be a commitment to become the best among equals.
The setting up of the first objective will automatically lead to the second objective, which is increasing student achievement. The achievement of the second objective is a necessary and sufficient condition for the attainment of the first objective. Without this objective the institution cannot measure its performance and cannot therefore achieve excellence. Increasing student achievement will create confidence in both the staff and the students to achieve more.
The third objective is to close the gaps in student achievement- especially between boys and girls. In a co-educational institution like Ebenezer Senior High School, this objective is very significant. At any given time, the school authorities must do their best to close the performance gap between boys and girls. If this is not done, then the school cannot achieve the excellence it hopes for. This means that the authorities should encourage all students, especially the girls to excel. There is a school in the Western Region which was once a mixed school. Over time, the girls closed the performance gap between them and the boys and on many occasions outperformed them. More and more girls chose to attend the school until they outnumbered the boys and the Ghana Education Service had no choice but to turn the school into a girls’ senior high school. I do not prescribe this for Ebenezer Senior High School. It must remain a mixed school in which both boys and girls perform equally well. Ebenezer cannot move from a boys’ school to a mixed school and then to a girls’ school.
The fourth and last objective is the involvement of all stakeholders to create the enabling environment for the attainment of excellence in education. The school is not an island. It is located in a community with members who must ensure that the school achieve its objective of becoming the best.
Mr. Chairman the last objective leads me to the second part of the topic that is, the role of stakeholders. In our quest to educate and achieve academic excellence, there are several stakeholders who have various roles to play without which the quality of our education would be greatly faulted. Mr. Chairman, there is little doubt today about the fact that our nation’s quest to develop, and remain truly independent, and progress exponentially basically depends on education. The quality of the human resource base of every country is undoubtedly one of the most valued and important resource through which that country can develop and achieve a competitive advantage in this global world of ours that is characterized by competition (fair and unfair), information and communication technology and high-level quality research, etc. Education fine-tunes students’ creativity, their level of insight, and their analytical skills to address problems. Education generally equips students with the necessary tools, unique ideas and stimulate their curiosity. This provides students with opportunities for personal development and enrichment and also better future careers.
Mr. Chairman, the first and foremost stakeholder, if we are to achieve academic excellence in education is the parent/guardian. As parents and guardian, we have a primary responsibility to provide a decent environment in the house, comprising a modest study area or room and balanced diet for their proper physical and mental growth. Parents also have a role to play in planning the Educational Programme or courses a ward should study in school with the assistance of a counsellor or educational psychologist where available. Parents again have a role in assisting their wards with the time table that they will use at home to study based on the school’s academic courses and arrangement. This home time table must be exhaustive, and must include all the subjects their ward is taking at school. There should be nothing like a scale of preference in the time table which relegates some subjects being offered at school into a lower priority band.
Parents again have a role in guiding their ward(s) into appropriate educational institutions, making the financial commitments, and following up on their monitoring and assessment with their teachers and facilitators. Mr. Chairman, teachers should not misconstrue this responsibility of parents and push their traditional roles onto them. This role by parents and guardians should be supportive rather than total. As parents and guardians, they also need to inculcate good values and develop sound moral character in their ward(s). Parents should also have time to listen and to discuss with their children, their problems and keep watch over their activities (at home and in school). From this we can see clearly that parents or guardians have a lot to do if we are to achieve excellence in education.
On the other hand, the role of teachers in achieving academic excellence is profound and multi-faceted. The teacher is an academic trainer, a character trainer, a care-giver, a role model, a mentor, a leader, among many other roles. The teacher has a role to play as a source of credible paragon of knowledge, has a role about moral discipline, and upbringing of students, should serve as a motivator or facilitator, must be a counsellor/psychologist to be able to decipher any student problems of students and offer solutions accordingly, monitor and facilitate teaching and learning processes and other extracurricular activities that students are engaged in. Teachers also bear the responsibility of teaching and serving as a source of knowledge for students. They should also inspire confidence. To this, it is evident that the role of the teacher in achieving quality education cannot be short changed and any compromise on the teacher’s part can derail any quality education system.
Mr. Chairman, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, another important stakeholder I would want to identify in our quest to achieve academic excellence is the Headteacher (Headmaster/Headmistress). No scheme of educational reconstruction will produce the desired result, unless it is administered with vision and efficiency. The person who plans the vision and executes is the headteacher. Everything in the school such as books, buildings, furniture, laboratory and equipment, students and staff etc. are managed by the headteacher. In fact, they have to be efficient i.e., doing things right, and effective i.e., doing the right things.
In addition to this managerial role, the headteacher is traditionally known to be a supervisor of both teaching and non-teaching staff. He or she is tasked with enforcing school disciplinary roles, codes of ethics, and preventing potential safety violations. He or she has a role to manage the day-today operations of the school, coordinate with the school’s governing board, seek and secure funding for school projects, speak on behalf of the school, and give strategic direction to the school generally. The headteachers’ role should not be down-played in anyway. This in short explains why the headteacher should be involved in the process right from the beginning (admission) to the end (graduation) i.e., till the student leaves the school. In short, the headteacher takes the ultimate responsibility for the students and the school.
The community in which the school is located also has a role to play by ensuring that some of the needs of the school are provided for by its members individually or collectively. The local community should mobilize resources to support the local schools. Unfortunately, this does not often happen in Ghana. Community members distance themselves from the affairs of the local schools. They expect only parents of students and the government to do everything. The only time some of the community members visit the school is when they are seeking admission for their children. Beyond this, they have nothing to do with the school. I believe Ebenezer Senior High School experiences this unfortunate situation. To me, this is clearly a failure of leadership of these so-called community leaders and chiefs. The schools are mainly situated on community lands and so the chiefs must take the lead in seeking the welfare of the local schools. They have the power to make a school an excellent one through their support for the school in pursuit of its objective. They can serve as a reference point for discipline which is a precondition for success.
The other stakeholder of major importance is the government. The overall strategic direction of the country’s educational system reflects the vision of the prevailing government, vis-à-vis our development aspiration. In our setting the government has a huge and an unparalleled role to play in providing quality education. Government has a role to provide education infrastructure, remunerate educational workers, including teachers, train educational workers including teachers, maintain a balance between the poor and the privileged in society and provide teaching and learning materials.
The government also has the responsibility to see to the provisions and proper maintenance of school infrastructure and provide a conducive environment for teaching and learning. In fact, the role of the Government in ensuring that we have quality education for national development is in-exhaustive and that explains why the Government is blamed for every problem in the educational sector.
Even as we highlight the critical role of Government, we also need to appreciate the needed contribution of the business community sometimes referred to as the private sector. Businesses, as part of their social and community responsibility should contribute in cash and in kind to support schools in their local communities since in the long run, they are also the end users of the products of these educational institutions. This is even more important for businesses within the catchment area of the school.
The alumni of every educational institution (including Ebenezer Senior High School) must also always learn to pay back for what they received from their alma mater. The success and popularity of every school apart from all other factors, also depends on the quality of their alumni and the performance of the school. Therefore, the alumni of this school must take it as one of their responsibilities to support the activities and growth of the Great Padua, their alma mater.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, the last stakeholder I would like to mention here is the student who is at the receiving end of the entire spectrum. A student must of necessity learn, do class assignments, research, do home-work, write examinations, and must attend lectures or classes and participate in class and school activities fully, keep notes of lectures for reference purposes, embrace and fully participate in well-defined extra-curricular activities, show courtesy and obey school regulations aimed at propelling them to become responsible citizens in the future. The students therefore must of necessity be studious and disciplined, show commitment and support the cause to achieve excellence in education.
An excellent student is a source of pride for parents, families, school and the local community. Which parents will not be grateful for excellent grades and achievement of their wards? However, many parents and families and the local communities shirk their responsibilities and allow their children to fend for themselves under very difficult conditions. This affect students negatively. Many parents face difficulties, but they must make painful sacrifices to guarantee a good future for their children by investing in their education. If parents do not invest in their children, they must not expect an academic miracle to happen.
Students reflect the entire educational system as they are the end products. In view of this, the quality or otherwise of the entire educational system is mirrored by the attitude, behaviour, and performance of students or graduates. It is in view of this that policy makers must be conscious of the impact any educational reform has on the future of participants.
Students are the first beneficiary of excellence in education. The school exists to make sure students get excellent grades. It is sad to note that many students do not know this. They think their grades belong to their parents so they perform poorly to punish them. Let me take this opportunity to advise them that their certificates will not bear the names of their parents or the teachers. You write the examination in your name and the certificate will be awarded in your name. The grades you obtain will be in your name till you die. This is something you must take note of today.
There are some of you who think that you can inherit certificates from your parents. Let me tell you that there is no country in the world where children inherit certificates from their parents. If education is a passport to a good future (which it is) then you must do your ultimate best to get a good education. It is your responsibility too.
As a student you can only achieve excellence in education by establishing a personal objective for yourself, that is, to get the best grades in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE). Your best and worst grade must be A+. Only grade A+ is good for you. Go for A+ and nothing else. To achieve this, you must do the following:
Firstly, you must learn to be disciplined. Self-discipline is the first key to success. An indiscipline student will find it difficult if not impossible to achieve academic excellence. This is because such a student does not obey rules. To succeed you must obey school rules and also follow instructions.
Secondly, you must also motivate yourself. Self-motivation makes the difference between bad and excellent students. Let the great achievements of those before you serve as a motivational factor. Do not be discouraged; always work hard. When you fall quickly get up and move on. Always learn hard and listen to the English poet, Alexander Pope, who says
“A little learning is a dangerous thing
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring”.
And the advice of the anonymous poet:
“Little by little,” said a thoughtful boy
“Moment by moment I’ll well employ
Learning a little every day,
And not spending all my time in play.
And still this rule in my mind shall dwell,
Whatever I do, I will do it well”
Finally, remember the motto of this school- Semper Perstate– Always Persist. Persistence according to the American Educationist, Calvin Coolidge, is the fifth and final pillar of self-discipline. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Let it be your guide so long as you remain a student of Ebenezer Senior High School.
Mr. Chairman, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, thirty-four years ago I was a student of this school. I never thought I could be invited one day to address an occasion such as this. This alone should serve as a motivation for all the students gathered here today.
Mr. Chairman, excellence in education is a goal that must be pursued. Its attainment demands hard work and discipline on the part of all stakeholders. This is so because education is the foundation for all modern societies, and Ghana cannot ignore it. It is my prayer that all those who love this school will work extra hard to make it a center of excellence. This is possible. Always remember the school’s motto, Semper Perstate (Always Persist).
May God Blessyou all.
(Speech delivered by Marterson N.A. Armah at the Speech and Prize Giving Day and on the 75th Anniversary Celebration of Ebenezer Senior High School, 09/07/2016.)