Normally I wouldn’t write about an education policy that is clear as to its goals, but what I witnessed yesterday scared me. It scared me so much that I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I got a call from Adom TV to be a guest on Big Agenda at 5:30 p.m. We were supposed to talk about a press release from our institute, IFEST, on the National Standards Assessment Test (NSAT) project.
IFEST had issued a statement commending the ministry for such a proposal and recommending that we ensure that the validity and sanctity of the NSAT is protected to ensure near flawless implementation. IFEST further advocated that the agency responsible for the curriculum and assessment partner with WAEC to conduct the first NSAT.
This was the bulk of my contribution to the discussion until Amenfi Central MP 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, refuted the need for the NSAT and indicated that there are many challenges facing basic education and that a national assessment would not solve these problems. (I wonder who even said that the NSAT is going to solve all the challenges that basic education faces in the country).
He further alleged that the motivation for such a policy is more the awarding of contracts and financial benefits and nothing else. Unfortunately, the member even smuggled the teacher’s license exam into the discussion and brushed it off. That’s when I got scared. For me, if a member of the Education Committee of the Parliament of Ghana had such an opinion on an education policy as even the host’s prompts would not make him think and think about what he was saying, then , there was a need for more public education on some of these educational policies to shape public debates.
Assessments are 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 teaching sessions achieve intended goals, while summation focuses on achieving the broader goals after completing a course of study for a specific level of education. The adoption and subsequent implementation of the standards-based curriculum required that we change the nature of academic assessment.
Indeed, such a program comes with set standards that students are expected to soak up at every stage of the educational journey. You will therefore need an assessment framework that monitors the holistic achievement of these standards at certain stages of the child’s education to identify learning gaps and suggest possible interventions when needed. A careful analysis of the national pre-graduate curriculum framework presents the rationale for adopting a new assessment framework and the need for NSAT.
The NSAT, like any other international or national assessment, is essential for policy formulation in the education sector. The advantages include:
- Monitoring student performance as well as monitoring the fidelity of the implementation of the standards-based curriculum is essential to ensure improved learning outcomes.
- promote good teaching and learning,
- identify students for remedial interventions,
- identify learning gaps that need to be filled.
- provide information to assist with resource allocation and the delivery of a targeted intervention, which schools and districts need a specific intervention, and what the expected results will be for those schools and districts
In Ghana, the NSAT will be carried out at Basic 2, 4, 6 and JHS 2. The first NSAT will be reserved for Basic 4 students due to changes in the school calendar caused by Covid-19. These benefits and many more can be derived from implementing a robust NSAT. Internationally, the data could help with global education comparisons and rankings, showing how competitive our education system is on the global education front.
This is the reason why getting it right should be non-negotiable. The importance of the authenticity of the data collected by the NSAT is enormous. To achieve this, the planning of the NSAT must be thorough and sufficient clarity must be given to all relevant stakeholders for a successful first NSAT. Information such as test modalities, nature and structure as well as areas to be covered in the program should be provided. These are necessary to ensure that all schools are on the same page and well prepared for the first NSAT.
Speaking of ensuring uniformity for all public basic schools in terms of the dissemination of information and material necessary for the successful conduct of the first NSAT, I must point out that our basic education faces many challenges. Over the years, various governments have taken steps to ensure that basic education is provided to citizens. Under the 4th Republic, we can cite interventions such as the FCUBE, capitation, school feeding, free notebooks, free uniforms, and the abolition of schools under trees.
Despite these interventions, our public basic schools are still grappling with serious infrastructure problems, the lack of necessary educational resources and a wider gap in the allocation of resources between public basic rural and urban schools. In recent times, the lack of textbooks after the implementation of the new curriculum has compounded the problems, and stakeholders over the years have consistently brought this issue to the attention of the authorities. We cannot forget the success gap between public and private basic schools in the country.
Despite these challenges, educational policies and interventions must be carried out. It is therefore questionable whether we can solve all these problems before reaching the goal of improving learning outcomes. Should we wait until we have cleared all the schools under the trees before introducing a national assessment? That’s why I was scared. That in most cases you would expect people of a certain caliber to appreciate some of these dynamics in education, but unfortunately I was wrong.
I don’t believe in tackling educational challenges using the piecemeal approach. I believe in a multidimensional approach to solving educational problems. So yes, we can improve the infrastructure, remove some schools under the trees, provide teaching material to some schools, improve the teacher-student ratio and at the same time deploy a national assessment that will give us an overview of the performance of our students. at the basic level. This will help us find answers to the questions – who, why, what and where – regarding the introduction of educational interventions and the distribution of educational resources.
The author is an educational economist, researcher and curriculum expert. He is currently Executive Director (Ag.), The Institute for Education Studies (IFEST), an education policy think tank in Ghana.