–calls on Ministry of Education to reverse decision
Civil Society Organisations operating within the education space, have expressed concerns about attempts by the Ghana Education Service (GES) to narrow the civic space by restricting access to information on educational policies implementation and impact.
Within the education sector, CSOs participate by among others, undertaking evidence-based research on government policies to inform policy strengthening and when necessary, issue constructive criticism, therefore an attempt to conceal information from them obvious would undermine their checks and balance role in education sector governance.
According to the CSOs, a directive by GES to District Education Offices (DEOs), and heads of schools requiring CSOs to produce letters of introduction from GES headquarters before permitting them to undertake any research in and around the school environment, is being used as a basis for denying certain CSOs entry into schools for obvious reasons.
This, they believe to be so because since GES gave that directive, the district education offices and heads of schools, have refused to give out information. Meanwhile, some CSOs have also written official request to the GES headquarters for letter of introduction but never received any response even upon several request and follow ups, an action they described as unfortunate and uncalled-for.
The Executive Director of Africa Education Watch (Eduwatch), Kofi Asare, expressed that narrowing the civic space which is the cornerstone of any democratic society where CSOs engage with government directly and indirectly, is very unfortunate.
He added that the GES has for decades operated a decentralized structure where CSOs seek the written permission of DEOs to enter schools. In the absence of any evidence suggesting the lack of capacity of DEOs to coordinate the activities of CSOs in their districts, there is no conscionable basis to centralize permission for entry into schools, if not for the reason of restricting entry or access to information of some CSOs.
“In 2021, none of Eduwatch’s requests for introductory letters to conduct research in schools were granted by the GES Director-General, in spite of numerous follow-ups. Many other CSOs were caught in this trap under the guise of coordinating the activities of CSOs.
While this re-centralization of authority flies in the face of the Ministry of Information’s (MoE) own policy to decentralize education management, any experienced sector practitioner would appreciate that, the GES headquarters has no capacity to administer the issuance of letters of introduction to every entity that seeks to enter all the 40,000 public pr-tertiary schools in Ghana,” he said.
On his part, Executive Director, Institute for Education Studies (IFEST), Peter Anti, reiterated that it is very frustrating sometimes when CSOs need information for a research report and the heads of schools keep delaying because the district secretariate has not permitted them to disclose the information.
Citing an example of such a situation he said: “I remember when in December 2021 the primary schools were asked to stay for another week because of the National Standardization Test (NST), and IFEST decided to do a field check and visited the schools to see what’s happening. We did Greater Accra, Ashanti, Eastern and Central, and in all the schools nobody was willing to speak to us, because of the fact that, they said we should get authorization from their district office and the DEO also said we should go to the headquarters. So, we ended up not publishing our work on that exercise.”
It can take months to get permission from the headquarters to undertake a simple study in a school nearby, and the effect of such situations on a research institute like IFEST is obvious, as it causes delays in publishing research reports, and even having information on important issues from the grounds, he added.
Effects of GES’s Action on Education Sector
According to the CSOs, international bodies and donor organisations that usually support development projects within the education sector in the various developing countries, take their decision based on data and research reports from CSOs and other research institutions.
Therefore, restricting CSOs from getting access to information to conduct research reports may have dire consequences on our education system.
Convener, Campaign Against Privatization and Commercialization of Education (CAPCOE), Richard Kwashie Kovey, is of the view that there is a need for national dialogue on the relationship between CSOs and government, as to how they can obtain information from primary source to influence policy decisions at national and international level.
“We need a national dialogue on the relationship between CSOs and government. We need to agree on how they can obtain information from primary source to influence policy decisions at national and international level. I don’t know if they are aware that it is this information the CSOs gather that is used to seek donor support from Global Partnership for Education (GPE), World bank and its allies,” he stated.
Finding Lasting Solution
The CSOs are therefore calling on the Ministry of Education (MoE) to intervene by ensuring that decision is reversed and the DEOs allowed to coordinate school entry and leave the GES headquarters to focus on weightier matters related to its core mandate of teaching and learning.
Secondly, regional and district education officials have been urged to be interested in the data collected in their area and the numerous researches that are done in their schools. This, they can accomplish by liaising with researchers who come to them to always submit a copy of their report to them and even do a presentation on their findings.
Review of the GES code of conduct for teachers. In the teachers’ code of conduct, they are not supposed to speak to any CSO nor media person without permission from the head office. The reason being that they may provide wrong information on a policy they may not be privy to.
However, it is believed that the teaching staff should be provided with much details on policies relating their work and profession in order for them to communicate effectively to stakeholders and well-meaning people.