Monday, November 23, 2009

Is there a Balance?

“Yippee!!” Oh yes, Maame Abena couldn’t help but to join in the celebration of the last penalty kick by Agyeman Badu which made the Ghana Black Satellites, champions of the under 21 World Cup competition.Maame Abena is just a little over one year old but always proves to be a quick learner even though she is still learning how to give the right answers to “How old are you?” and “How are you?” Her response has always been “I ya fan,” with a smile, of course. Maybe that’s her easy way out. Interestingly, her big sister who is close to 3 years old takes pride in her ability to keep her eyes closed to recite from memory letters “A” to “Z”. Does this make any difference by keeping her eyes opened? You’d better keep mute and congratulate her on that!

The question I ask myself is “are kids of today better off in their mental development in school than our time?” Hmm, I still remember basic and primary school days when one was forced to keep countries and their capital cities in memory. Wow! those early morning “Mentals” code named “morning tea” in school . Mental was arithmetic drill from student to student by the teacher in the classroom. Failure to provide the right answer within a stipulated time (usually within some few seconds) results in lashes in your palm, buttock or back (not fun!) And then, Spelling Bee code name “dictation” followed in the afternoon with the usual lashes upon those unable to spell some words correctly. We usually got scared when we encountered big words like crocodile, hippopotamus, trypanosomiases etc. Well, no wonder school wasn’t fun for some of us during those days, but I think it also helped us to be able to memorize definitions and formulas in the junior high school.

The senior high school was a lot more fun because we were allowed to use calculators in the classroom and even get access to formula tables during arithmetic, science and economics exams.

Today, some educators still find it hard to embrace technology in the classroom because they complain it’s reducing brain development and encouraging laziness on the part of students due to easy access to information for homework, project work or assignment. “Students of today think they know more than their teachers and parents” is what most tutors say but I don’t think it’s true. 

During the introduction session at “The Breakthrough Learning in a Digital Age” workshop by Sesame Street recently, Dr. Eric Schmidt (CEO, Google) stated that “our challenge today is to narrow the gab between Education, Learning and Internet” which I concur.

The basic tools and context for learning has changed from pens and pencils to mouse and keyboard, papers and books to applications and software, classroom and school community to the internet (global virtual community).

But sadly, some of our local lecturers in some universities still insist on producing the replica content of their handout/lecture notes as answers to exam questions without any additional facts from the internet. Others restrict you to only books from the shelves of the school library but the reality, often times is, these books (if even available) are too old. 

Search engines speed up research with access to diverse related and recent facts. More time is spent on critical-thinking and critical-analysis, summarizing and synthesizing, then designing and problem solving. The days of direct instruction in the classroom for the 1st position student are gone. This age is a collaborative construction classroom. No more teacher-directed classroom, it’s now student-directed classroom. The theory-based lessons should be practically based with more skills as knowledge.

Ultimately, we learn for life and not for school in the 21st Century for a better balance of education.

© Harry Tetteh


  1. That's a nice piece of article.I will be looking forward for more of such articles.keep up de gud wrk

  2. A well researched piece. Bravo! And don't forget to say hi to Maame Abena.

  3. Patrick Osei-Owusu (AP 141)November 24, 2009 at 5:38 PM

    That's an interesting perspective you've written. Very toughtful piece. But, correct me if I'm wrong, I believe you're making a case for integrating 21st century information technology into our school curriculum, specifically from the primary school level up to the universities. You are absolutely right. However, insofar as I agree with you on this point (if that's what your article is purporting to), I worry about how the availability of information, softwares, internet search engines, etc. is going to negatively affect how students learn to do critical thinking. At every level of human endeavor, what sets people apart is how well they're able to assimilate what they've learned into developing innovative and better ways/ ideas of solving existing problems. There's an ever-growing temptation for today's student to resort to easier means of doing homework, assignments, essays, etc by using the internet and computer softwares. I understand some types of education requires that kind of technology, but if you want to learn fundamental calculus, trigonometry, chemistry and physics with computers and calculators, I'm afraid you lose interest the moment you find yourself having to be creative and develop original thoughts down the road, and these mental challenges are best tackled with a strong knowledge of fundamentals. For those of us who went through the 'old system' to learn the fundamentals of most things just like you did, life is good when we find ourselves in these kinds of mental challenges. In fact those are the moments when I’m proud of the fact that I had the privilege to be educated at some of the finest elementary and high schools in Ghana. Not to belabor the point, our school curricula need re-hauling, but it has to be done very mindful of what has been working effectively in the past and what needs to be changed. That’s where one can find balance. After all, new is not necessarily better just as old is not always antiquated.

  4. Harry

    as always I am impressed by your ability to take a topic and present it in a concise manner
    Also, in this case this is a complicated topic, as many might say "wait and see"
    I am a fan and user of technology and I am blessed regularly to see children doing things that a generation ago where impossible to attempt
    In many ways the newest generation, combined with the right tools, will absolutely surpass their predecessors-- which in my way of thinking is not only fine, but expected
    As I write this I am in my Court School class room- Many of the students I work with are in need of remediation because they have missed school for various reasons
    So, while there are many children zooming ahead on GOOGLE DOCS and video presentation of info- not just professorial regurgitation, there are an equal number who are in less then optimal classrooms, circumstances or situations ( read your blog about certain High School teachers)
    It would be wonderful if there was an "equal playing field" Harry, but that Dear friend has been a dream of mine for the past 37 years in classrooms- And as South Africa, and the world prepares for the next WORLD CUP -- One team will win it all! So we are not competitors in the classroom(?) and we have the wherewithall to share information instantly - When we can/will eliminate politics from the equation-- when we can insure ALL children have the opportunity =I am hopeful Harry, sorry to post so blighted, and the BEAUTIFUL picture Mamme Abena reminds me of the hope that ..." springs eternal"
    Glad that a fellow of your stature is "out there" pushing
    Be well

  5. I agree wholeheartedly with Patrick's last sentence; new does NOT necessarily mean improved. The rate at which science and technology are evolving is frightening. However, people are realising (and some always knew) that things will have to and some have already come full circle.

    After encouraging the world to buy a mobile phone, you now have adverts telling you to call people from a landline telephone if the call is important! Then we sanitise everything so much to the point that we fail to develop sufficient immunity against things our bodies should be able to shake off.

    I also agree that it is all a matter of balance, however, that will always be a difficult thing to obtain and/or maintain so long as the powers that be run and perpetuate things to make them the most profit...

  6. Dr. Bill,

    Yes I do agree with you especially on the unequal playing field now unfortunately. But as educators understand that learning is for life in the 21st Century, this will help transform the curriculum to life skills.

    Thank you.


  7. Patrick,

    You are right, my sentiment is on the 21st Century Skills (in education) in which technology plays a major role. And I do agree with you especially going to one of the finest high schools in Ghana :-).

    Your concerns are well understood, so the question now is how we integrate the "right tools" (which Dr. Bill mentioned) in a meaningful way. Synchronizing basic skills with higher-order thinking. For example, the teachers role should ensure that the tools for learning do not result in plagiarism by students but rather helping in mental and virtual model-building, questioning and exploratory investigations. By experimenting, creative designing, inventing and innovating. The teachers role should be more of a facilitator or mentor.

    This I think will enable students learn for life not for school.



  8. Angela,

    Well said, as every technology has its pros and cons.

    So introducing technology into the classroom needs a lot of planning and support to do well.



  9. Excellent topic Harry. Employers struggle finding well prepared employees. In today's world the educational institutions need to make sure to prepare for the reality outside, not for an isolated clinical trial environment to put it very black and white.
    Just like it is a challenge for a software company to keep ahead of changing market conditions, it probably is a challenge for institutions to kep preparing students to meet market requirements, but there is no penalty if they don't. The software company would run out of business, teachers carry on producing ill prepared students and graduates may find it increasingly difficult to find a job if this is not changed....

  10. Desi,

    Thanks for your inputs. Of course, today’s complex and changing environment requires a new context of learning, which is the real world learning for global awareness, but not confined to classroom or school community. With cross-cultural understanding which cuts across diverse ethnic, knowledge and organizational cultures. Career and learning self-reliance, which is the ability to manage change, lifelong learning and career redefinition.

    All knowledge workers everywhere need the 21st Century skills to compete!

    Thank you.


  11. Its very obvious that all you wrote is in reality especially in our country. This also reminds me why i hesitated from going to school every monday eventhough i had no choice.
    In this century, i believe we deserve more forms of new technology to make school very attractive to some of us.
    Even in our universities which i can mention few where lecturers demand exactly what they give out at lectures, and this is to say 'dito dito' in my language which means word for word.This means absence from lectures gives you a lower chance of getting your 'A'. I think a situation where students are pressurised to study because of a teachers text or to refrain form lashes is uncall for. Students must be allowed to study in their own way with their own understanding. Believe you me but there are a lot of new technolgies used in lecturing like the PA systems in my university which are not put to use because the lecturer are not conversant with their use, then why wouldnt students say they are better off than their teachers beacause it happens that they are abreast with modern tecnology.
    Additionally, if students were allowe to do their own research from diverse sources without restricting them to ony books on shelves at the library, i believe it will improove on their knowledge with the use of computer to get diverse and more current information.

  12. right on point.i think this mirrors the posture of the generation of leaders to come to terms with ,modern trends.critically analysing the teaching and learning methods of arithmetic and science for instance gave rise to the phobia loads of people grew up with towards the was made to seem as though super humans could do well in subjects like reflects how shallow some people generally think and attempt to solve else will we explain it when of all the natural resources we have we still cant move our country forward.nice piece bro.albert

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  15. It is up to us to move foward but we need to educate our children now. Look at China as an example.


  16. JC,

    I like your positive determination.

    And like Tom Friedman said; “When I was growing up my parents used to say to me, ‘Tom finish your dinner – people in China and India are starving.’ My advice to [students now] is ‘Finish your homework – people in China and India are starving for your jobs.’”

    And that's the only way we can meet rising demands for creativity and innovation through high-performance, self-reliant and collaborative learning.



  17. Great piece! I love reading from you. I recently learnt how to edit a text in MS Word, and boy! I found it soo thrilling, that I learned something new from a friend. I am currently pursuing a graduate program at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana, and undertaking my thesis. It is so sad that I live in another region and school in another. And on vacation, I have to make trips to Cape Coast just so my supervisor would edit or change, or modify certain aspects of the work, which can conveniently be done over the internet. And I say to myself if only my supervisor could edit such a work easily.

    The educators themselves sad to say need more education on applying ict in their teaching skills. But we are so slow to change almost in every aspect of our lives here in Ghana.

    Back in 2007, whilst I was teaching during national service, I had to teach verneral diseases to my class, and there were few illustrations in the few books around. So I did my own research on the net, looking for graphical images of how these diseases looked like. I had quite a lot. All I did was but and paste, cut and paste, cut and paste (soo easy!) and did a slide show. Next task, how to get the students to view it. I had to burrow someone's laptop(since I didn't have one of my own then) and took it to class just to illustrate to them how the diseases they have studied looked like, in groups of five at a time. It was a wonderful learning experience for them and I felt some bit of triumph at having applied my "small" knowledge of ict in teaching. But I fear it is going to take quite a long time for teachers to adapt to ict especially those who are teaching in the public schools where they always claim resources are not enough. But I believe, eventually we are going to get there somehow.

  18. eiiiiiiiiiiii,
    sorry i have now had time to read this great masterpiece. its just so fantastic. good work done bro. so so proud of ya.
    keep on.
    anyway, i will never forget the morning mentals. did you say "few second" bro! that's were you got it wrong. it was "within a second" or better still, "less than a second". cruel! isn't it.

  19. That is a wonderful piece, you made me reminisce on my childhood in JHS, it was helpful tactics they used on us, but correctlying saying the formular gotta change to embrace the changing trends of the 21st century.That education based on Technology.

    Man you are too much, and very thoughtful. Abubakar Abdulai