Posted by: mhirdyounger | November 26, 2012

Education That Builds Innovative, Creative and High Integrity Leaders

The current rote education system is not preparing Ghanaians to problem solve, to take initiative or to think outside the box.

Obruni, ko ko, maachin. How are you? I am fine, and you? I’m fine, thank you. I cannot count the number of times that children have sung this out as I walk past them, sometimes individually and sometimes in groups. That’s because they were taught in school, through singing rhymes how to greet in English. They sit in their classes and sing these rhymes to memorize the words. Do they understand what the rhymes mean? 

Education is widely agreed to be a key component of rural development. In fact, studies have linked increased education in mothers to increased neo-natal survival. But I want to take this one step further, beyond just putting more kids into schools and having them complete primary school, secondary school or even tertiary school. I want to talk about the type of education that they are getting. Most teaching that I have seen in Ghana is rote style, a lecturer, teacher or professor standing at the front of the class and speaking to students. Students are then expected to memorize exactly what has been said and then dictate that memorized information as answers during exams. Year after year, this is how generations of Ghanaians are taught.

Let me give you an example that is actually outside of the school system, but one that illustrates this type of education. I once participated in a workshop on writing project proposals while working with a local NGO in West Africa. The facilitator at one point in the workshop defined a project for the participants. He then asked the participants to define a project, and, word for word, they repeated in unison the exact definition that had just been given.

This is the education system that is preparing the next generation of farmers, agribusiness owners and rural development policy makers.

People create change, they need to be equipped with the knowledge, skills and attitudes that make innovation, leadership and development possible. 

I believe it is people that create change, that drive innovation and are at the centre, core and foundation of development. But, the current rote education system is not preparing Ghanaians to problem solve, to take initiative or to think outside the box. Instead, it is training them to be obedient and repetitive, to do the same things that generations have done before them and to work within the systems that already exist rather than seeing and creating alternatives.

I believe that from nursery through primary, secondary and tertiary levels, education systems should utilize teaching methodologies that not only have students memorize dates and conjugations, but build the skills and attitudes of amazing leaders for this country. This means allowing space for creativity and innovation. Allowing and encouraging students to take the initiative to try something new or answer a question in a different way. Students should be active participants in their education, rather than just empty receptacles of information. This is the type of education that is going to make a difference in generations to come.

I’d like to give an example of a school in Ghana that is promoting this exact type of education. That school is called Ashesi and it is located in the Greater Accra Region. The school’s mission is to “educate a new generation of ethical, entrepreneurial leaders in Africa; to cultivate within our students the critical thinking skills, the concern for others and the courage it will take to transform a continent”. This is ambitious and it is inspiring. The curriculum emphasizes values and skills such as creativity, leadership, entrepreneurship and integrity. I have been surprised at the problem of cheating in Ghanaian schools. At Ashesi, they have developed a culture of trust and integrity which reflects the way they are investing in their students. Exams don’t have monitors, students monitor themselves. The school offers professional development in leadership skills.

Yes, this is just one school, but it is a model for training that is participatory, one that emphasizes the development of skills and attitudes that will create leaders rather than followers. These are the skills and attitudes that I would like to see primary and secondary schools across the country (and world!) adopting as well.

When we invest in people, we see dramatic and transformative change. When we invest in the education system that builds who those people become, we see systemic change. 


  1. Ah what an important and relevant post. It certainly eats me up to see this type of education system all across West Africa. Memorize, recite, done.
    The most valuable part of my education was learning critical thinking skills – pushing myself to think beyond the box!
    That Ashesi policy is really fascinating and well developed. One can only hope that these education systems will slowly change and adapt to be more relevant for the learners.

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