Meet Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh, the Medical Doctor Who Made History As Ghana’s Education Minister
In January 2017 when the newly sworn-in President of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, named his first set of ministers, there were surprise elements in the list but there was one particular person that many wondered why he was placed at a particular ministry.
Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh was that person who many, hitherto his ministerial appointment, wondered why an accomplished Medical Doctor many tipped right for the Ministry of Health was rather put in charge of Ministry of Education.
Today, the President of the Republic is being hailed in vindication, for making that important choice of Dr. Prempeh as the man to handle and monumentally transform the country’s education sector in his first term; a job the medic did to perfection.
The Manhyia South Member of Parliament, popularly called ‘Napo’ has made history as he left a Golden Legacy at the education sector through hard work and commitment to duty especially so, in the prosecution of his government’s flagship project of Free Senior High School.
Starting his work on the right footage of gathering a team of reliable and experienced Directors as well as the resolved workforce that he consistently dragged along, Napo ensured that the grounds were properly prepared for the smooth take-off of His Excellency President Nana Addo-Dankwa Akufo-Addo’s brainchild Free SHS programme.
In September 2017, the most talked-about Free SHS took off with Dr. Prempeh in its driving-seat, to ensure its success; which means that he had to brace himself up to face anticipated challenges than could come with the programme which was first of its kind in the country.
In it, every Ghanaian child placed into a public second cycle institution by the Computerized School Selection and Placement System (CSSPS) during the 2017 school placement season was eligible to enjoy Free SHS.
The government absorbed all fees as approved by the Ghana Education Service (GES) Council for 353, 053 students made up of 113, 622 Day students and 239, 431 Boarding Students.
The first batch of students under the programme have thus graduated; and currently, a total Free SHS enrolment stands at 1,199,750 students with government spending over GH¢ 2.2 billion, since the launch of the programme.
Politics Of Free SHS
The flagship programme of the government which was virtually accepted by all Ghanaians became a huge ‘political animal’ and that propelled Dr. Prempeh and his team to devise strategies to deal effectively with teething problems that reared their ugly heads following the introduction of the Free SHS.
The bastardization of the programme from certain quarters would not deter Dr. Prempeh, but rather buoyed him on as he dealt with various category of problems, one after the other.
The Double-Track System under which students went to school in batches was settled on, to make sure that no student was left behind and that made the whole programme more effective, although it was criticised in certain quarters.
Passionate about the success of the Free SHS, Dr. Prempeh and the GES Council came out with well-thought-out plans, including the cancellation of Parents-Teachers Association (PTA) dues, as it was considered, the means of preventing certain students from enjoying the Free SHS.
The West African Examinations Council (WAEC)-organized West Africa Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) of the pioneer beneficiaries of the Free SHS released in 2020, revealed the students performed far better under the flagship programme of the government as compared to previous years’ results.
In English and Mathematics, for instance, the last three years saw a steady rise, each year, in the percentage of students obtaining A1-C6. In English, the figure rose from 46.8% in 2018 to 49.1% in 2019 and to 57.3% in 202, whilst Mathematics saw a rise from 38.2% in 2018 t0 64.2% in 2019 and to 65.7% in 2020.
Significantly, 2020 was the only year in the last six years that more than 50% of candidates have scored between A1 and C6 in each of the four core subjects.
Dr Prempeh was deeply involved in motivating the teachers’ front and formed a special relationship with heads of public SHSs to enable the education ministry to appreciate problems that schools were going through.
No wonder countries, including Kenya, had to travel to Ghana to learn how the Free SHS was moving on smoothly, under the sterling leadership of Dr. Opoku Prempeh.
Stable Labour Front
The immediate past Minister of Education was the only minister in recent times to have steered affairs without workers in the education sector embarking on strikes.
It was not any kind of magic that did the trick, though; but the ability of the minister to consult, collaborate and engage with various unions within the education sector to know their problems and also relay to the unions what government can and cannot do at various times.
It was, therefore, not surprising that the University Teachers Association of Ghana (UTAG) found it important to honour Dr. Prempeh at its congress held at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi, in 2019.
The honour was in recognition of the then minister’s hard work and his ways of improving standards of education at the pre-tertiary and higher education levels. At the congress, the minister was praised for establishing a good working relationship with the UTAG.
Other unions were every time ready to jaw-jaw with the minister, who was ready to listen to them and fashion out ways to solve various problems that the workers of the education sector face.
Dr. Prempeh was able to diffuse politics associated with various teacher unions, as he made them aware that though politics was good, it was a terrible thing when it was having far-reaching ramifications on the country’s education.
Dr. Prempeh And Education In COVID-19 Era
Just like other countries, Ghana was also hit by the dreaded bug, COVID-19 and the education sector was not spared.
The minister being a Medical Doctor, played a crucial role in advising the government in taking critical decision bordering on the education sector in the COVID-19 era; and that greatly helped various education institutions from having incidences of the virus.
When the government closed down schools, it was through the instrumentality of the then minister Prempeh that virtual means of learning was designed and developed for all levels of the educational ladder.
It was through the solid and pragmatic measures that were adopted and rolled out that helped the majority of tertiary students to complete their studies and complete schools.
At the lower levels, the Ministry of Education through the GES developed a number of strategies toward tutorials on radio, television and other social media platforms to help students and pupils who were at home, to leverage the period of closure of schools due to COVID-19.
The strategies and modalities adopted by the education ministry, therefore, helped the finalists at the JHS and SHS levels as well as keeping others in the learning mood.
Teachers also benefitted from the closure of schools in no small way, as most of them were compelled to be abreast with how to teach, using virtual means through information technology.
Under Dr Prempeh, as the Minister of Education, Colleges of Education now run 4-Year Bachelor of Education programmes. Teacher trainees will now graduate with Bachelor’s degrees, and will not need to take study leave to go back to acquire the degree.
The national audit of skills has been completed by the Council for Technical and Vocational Education Training (COTVET).
E-Learning portal developed (www.icampusgh.com) and includes all SHS 1-3 core subjects. The website is live.
Teacher recruitment since 2017 is now done at regional levels: Documentation done at District and Regional levels.
Restore Teacher Allowances:
Restored allowances were also paid to Arabic/Islamic instructors under the national volunteer service programme.
Restore book and research allowances for lecturers were catered for. They have not only been restored, but they have also been increased by 200%.
The regime also introduced History of Ghana as a subject for primary schools in the Curriculum which has been approved by Cabinet. Over 180 Master Trainers, 3,900 District level Trainers, and 152,000 teachers have been trained for this purpose.
In other achievements it Integrates school sports as part of school activities: Free PE kits are being provided to students under the Free SHS programme.
It also abolished the payment of utility bills by students; and the Tertiary Education Policy also abolished the payment of utility bills in tertiary Institutions.
The era also redefined basic education from Kindergarten to include SHS, covering vocational, agricultural and technical schools.
The current enrolment stands at 1,199,750 students from 2017 to 2019. This is not limited to arts, business, and science subjects: it also covers Technical, Vocational and Education Training (TVET), in essence, the initiative is “Free SHS and TVET ” 52.1% of all these students are male and 47.9% female.
The government also absorbed BECE examination fees in 2018: WASSCE examination fees absorbed in 2020.
The student loan amount has been increased by 50% and ranges between GHc1, 500 and GHc3, 000.
Funding was secured for two foundries, and sod has been cut for the commencement of a machine tool centre to be constructed in Kumasi.
The National Inspectorate Board has been operationalised, staffed, and provided with infrastructural and technical supports to enable it carry out its mandate. With these resources, the National Inspectorate Board has been able to digitise its data collection system, built a secure and comprehensive database for schools’ inspection and trained a team of inspectors.
Manuals were prepared for basic schools and 80% of SHSs have coordinators. Same is planned for all school.
Faith-Based Organisations (FBOs) were also engaged and MoU drafted and was under review.
Construction of 163 Kindergartens awarded out of which 77 have been completed to date.
Previously, teachers who upgraded their qualifications and skills were not recognised and promoted on time; a divorce from hitherto several years of bureaucratic delays.
Due to new reforms, now:
• The waiting period before the promotion of teachers who upgrade their qualifications and skills is now halved to 2 years. Waiting period for all others is 4 Years.
• For the first time in history, teachers are being paid a professional teachers allowance.
- TVET Qualification Framework developed.
- 80 institutions accredited to run Competency-Based Training (CBT) programmes.
- Engaging Technical Universities to run CBTs.
- To support TVET education, we are building 32 state-of-the-art TVET centres, and
- A Basic STEM (B-STEM) programme to provide science labs in all basic schools to enhance the teaching of STEM subjects from an early age has been rolled out.
ICT is now compulsory in all Teacher Training Colleges.
- To date 313,250 basic school students have been introduced to basic coding
- Coding introduced at 25 SHSs and equipment supplies in progress
- A US$1.5B loan, of which US$500M has been disbursed, has been secured on the back of GETFund to develop educational infrastructure. Massive infrastructure development across educational institutions currently ongoing
- Completion of the construction and commissioning of Phase I of the Somanya campus of the University of Environment and Sustainable Development (UESD). Funding for Phase II of the campus has been secure and work commenced.
An agreement has been reached between UNOPS and the Government to construct 100,000 housing units for teachers and other education professionals.
Technology has been incorporated in the curriculum and technology firms have been engaged to assist in delivery. iBox education portal installed in 125 Senior High Schools.
Contract awarded to provide free Wi-Fi connectivity to all 722 SHSs, 46 Colleges of Education (CoEs), 16 Regional Offices, and 260 District Education Offices.
Research & Innovation Fund Bill has been gazetted.
Inclusive Education Policy adopted, and teacher training curricula covers inclusive education.
22 Bilingual Schools established, 6 Colleges of Education equipped with French Labs & Resource Centres, 54 SHSs equipped with French Language Resource Centres, and primary 4-6 French language curriculums developed.
Curriculum approved and rolled out. Discussions are ongoing for the distribution of tablets to JHS and SHS students.
Under an ongoing programme, expanded the network of libraries from 61 to 72 as at March 2020, and have renovated over 50% of the existing libraries. A digital platform for accessing library content has been activated.
The three-month pay policy for newly-recruited teachers has been abolished, and under Dr. Prempeh all legacy arrears were cleared.
The period of staying on a grade before consideration for promotion for teachers who upgrade their qualifications and skills is now halved to two years.
Construction of 20 Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) centres across the country are ongoing.
Capitation grant was by 122% from GH¢4.5 per pupil to GH¢10 per pupil for Primary Schools.
Government has procured 1,190 vehicles to Senior High Schools made up of 350 buses and 840 pickups.
Under this project:
- 2.3 million children in 260 Districts will benefit
- 70,000+ out of school children targeted to be brought back on track
- 76,000 teachers’ capacity training in new curriculum and teaching methods
- School management committees to be trained in effective school management
- School heads trained in instructional leadership and accountability
- Circuit Supervisors will become School Improvement Officers, and
- 10,000 schools have been selected for the first phase
Dr. Prempeh’s hard work, dedication and commitment towards the sector he handled from 2017 to 2021 were recognized on several platforms as he was honoured and awarded accordingly.
For two years running, he was adjudged the best minister by his own government, through monitoring and evaluation scheme put together by the Ministry of Monitoring and Evaluation headed by Dr. Anthony Akoto Osei.
The private sector also on numerous occasions honoured the immediate-past Minister of Education for improving the education sector and inspiring the youth.
The last two of such awards to Dr Prempeh were given to him by the Young Professionals and Youth Coalition (YPYC) and T.W.A.R.M Business Leadership awards.
The honest truth is Dr. Prempreh would not be the last person to be the Minister of Education, but he would be remembered as someone without any background as an educationist who made history at the Ministry of Education with how he helped in growing Ghana’s education sector.