There are many things wrong with this country we call Ghana, mostly from deeply embedded systemic issues, issues that are so ingrained that one wouldn’t even know where to begin solving them.
Despite such a broken system which leads to suffering for the citizenry, most of who are unable to enjoy the opportunities available to the elite, they are very few social safety nets. A social safety net is a government program that aims to mitigate the problems of the less fortunate, such as unemployment or welfare benefits. Such a system is a dream for a country like Ghana, despite us having more resources per capita than many nations worldwide that actually have such systems.
And even where some programs exist which might quite possibly fall under this scope, they are so mismanaged that they might as well be useless.
In the past few years, both SADA (Savannah Accelerated Development Authority) and GYEEDA (Ghana Youth Employment and Entrepreneurial Development Agency) have devolved from promising social intervention programs to gold mines for corrupt officials. The Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) which the NPP government set up is another that seems to be running on life support.
So for a burdened citizenry like ours, the interventions do not exist, and even when they do, they aren’t worth their weight in copper. The National Service scheme is one such programs, which although ostensibly set up as a means to get everyone to serve their nation after school, is more of one of the social intervention programs that do nothing to alleviate the problems they are supposed to solve.
There is no other way to describe a one year program that achieves very little of its stated goals and more often than not, leaves it participants worse off than it found them. If the program ever served any useful function, its current iteration has eroded every single one of them.
One would think that the most basic function of the program, indeed one hears that all the time; is to get a graduate well equipped for the vagaries of the workforce. If indeed that is the function, Ghana’s national service scheme usually fails woefully at it.
This occurs for a variety of reasons, most apparent being the simple fact that most service appointees end up in a field unrelated to what they studied, or where they had hoped to find work after school.
Majority of national service graduates are dumped into one form of a teaching job or the other, meaning they end up miles away from wherever they were seeing their eventual career moving towards. So said graduate spends a year teaching in some school far away from home, and they complete the year good at writing study notes, and probably with some improved skills in negotiating with children – but scarcely better off in the important matter of learning anything about their future careers, or even landing a future job, for that matter. And this displacement from your chosen field is barely limited to teaching.
Which brings us to the other usually trotted out function of the scheme, something about landing the graduate a job. There is a gridlocked job market in the country, with thousands upon thousands of graduates churned out each year and so few jobs to share around. So graduates consider the scheme as a crucial means towards taking that important step into the job market, but most are likely to end up disappointed after their one year service.
By being taken out of their comfort areas, most are denied a chance of a future job at wherever they carried out their service from the get go – and that is for the minute percentage of workplaces which might have a job to offer. Most workplaces do not, the public sector has recently stopped employing altogether and the private has only so many jobs on offer. Even those who land in jobs they are skilled in and are trained for have a minute chance of landing continuous employment. The odds are stacked against the service person no matter how you slice it.
This is even before you get into other problems, such as the horrible pay, disjointed registration and posting systems which always drives up costs for the already disadvantaged personnel. There are better ways to serve one’s nation than a modern day incarnation of servitude.
A program must not exist for the sake of existing, but must accomplish its stated goals; otherwise it is just a waste of everyone’s time.
The truth is, the National Service Scheme has outlived its time—it’s serves no great purpose for graduates who spend a year in despondency, watching the clock as to when the hell hole of state employment they’ve been forced into will come to an end.
The United Kingdom and many other developed countries do not have such a national employment conscription scheme in place and this is because, it does not work—also, because one year is relatively insignificant on the employment skills’ landscape, especially when the person placed to acquire the needed skills feels like a prisoner being compelled to labour for free, in this case for peanuts in a field he or she carries no interest.
It’s a fact that young adults must equip themselves with certain skills so to be attractive to the job market, but the existing National Service Scheme is not the best way to “impact” these skills.
Instead of many Ghanaian students sailing through the many years of studies and graduating without any set of work field skills, with the National Service Scheme fixed at the end of their studies to serve as some sort of restitution, the country must adopt what really works—that’s from the age of 16, students must be encouraged to seek for part time jobs, on their own.
Skills are built, they are not forced down a person’s throat: the best practice in attaining any set of skills is to be opened and willing to learn on ones own volition.
Ghana’s educational system places too much emphasis on the “chewing and pouring” of dead men theories, which eventually have little influence on what’s done at the work place. We lack the vibrant and enviable work experience culture of the West, on the back of which students acquire immense skills the moment they are fit to work alongside their class room education.
If a person starts working every Saturday from the age of 16 till when he or she completes university at the age of let’s say 21—and having had the opportunity to pick his or her own job or change them to suit personal interest, can anyone plausibly argue that, another person who has not done this and is later forced by a National Service Scheme to labour for a year on completion of education would have valuable work place experience and skills, capable of competing with the former?
Beyond the fact that the current National Service Scheme does not really aid graduates with any valuable skills, it also fails to create work place conversancy for majority of the graduates who are thrown into unfamiliar and detestable fields, where they mostly have to leave at the end of their service.
We’ve in the past heard of students having been posted to work at the mortuary—even if these stories are untrue, we cannot ignore the fact that they highlight how detach the scheme is from reality.
Last year, one thousand National Service Personnel were posted to direct traffic in Ghana, a new module that was added by the National Service Secretariat to help ease road congestion in Kumasi and Accra. If a graduate does not find such a job to be painfully done for a whole year contemptuous of his many years of hard studies and dreams, what sort of valuable or transferable skills would a Biology or Accounting graduate obtain from this sort of torment?
Of course a few graduates by luck would fall into their dream or chosen fields and happily work for a year to build a portfolio of skills but majority of Ghanaian graduates are compelled annually by the state to waste a whole year literally worrying about their future under a kaput National Service Scheme.
There’s a plausible alternative to this one year of resplendent graduate time wasting in Ghana and that is, the state must abolish the existing communist sort of graduate conscription and introduce flexible educational time-tables and internship study gaps to enable students to seek and find work experience and related skills on their own.
The act of job seeking in itself is a skill, a key skill needed in Ghana’s highly competitive job market, something that is even missing from the National Service Scheme, which makes poor use of indiscriminate posting.
This article was written by Chris-Vincent Agyapong Febiri and Godwin Nii-Armah Okine