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PERSONALITY PROFILE. CoEWJ Interview with Dr. Yaw Osei Adutwum, Deputy Minister for Education. MP, Bosomtwe Constituency.

CoEWJ: Good morning Dr., welcome to the Colleges of Education Weekly Journal Personality Profile interaction.

Dr. ADUTWUM: Good morning and thank you for the opportunity.

CoEWJ: Briefly, kindly tell us about your life growing up as young Yaw.

Dr. ADUTWUM: I actually grew up between two places, that is in the Ashanti and Western Regions. In Ashanti, I grew up at Jachie in the Bosomtwe district and also on my father’s cocoa farm at Antobam in the Wassa Amenfi district of the Western Region. I was usually switching between the two places. We schooled at Jachie and visited the cocoa farm at Antobam during the school holidays.

CoEWJ: What can you tell us about your parents and your siblings? Were your parents strict on you a s a child?

Dr. ADUTWUM: I had 7 other siblings and I grew up with my parents. Usually during the holidays, I was with my father on the cocoa farm. My father was the most liberal uneducated father you can ever find. My father was very progressive and was not the one that would just punish you but rather talk to you. He would give you a wink and you know you have to stop whatever you were doing. As a kid, I remember he once told me my Headteacher said I was very good and I would go to the last school, meaning the University. So I was aspiring to go to the last school (University) but I did not know what I was going to do but because my Dad told me that, it was my inspiration. At that time it was only a few people who were going to the University but my father made me believe I could also make it.

CoEWJ: Tell us about your school days, from the basic school to the tertiary level.

Dr. ADUTWUM: I attended Jachie Anglican primary school and later to the Jachie Anglican Middle school. In form three at the Middle School, I took the common entrance exam and proceeded to Jachie Secondary School for my O’ Level. I later moved to Kumasi High School for my A’ level.

After the A’ Level, I proceeded to the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology(KNUST) where I studied Land Economy for my Bachelor’s degree which I completed in 1990. After migrating to the United States I completed a Post Graduate Diploma in Education Program at Chapman university in California. I also did my Masters in Education Management degree at University of La Verne in California and thereafter I earned a PhD degree in Education Policy and Administration from the University of Southern California.

CoEWJ: At what stage did you develop the interest for education?

Dr. ADUTWUM: After sixth form, we did National Service and during that time I taught Business Management at Jachie-Pramso Senior Secondary School. I really liked the experience. I felt it was a way to connect with the next generation. That gave me some interest in teaching. Of course doing Land Economy at the University meant I had abandoned teaching. Eventually, when I went to the United States I rediscovered my passion for education and I became a Substitute Teacher. During this time, I was in a very challenging school environment with serious behavior problems on the part of the students. But at the end of the first four months, one of the classes I handled gave me a great experience. When they were progressing to the next class, a group of students came to me and thanked me for being patient with them in spite of the various behavioural challenges I encountered. To me, it was the greatest award I ever received. All these made me realize that my calling was teaching and that I should pursue it.

CoEWJ: Any fond memories of your days in school?

Dr. ADUTWUM: During my O’ Level, I was the School Prefect and it really helped me learn how to lead. The Headmaster once told me that I was going to be the one always announcing good news to the students, I felt so happy about that. Unfortunately for me, I never knew that whenever there was bad news, I was still going to be the one to inform the student body. So at a time when the students were about rioting because they did not want to pay additional fees that was charged, the Headmaster called me and asked if I wanted to be the first one to go and pay. I left his office and right in front of the students who were seriously agitating, I went straight to the Bursar’s office to pay my fees and came out to show them my receipt. The rest gradually followed and that was some nice experience for me.

CoEWJ: Were you involved in any co-curricular activities in school?

Dr. ADUTWUM: I was only a member of the debating team of the school.

CoEWJ: As a way of advice, were you involved in any relationship with the opposite sex back in school?

Dr. ADUTWUM: No, I was not. At a point I attended a Boys school so I was not really enthused about that.

CoEWJ: What would you say is your greatest accomplishment so far?

Dr. ADUTWUM: That would be opening schools in the United States as a black immigrant. Setting up a school from scratch as a black man in America and getting through all the systems and challenges to achieve such a feat makes me feel really great.

CoEWJ: Any regrets in how life has unfolded for you?

Dr. ADUTWUM: No, I do not have any regrets whatsoever. Even though I did not have my aspirations tied to a specific profession when I was growing up, I find my myself in education which I believe is the most important field of endeavor.

CoEWJ: Why do you think people like your way of communication so much on issues of education?

Dr. ADUTWUM: I honestly do not know. You may have to ask them. What I know is that you need to have an excellent listening skill. And listening is more than hearing. It is hearing people out, putting yourself in their shoes, digesting the information properly and then you respond. So, perhaps it is because I have good listening skill and I do not take things out of context. I try to understand where the person is coming from before responding to them.

CoEWJ: Tell us about the journey to setting up a school in California – USA. What motivated that dream?

Dr. ADUTWUM: The American education system was suffering, especially during the time when they saw that Russia was overtaking them in the scientific area. There was a publication that came out titled “A Nation at Risk “. When this came out, it really shook Americans to the core. They realized that something needed to be done in their public education sector. They believed that if they did not reform the public education system, other countries would overtake them especially Russia. They began to figure out what to do. One thing I love about Americans is that when they want to do something they are super determined to get it done by putting everything on the table. At a point, they wanted individuals with passion to set up their own schools and the government will pay for the students to attend. So the school is funded by a private individual like myself but for any student who wants to attend that school, the government took care of it. These types of schools were called Charter Schools. This innovation attracted me to set up my school. I had the flexibility to set up, design the vision and mission, goals of the school and then going through a rigorous process of getting approval from the government or the local authorities and with that I got my school running. It was very exciting.

The requirements were numerous, for instance, every student that came to my school had to take a course in what we call elective Mathematics, it was compulsory. Consequently, I also had to set up an intervention program. So every Saturday, the children come to school so that we could give them more tuition. These students spend about 7 years with us and therefore, by the time they graduate, they are fully equipped. Every student had to take a class in Biology, Chemistry and Physics unlike here in Ghana where some did the Arts and others the Sciences. So it was a very rigorous academic program which also qualified every student to attend any top notch University in the country.

My school became one of the few in California where about 85 percent of our High School graduates were able to go and do a four-year University programme. This was because we supported our students. We had a long school day starting from 8:00am to 3:45pm. Some parents brought their kids to the school because they felt that an African was running the school, there would be more discipline and a good academic environment would be established. We also did a career pathway program where students had the opportunity to explore their preferred career path at the high school Once you did that, you begin to take extra courses in those fields to help you explore your dream career. When I was about to live, we had a number of people including China who were looking to replicate what we were doing in their country.

CoEWJ: Do you have a similar school here in Ghana and are there plans to set up one?

Dr. ADUTWUM: No, we do not as of yet. I am actually supporting some private schools to adopt the style and also bring up ideas on how things were done in the United States and help implement some in Ghana.

CoEWJ: What drove you to the Ghanaian political scene, after all these accomplishments in the States?

Dr. ADUTWUM: I had always thought that politics was going to be my last career. I felt it all the time that in the later stages of my career I was going to be in politics. But when I was in the United States, my goal was that I wanted to become a Member of Congress. My goal was to naturalize and get involved in the US politics and hopefully get elected to Congress. Things changed for me when the current President of Ghana, H. E. Nana Akufo-Addo, then a presidential candidate visited my school in America. When I was introduced at an event hosted in his honour in one of my schools, he did not believe I was the founder of the school. He kept asking how I was able to do it. I responded by saying “can I talk to you about it later in private”. Because I did not want them to feel like I was bragging, I guess my Ghanaian nature kicked in. He insisted that I responded if I did not mind. After explaining how I went about developing the schools he asked if I would be willing to consider coming back to Ghana to help him change the education system.

Thereafter I decided to consult my mentor who was originally from Trinidad but had settled in the US and had been a Congressman. One day I went out with him for lunch and I asked him whether he would advise that I return to Ghana. He advised that I return to Ghana by saying, “I think America can do without you but maybe your country cannot do without you”.

Once he said that, I felt that was it. I came home and discussed with my wife and she was surprised that I would consider returning to Ghana. Because at the moment, we were living more than what you would call the “American dream”. I therefore decided that I would run for parliament in my constituency when I return. I won the parliamentary seat and true to his word, the President made me a Deputy Minister for Education.

CoEWJ: What are you most proud of in your role as the Deputy Minister for Education?

Dr. ADUTWUM: I think I am proud of the fact that I have had a wonderful opportunity working for a president who is fully determined to transform our nation through education. I did not know that I would get the support that I have received from him so far.

CoEWJ: What is the motivating factor for government’s continuous payment of the trainee teachers allowance? Is it meant to score political points?

Dr. ADUTWUM: It is meant to underscore the critical importance of teachers in education transformation. More so, when the President approved that the training of teachers in Colleges of Education should rather be four years (B.Ed.) which meant that it will cost the government about 25% more in the payment of teacher trainee allowances. If this is a government that wanted to cut corners and did believe in education it wouldn’t have extended the number of years for training teachers at the Colleges.

CoEWJ: What special package does government have for teacher education going into election 2020?

Dr. ADUTWUM: There is the need to strengthen what we are already doing. Nothing is better than a well equipped teacher who is willing to work. We are doing this through the improvement of pre-service training as well as in-service professional development. 

CoEWJ: What are your views on the new curriculum and the new reforms currently taking place in the Colleges of Education?

Dr. ADUTWUM: The Colleges of Education have been reformed so that they can support the school system at the basic level of our educational setup. Over the years, teachers have seen themselves as what we called sage on stage. Whatever the teacher says, you write it down, memorize it and during exams give it back to the teacher. If you are able to do that, you are the best student. So the classroom is teacher centered. Then comes the 21st century where in our teaching and learning we begin to realize that kind of learning known as rote learning is not the type that will ensure that we have students who are creative, critical thinkers, collaborators and effective communicators. What we basically call the four C’s are individuals who will truly transform our world. You cannot get the four C’s if the modus operandi is getting them to memorize for you.

So our curriculum had to be changed to meet the 21st century needs in Ghana by ensuring that we have students who are well equipped and people that industries will be coming after and recruiting whiles they are in the University because they are critical thinkers. When you look at the curriculum reforms at whichever level, you realize that it is all about getting critical thinkers and that classroom is learner centered. Creating an environment where students question teachers (of course in a respectful way) on what they teach and also collaborate with their peers to achieve the highest level of learning which is known as creation.

CoEWJ: What is your take on the state of Education in Ghana? What are we doing right and what are we doing wrong and what is the way forward?

Dr. ADUTWUM: The thing is, we are for the first time confronting the deficiencies of the system. If you are transforming education, you have to look at access, quality and the relevance of the education system. If all these is done properly then the education sector can now transform the socioeconomic fortunes of the country. Countless research so far has shown that the greatest sector that has a more profound impact on the economic sustainability of a nation is education. It also shows that in developing countries, education and governance is enhanced as a result of quality education. Because the quality of education affects the kind of people in governance of a nation. Therefore, our purpose is to think of how to create an educational system that is fit for purpose and robust enough. We need to tap the talents of all irrespective of their socio-economic status. The Brookings Institution, a research group in the United States is telling us that, if we the developing countries try to use the linear approach (beginning from access – quality – relevance) used by the developed countries, it will take 126 years to catch up with the developed countries in the sphere of education. They therefore advise that developing countries use the leap frogging strategy instead. They made reference to Ghana’s double-track system where we have been able to bring in over 400,000 students in a span of three years, a situation where if we had been waiting for buildings / infrastructure, we would have taken 20 years to achieve. That is a leap frogging strategy. Now we have to look at some of the leap frogging strategies that we can adopt in other areas. For example, if we want to improve Science education but we do not have Science laboratories we need to introduce virtual labs where you can use simulation.

If we can do all these things concurrently, then our education system will catch up with the rest of the world and become like countries such as Vietnam who are now competing with even some European nations in education.

CoEWJ: This issue has been politicized right after its inception; What is your take on the implementation of the teacher licensing and National Service for Newly Trained Teachers?

Dr. ADUTWUM: The point of the matter is that when licensing was introduced  in other places around the world it had dual purpose. Beyond helping to assess the readiness of trainees to teach it also helped governments to determine how best the various Colleges were preparing teachers. The teacher licensing in Ghana is to help professionalize teaching standards for all of them to follow. That is where the licensing comes in to give you a real assurance that people coming from these institutions have met the basic tenets of teacher education and are going to do well in the classroom.

CoEWJ: What is your view on the current crop of student leaders, do you think they are doing well?

Dr. ADUTWUM:  You know everybody looks back and think they were better so I won’t be the one to judge. The same was said about us, that there was no hope, our generation had lost hope and that during their time, life was good. I won’t judge them negatively but I think they are doing the best that they can. It is in the midst of mistakes that you become better so I dove my hats to them.

CoEWJ: The various teacher unions have said a lot about the Education Bill currently before parliament as key stakeholders. Where have we gotten to with regard to the Bill?

Dr. ADUTWUM: We have a listening President, issues that people brought up made him say, hey, hold on with these portion and that portion. That stage has been frozen but we have a listening President who wants further consultation to be done before we move on.

CoEWJ: Where do you see yourself in the next decade?

Dr. ADUTWUM:  Growing up, I never knew where I would be by now. All that I know is that I am doing my best for the President who appointed me and for the great nation Ghana. The rest is in the hands of God.

CoEWJ: Tell us about the Kenya experience. Your visit to Kenya recently was all over on social media.

Dr. ADUTWUM: It was very interesting. Out of the blue, I got an invitation from Kenya to come and speak as a keynote speaker. I asked myself why would Kenyans invite me?

But when I got to there, eventually, it turned out that they were looking for a keynote speaker and one of their staff mentioned my name. On the day of the big event, thousands of people were gathered in the auditorium. I was the first person to speak.  One particular thing that I think caught the attention of many was when I told them that I got to their airport and saw a number of airplanes I was excited to see that the planes has the inscription, “Kenya Airways – The Pride of Africa”. I mentioned that in ten years when I return to Kenya I wanted to see Kenyan engineers assembling those planes in Kenya as a result of the educational reform and that is when I can say I am really more proud of them.

CoEWJ: What do you do to relax outside the office?

Dr. ADUTWUM: I listen to gospel music and I also listen to highlife songs. Beyond that I love to write and read. I am currently reading “From Third World to First World: The Singapore Story: 1965 – 2000” by Lee Kuan Yew. My favorite author is Malcolm Gladwell.  His books fascinate me.

CoEWJ: What food do you enjoy most?

Dr. ADUTWUM: I am not a food guy. I eat anything that I come across. An Ashanti man who does not enjoy fufu. Can you imagine?

CoEWJ: Who is your role model?

Dr. ADUTWUM: I really do not have any. I admire different people based on certain things that I have picked from them. For instance, Martin Luther King Jr for being hopeful in a time of crisis and pessimism, Nelson Mandela for his forgiving spirit, Kwame Nkrumah for stepping into the space and taking advantage of what he perceived to be the vacuum and Ghana’s Big Six for their determination to transform the country. I have many other mentors but the greatest of all is my father; who though uneducated .painted a picture of a world that he had not experienced to me and made me believe that my future in what he called “the Whiteman’s world” will be bright and secure. He had a way of making me believe that I was going to be the best wherever I found myself and I believed him.

CoEWJ: What would you say the Church of Pentecost has impacted into you?

Dr. ADUTWUM: When it comes to the Church of Pentecost, I think it was generally the fact that I was part of it at a critical time when I was an immigrant in USA. That time, we had a rare opportunity of the Church playing host to numerous people who were new immigrants in the United States.

CoEWJ: Your final words to all stakeholders in teacher education.

Dr. ADUTWUM: Distinguish yourself and the profession will reward you greatly. Be the best in your chosen field and you would not regret.

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