The genial, unflappable Yaw Osei Adutwum is Kwaku Sakyi-Addo’s special guest in conversation tonight on Asaase Radio’s flagship discussion show, Sunday Night.
As Deputy Minister with special responsibility for pre-tertiary education, Dr Adutwum is the public servant with chief responsibility for implementing the Akufo-Addo government’s Free Senior High School policy. His refreshing candour about the difficulties which accompanied introduction of the policy in 2017 has made him a trusted voice on educational reform.
The policy itself remains a topic of starkly polarised debate. The National Democratic Congress has abandoned total opposition to the principles behind the programme yet still hints that an NDC government would overhaul the policy.
But just who is the man behind the policy? Kwaku Sakyi-Addo will probe Dr Adutwum in an interview broadcast and streamed lived from the Asaase Radio studios in Cantonments, Accra, starting at 7pm.
Teacher and policymaker
Yaw Adutwum grew up in Ghana and obtained a Bachelor’s degree in land economy (business administration with a major in real estate) from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST).
He then emigrated to the United States, where he earned a Master’s degree in education management from the University of La Verne and a PhD in educational policy, planning and administration from the University of Southern California.
Dr Adutwum has deep first-hand experience of a teacher’s life, having worked for ten years as a teacher of mathematics and information technology at the Manual Arts High School, a model school in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
He then founded the International Studies Academy in downtown San Francisco, a small learning community which created the space for students to thrive socially and academically. He also served as lead maths teacher for the Neighbourhood Academic Initiative (NAI), a joint project of the University of Southern California and Manual Arts High.
Most of the students he taught on the NAI proceeded to higher education in sought-after institutions such as the University of California Berkeley, University of California Los Angeles, University of Southern California, Cornell, Stanford and Yale. Adutwum’s experience with the programme strengthened his belief that high standards in a structured learning environment could produce equally high levels of student achievement.
While in the United States, Dr Adutwum also worked on developing a national model for career and technical education at high school and university level. This project was co-ordinated by the University of Oregon’s New Designs for Learning centre.
In 2004 he established the project for which he became best known as an innovator in education in the US – the New Designs Charter School. There are now three of these schools, situated in southern Los Angeles. They have a combined roll of roughly 1,300 students, spread across grades 6-12. Large numbers of the students are black or from other racial minorities.
The New Designs Charter Schools base themselves on what they describe as a “novel education model” and focus on preparing students for entry to college. The rigorous training they offer aims to help students exceed the California state requirements for acceptance on four-year university courses.
The programme succeeds consistently: over 80% of New Designs High School graduates meet or exceed the requirements for California.
Future of SHS
It seems the perfect preparation for success with reforming education systems at secondary level.
But what lies in stock for Free SHS as the first cohort of students to benefit from the policy sit their West African Senior School Certificate Examinations in the fraught atmosphere of a global health crisis?
Has Free SHS been an experiment too far? And what will be the indicators of its wisdom or otherwise?
* Join Kwaku Sakyi-Addo for “Sunday Night” on Asaase Radio (99.5 Mhz) at 7pm tonight, Sunday 2 August. Also streamed live on Facebook.
* Asaase Radio 99.5 – tune in or log on to broadcasts online.
UPDATE: This article was corrected on Monday 3 August (4am). An earlier version wrongly said that the NPP’s Free SHS policy was introduced in 2018, and misstated the success rate for New Designs Charter Schools.