Abolishing Teacher’s Licensure Exams:  How Occupational License is Becoming a Barrier to Poverty Reduction in Ghana

The need to improve, protect the public against incompetent and dishonest practitioners, and improve the quality for persons receiving the service justifies the emergence of occupational licenses. In Ghana, most professions require permission to enter or license, including teaching which its license commenced in 2018. This article would discuss how occupational license is becoming a barrier to poverty reduction and on why teacher’s licensure should be abolished.

According to Kleiner M. Morris, occupational licensing is defined as a process where entry into an occupation requires the permission of the government, and the state requires some demonstration of a minimum degree of competency. 

The subject of occupational license has a long history in economics as Adam Smith in his book, ‘Wealth of Nation’, points out the fact the lengthening of apprenticeship programs and limiting the number of apprentices per master, thus ensuring higher earnings for persons in these occupations. 

Occupational licensing creates a regulatory barrier to entry into licensed occupations or professions and this helps to protect the public interest by keeping incompetent and unscrupulous people from working with the public. Licensing protects the function of an occupation, such that it is illegal for any unlicensed individual to work as, or do any task conducted by, a licensed worker.

Occupational license affects a number of occupations in Ghana including Lawyers, Pharmacists, Nurses, Doctors, Architects, Accountants, and more recently Teachers. Most skeptics have argued that the justification for occupational license includes an increase in quality, and a greater level of training, however, in reality, improved quality is very thin and non-existent. 

In our case, the goal of achieving quality teachers and ensuring better teachers for students can be achieved through certification rather than an occupational license. Improving the quality of lecturers, learning facilities and infrastructure in colleges of education would ensure the certification of quality teachers in Ghana. Therefore, undergoing quality training/education as a prospective teacher must be well-equipped and reduce the tendency of barriers to poverty reduction.

The tendency of abuse by occupational license regulatory authorities like the National Teaching Council may also exist. Regulations can also be motivated by rent-seeking, meaning that it serves the interests of those in the occupation or the government. The process of acquiring an occupational license in Ghana is fraught with a myriad of challenges. General pertinent among them are uncoordinated or disjointed inspection by agencies, the absence of an electronic platform to aid the process of application, inadequate human resources at the respective agencies to facilitate efficient service delivery, lack of awareness by applicants on the processes and procedures for application, and inadequate financial resources to facilitate service delivery – a situation compounded by the lack of retention of user fees, as such fees are paid into the Consolidated Fund. 

In 1993, Dr. Mary Ruwart noted how licensing limited the number of taxi drivers and home child-care providers while increasing the prices charged by those still legally permitted to create wealth in those professions in the USA. The Chief Justice (CJ) of Ghana, Sophia Akuffo, openly declared amidst applause that she will not allow the ‘mass production’ of lawyers. During her times as CJ, we witness the mass failure of LLB candidates in 2019 where out of 1820, only 128 passed to get admission to the Ghana School of Law. Prof. Stephen Kwaku Asare (Kwaku Azar) described this unfortunate incident of mass failure as ‘statistically anomalous, economically imprudent, legally problematic, ethically questionable and is proof beyond reasonable doubt that we have a classic case of regulatory failure’.

In addition, a media report in Ghana mentioned Dr Richard Abrahamani Seidu, a neurosurgeon trained in China, who had settled to become a taxi driver just because he could not acquire license to practice in Ghana. Dr. Seidu was embattling license application since 2015 from the Medical and Dental Council. This real-life situation among others in access to occupational license may have the tendency of reduce income level of people hence creating poverty.

Perhaps, we are ignoring the regulatory power and the tendency to abuse same power by individuals who will be mandated to issue regulatory license for occupations. In the case of our teachers, National Teaching Council organizes licensure exams which required teachers, who have graduated from colleges of education and universities pay fees to register for the exams and pass same before practicing their teaching profession. 

Therefore, the call by John Dramani Mahama, leader of the opposition National Democratic Congress, to cancel the teacher’s licensure exams is one that would remove barriers and hinderances preventing prospective teachers from practicing their profession after years of education. This is also critical to reducing poverty through removing barriers including abuse of power, corruption and administrative bottlenecks.

We all agree to the fact that we need quality teachers. However, instituting a license does not guarantee quality teachers. The art of teaching is a comprehensive endeavor and a single sit-down exam falls short of ways to find quality teachers. How do you ensure the punctuality of teachers, prevent teacher absenteeism, quality of teaching methods, and presentation skills of teaching among others? Therefore, having a holistic system that would be a check on teachers, ensure continuous monitoring, and overall, maintain and improve the quality of teachers in Ghana is preferable to the licensure exams. The research work of Samuel Baah-Doudu which surveyed about two thousand seven hundred and forty-two (2742) prospective teachers did not provide sufficient information to determine the extent to which the licensing exam enhances prospective teachers’ teaching skills and efficacy.

In conclusion, teachers must support what would allow greater freedom for their profession, and the cancelation of licensure examinations is a significant impediment to teachers’ freedom and right to work. It is critical to stress that the poor father, who has struggled to put his children through teacher training, would not be able to afford unofficial costs to acquire a license or have any connections.

Article by 

Nathaniel Dwamena

He is a free-market policy analyst and president of the YAFO Institute. He engages in activities that promote civil liberty and economic freedom in Ghana. He has a background in law, geography, and economics.

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