(After 1 year of mandatory national service in my country (Ghana))

In Ghana, it is mandatory for a student who graduates from a public university to serve in a Ghanaian public institution for 1 year without salary (except for a monthly allowance of 200 Ghana cedis i.e. about 140 $US ). It is called National Service and is run by the National Service Scheme (NSS). In our national statutes, this is a pre-requisite for future employment. In some countries, this involves, mandatory military service; for now, not in Ghana; maybe in the near future.   So in October 2010, I had finalised my posting to serve as a Professor Assistant in the Department of Laboratory Technology at my University (the University of Cape Coast, Ghana).  I warmed myself into work and 10 months down the road, here are my reflections:

After many years of Ghanaian youth advocating for posting to facilities that will augment their educational background and give them the opportunity to use their knowledge for the benefit of society and the nation, the national Service scheme had again posted trained medical personnel for Ghana’s understaffed hospitals to basic schools as teachers. I think teaching is noble; but of course it is not right to ‘rob Peter to pay Paul’. Ghana’s healthcare system is suffering as well and this swap is not necessary. This is also happening with other professional fields and I think that the assignment of service personnel should be in tandem with their training. During our send-off dinner, I had these discussions with the national coordinator of Ghana’s NSS and he admits that they are mistakes that would be corrected. I hope this rectification comes soon. I am aware of the argument that it is important to make graduates versatile; but this should not be at the expense of the development objective. Otherwise the whole year could be used for experimentation by the service personnel who will feel uncomfortable in their host institutions.

For the above reason, my posting was not smooth. So a trained Medical laboratory Scientist had to advocate for a reposting:  from a basic school (as a teacher) to my young department in the university that needed technical staff to help in training more biomedical scientists for Ghana’s medical Labs. Most of my colleagues had opted to practice on the bench: I had opted to stay in academia. An academic year down the lane, I am convinced I took the right decision. I had served to fill in serious staff gaps in the department. As this is replicated across the country, I can imagine how invaluably National Service personnel contribute to national development.

To be able to achieve the objectives of the NSS, it is important that service personnel have the right atmosphere to be able to develop practical prowess out of the theoretical lessons they learned in school. This requires mentorship; and for this reason I pay homage to my supervisors at the Department of Laboratory Technology (especially Mr. Daniel Nii Aryee Tagoe, my immediate supervisor). NSS personnel who are posted to facilities are mostly new and need someone to urge them on and to orient them. My supervisors created an atmosphere that enabled me fit into my work schedule: facilitating the preparation of lecture notes, organizing tutorials and laboratory demonstrations. In doing this, you need the trust of your supervisors, the room to accommodate mistakes as well as the commendation when you perform creditably. This is the grooming process but unfortunately not all of my colleagues had this foundation and this leaves me to wonder what impact this service had on them.

Imagine you were in a voluntary service and you were not sure of what use your acquired skills were going to be put to, would you give your all? Was that going to affect your attitude in any way? I believe it will. There have been concerns about the nonchalant attitude of service personnel to their work. But I believe that could be improved if there was hope of employment for them after their service. At least that is motivating enough. I look forward to working as a Senior Research Assistant in my Department following my service; but I can’t help than to think of the thousands who face unemployment after work. It is a major morale-killer. And I wish all my compatriots well in their search for employment.

In this one year of national service, I have learned and shared, I have frowned and smiled, I have succeeded and failed , I have noticed its benefits and weaknesses and I am compelled to reflect on the past experience and find the way forward………Sacrifice, change and commitment.

Dennis Penu

(After completing his national service)


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