Prof Naana Jane Opoku-Agyeman: A ray of hope for the rescue mission [OPINION]

Jane Naana Opoku Agyemang

As a Lecturer

Prof. Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang, the vice-presidential candidate of the National Democratic Congress, apart from being a remarkable academic of international repute, has a legendary status in the University of Cape Coast, in the Central Region and in education circles globally.

As a lecturer, the interest of the students was her priority. She provided both academic and social counselling such that all who passed through her classes came out with positive words to say about her. A former student reminisces: “In her class, you do not need to take down notes because of how she breaks down complex concepts in easy to understand language. And she always had time to attend to individual student needs”.

Prof Naana Jane Opoku Agyemang also found time to engage with the local communities to assist them in various development activities. Her understanding of the cultural nuances of development has always been deep enabling a life-long search for ways to help improve the life-chances of the vulnerable, of women and children.

As a Vice-Chancellor

As the first female Vice-Chancellor of a public university in Ghana (2008-2012), Prof Naana Jane Opoku Agyemang provided visionary leadership in the search for innovation in academic program delivery, in research and in community outreach. The Fisheries College in Anomabu, the Faculty of Law and the Institute for Oil and Gas Studies were established.  Facilities in the Medical School and the College of Distance Education were expanded. In the area of ICT, she completed the installation of WiFi network to boost internet access to both students and staff and increased the bandwidth from 4Mbps to 45 Mbps to improve the speed.

As a visionary leader, she saw to the review of the Strategic Plan of the University in which UCC was refocused on student-centered pedagogy, research, innovation and community engagement. Through expansion of the distance learning and ‘sandwich’ programs, the University was taken to the people in all parts of the country, allowing for flexibility in course offerings thereby enabling thousands of people to have access university education without having to be residential in Cape Coast.

As a person

Prof. Naana Jane Opoku Agyemang personifies humility and selflessness. As she rightly said during her inauguration: “making history is gratifying; but what really matters is not to be first through the door. What matters is to hold the door open for those behind us and create other avenues for self-actualization for many more”.  In this light, as VC, staff recruitment and advancement were pursued vigorously and student enrolment increased tremendously. The expanded superannuation scheme was established in 2012. A superannuation hostel was built to help provide the funding to support the scheme. Retired academic staff members now enjoy better pensions thanks to her foresight. For these qualities she has been recognized both in Ghana and abroad with several awards including the award of the ‘Order of the Volta’ and several Honorary Degrees.

National Front: As a Minister for Education

Listening to Naana deliver her acceptance speech, one is left in no doubt about the quality, experience and maturity she will bring to the office of Vice President.  She has demonstrated through her service at the Ministry of Education that she is a realist, who understands the limitations of the country and therefore, does not promise heaven on earth.  Through her exceptional ability to build consensus among stakeholders, she will provide a refreshing change in national discourse beyond toxic politics.

As a minister for education, she did not only succeed in reducing teacher absenteeism but she increased enrolment at the pre-tertiary level and decreased female drop-out at all levels.  Pre-tertiary school infrastructure provided under her leadership is well known.  She pursued the expansion of educational facilities relentlessly in the new public universities, the community day secondary schools, the expansion and conversion of the colleges of education to tertiary status and the upgrading of the polytechnics into technical universities.

Rectors of polytechnics were not only supported to visit German universities of applied sciences to understand the concept and focus on developing technology for local problems.  Policy dialogues were held with stakeholders to align training with industry needs through collaborative partnerships.

Online learning is now accepted as the new “normal” (courtesy COVID-19). Long before COVID-19 Naana recognized the potential of quality online education to complement brick and mortar efforts as a way to increase tertiary education enrolment.  Of course, Ghanaian universities were already offering distance learning programmes, but she made efforts to improve these through the provision of enhanced ICT infrastructure and building a collaborative relationship with credible experienced online education providers like Open University, UK to assure quality and provide graduates with employability skills.

Thus, the idea of quality tertiary education and research as a tool for national development was not lost on her.  While she was striving to create a national research fund, she translated her believe into action by negotiating with the World Bank, Ministry of Finance, and universities to support the establishment of world-class centres of excellence at the KNUST, UCC and UG to engage in cutting edge research comparable with the best in the world.  One of these centres, the West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP) recently reported sequencing genomes of the novel coronavirus.

Space will not allow us to enumerate all her qualities.  They go beyond education, governance, research, Cape Coast and Komenda.  She is a daughter of Ghana and a champion of women and the underprivileged.

Naana is a visionary, consensus builder, exhibits maturity, humility and above all emotional intelligence.  She is a mentor and worthy role model for all: indeed, a ray of hope for Ghana.

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