Learning to govern Ghana’s forests responsibly : Responsive curriculum design and enactment

Ameyaw, Joana Akua Serwaa


This thesis examines the creation of a university curriculum that responds to the dynamic needs of present day forestry professionals for governing forests responsibly. Such a curriculum is referred to in the thesis as a responsive curriculum: an adaptive curriculum that bridges the gap between abstract theories on one hand and the more contextual, continuously changing and demanding realities of the professional environment on the other. Such curriculum is deemed necessary because of the rapid changes occurring in the forestry arena which defines new roles and put new knowledge, skills, attitudes and thinking capacity demands on the forester. The study pursued four research questions: 1. What are the key challenges for responsible forest governance (RFG) in Ghana and which capabilities do forestry professionals need to address them? 2. What are the characteristics of a responsive curriculum development (RCD) process and how are they demonstrated in the Ghanaian context? 3. How do interactions among lecturers and practitioners facilitate enactment of the responsive curriculum? And 4. How does the integrated approach used in the responsive curriculum satisfy students’ career aspirations? The study was set up within the context of a participatory action research at the Department of Silviculture and Forest Management of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana. Responsive interviews, focus group discussions, participant observations and questionnaires were also used.

The study identified political culture as the most important challenge to governing Ghana’s forests responsibly. The self-serving power positions of some key actors like politicians, traditional authorities and the timber industry interfere with professional practice. This situation is made worse by the culture of corruption, non-compliance and poor enforcement of rules. The study further showed that capabilities for leadership, authority and autonomy were crucial in equipping the 21st century forestry professional for responsible forest governance. The key characteristics for developing a responsive curriculum highlighted include building learning into the process, establishing a strong linkage to the world of work to offer students opportunities to learn in real-life settings, as well as establishing formative improvement-oriented evaluations. The findings also indicated that actors outside academia, including employers, prospective students and practitioners formed the backbone of RCD and connected the curriculum to the professional environment. Furthermore, RCD is characterised by the roles of a champion to keep the process on track and expert facilitators to bring in experiences and theoretical perspectives to support the process. The Ghana case studied proved that these RCD characteristics may be exemplified to varying extents, depending on the institutional context. It suggested that where the institutional context does not provide adequate support for RCD, an incremental approach to change could optimize available opportunities.

Learning to enact the new curriculum required that lecturers and practitioners interacted periodically as a community of practice (CoP). The study showed that over time, the CoP became a platform for experience sharing, rethinking the designed curriculum and critiquing teachers’ own actions and inactions - thus, showing evidence of double loop learning. The interplay between quality of deliberations, power dynamics fostered within the CoP and the level of institutional support for responsive curriculum development were used to develop a framework for understanding curriculum enactment. Students’ evaluation of the new curriculum shows that the integrated approach used - transdisciplinarity characterised by integration of disciplines, and collaboration beyond academia - largely satisfies their career aspirations. They believed transdisciplinarity gave them not only a holistic perspective and a deeper understanding of the governance challenges, but also a better understanding of the professional environment. What is yet to be known about the usefulness of the responsive curriculum is whether those trained will indeed be able to influence Ghana’s forest governance towards more responsible outcomes. This will require, among others, a critical mass of new forestry professionals, a change in practice, as well as a change in Ghana’s political economy.