Ghana’s government has prioritised educational reform in recent years in a bid to improve access at all levels of the system. To this end, in 2018 the state introduced its Free Senior High School (SHS) policy, an initiative which provides free tuition for attendees at all public secondary schools. On top of this, to improve learning outcomes and help fulfil demand in the job market for certain skills, the authorities have also encouraged greater investment in education infrastructure and strengthened technical and vocational education and training (TVET).
Opportunities for investment exist across all levels of schooling in Ghana, especially as demand for private education has surged in recent years. This trend has largely been driven by continued growth in the country’s middle class and a preference across all socioeconomic levels for private education. Enrolment rates are also improving, aided by the government’s continued prioritisation of education – evidenced by the sector’s allocation of significant pecuniary resource in its 2019 budget – and private sector expansion.
Over the five years leading to 2018, the government allocated between 12% and 15% of the national budget to education. The 2019 budget for the sector is GHS12.9bn ($2.8bn), an increase of 39% from the previous year’s allocation of GHS9.3bn ($2bn). The education budget for 2019 is the largest capital expenditure in the sector for any year in the last 50 years and is in line with the government’s aim of investing in human capital. Planned spending on education infrastructure and a shift of the Free SHS budget from the Office of Government Machinery to the Ministry of Education (MoE) account for much of the increase in spending.
Much of the emphasis in the budget was placed on secondary education and vocational training. The significant allocation to SHS institutions highlights the government’s prioritisation of the Free SHS programme and commitment to expanding sector capacity to meet the demand for secondary education. On the training and vocational side, the budget allocates funding for the construction of 20 modern TVET centres and the upgrade of 34 vocational institutes. Also being financed under the 2019 education budget are ongoing professional training programmes for licensed teachers, the establishment of a University of Environment and Sustainable Development as a centre of excellence in agriculture and engineering, and funding for science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) programmes in 7000 schools.
Ghana also receives education funding from international partners such as the World Bank and the OECD-funded Global Partnership for Education (GPE), which together have financed a number of programmes aimed at improving domestic education. Through this partnership, a $75.5m grant was dedicated to the planning, delivery and monitoring of pre-primary and primary education at district- and local-government levels between 2012 and 2016. The grant had three components: the provision of grants to targeted districts to support key objectives and teacher development; the provision of grants to support schools in providing opportunities for girls; and project management and institutional strengthening through monitoring and evaluation. During the course of the programme, primary and lower secondary completion rates increased.
The GPE also provided technical assistance for Ghana’s Education Strategic Plan (ESP) 2018-30, which seeks to improve the relevance of learning outcomes by better aligning them to national- and industry-level skill needs, to enhance the sector’s quality, and encourage greater value in the allocation and utilisation of national education resources. It also seeks to provide equal opportunities, achieve high standards and system responsiveness across all levels of education, and to improve resource management.
In December 2018 the MoE established a secretariat to lead education reforms anchored in the ESP, and Matthew Opoku Prempeh, minister of education, told local press the department would lead to improvement in teaching and learning, as well as greater accountability and fair and equal access.
Enrolment rates have risen across Ghana as education spending rises, incomes grow and education fees are cut. For the pre-primary level, gross school enrolment in Ghana in 2017 was 115% compared to 98.9% in 2008. At the primary level, gross school enrolment in 2017 was 104.8%, compared to 102.7% in 2008. Gross school enrolment is defined as the ratio of students enrolled in a particular level of schooling, regardless of their age, to the total population of people in the age group that corresponds to that level of schooling. Net primary enrolment has more than doubled between 2000 and 2011, from 30% to 77%.
The gross enrolment rate in secondary education in 2017 was 70%, up from 48% in 2008. The secondary school enrolment rates in 2018 for female and male students were 69% and 70.1%, respectively. It is anticipated that 2018 enrolment rates will be higher due to the Free SHS programme and the Double Track System, which introduced multiple sessions at selected schools to enable more students to be accommodated within the system. According to Ken Ofori-Atta, the minister of finance, the Free SHS policy enabled an additional 270,000 young people to attend secondary school as of November 2018.
While enrolment rates are on the up, performances have been mixed. In a 2017 report, UNICEF estimated that 70% of year-three students (typically aged eight) lacked basic reading and mathematics ability and were performing below the expected standard for their grade level.
The performance of SHS students was also varied. In the 2018 West African Senior School Certificate Examination – which is taken by SHS students – pupils performed poorly on average and passing rates fell from the previous year, particularly in science, mathematics and English. For example, in mathematics, 38.3% of pupils who sat the exam in 2018 achieved a passing grade, compared to 42.73% in 2017. In English, 46.8% received a passing grade in 2018 compared to 54% the previous year.
In November 2018 there were 201 tertiary institutions accredited by Ghana’s National Accreditation Board, the body that registers and regulates the functioning of educational institutions. These organisations include long-established local public universities, private universities, local affiliates of international universities and vocational training colleges.
In 2017, 60,000 new graduates completed their studies and entered the job market. However, finding work is a challenge for Ghana’s youth, even those with a university degree.
According to the Institute of Statistics, Social and Economic Research at the University of Ghana, only 10% of recent graduates find a job within the first year of finishing their studies, and many of them can take up to 10 years to find secure employment.
According to the Ghana Statistical Service, 11.9%, or 1.2m, of Ghanaians were unemployed in 2015, with the unemployment rate higher for women (12.5%) than men (11.1%). There were also notable disparities between the regions, with the Upper East having the highest unemployment rate (18.4%) and Brong Ahafo the lowest (8.4%).
In an effort to address this high instance of unemployment, the Ministry of Education launched a five-year, $119m strategic TVET programme in September 2018 that aims to address the factors hampering the effectiveness of vocational training. These include poor equipment, low budgets and limited collaboration between training providers and employers. The latter in turn drives a skills mismatch between TVET graduates and the technical requirements needed on the job.
Under the plan authorities will conduct a skills gap analysis and needs assessment of all TVET facilities, establish a training institution for TVET staff, and construct 20 TVET institutions. Furthermore, to ensure better alignment between training curricula and workplace requirements, starting with the plan’s implementation all TVET institutions will be directly supervised by a directorate within the MoE.
Demand for private education in Ghana is growing, and the sector has expanded to meet demand, with the number of private schools increasing by more than 46% between 2009 and 2015. According to UNESCO, the proportion of students enrolled in private secondary schools in the country increased from 15.9% in 2012 to 16.7% in 2017. The proportion of students enrolled in private primary schools grew further, rising from 22.1% in 2012, to 25.8% of the total in 2017. At university level, Ghana had more than 81 accredited private tertiary institutions in 2018, up 25% from 65 in 2016.
Higher levels of enrolment at private institutes are being driven by an expanding middle class and public institutions running over capacity. However, it is not only those in the middle class that are demanding access to private education. Low-fee private schools aimed at those living on less than $2 per day are becoming increasingly popular in Ghana.
The International Finance Corporation estimates that 40% of Ghana’s basic education schools are private, of which 40% are low fee. While these schools sometimes struggle to provide sufficient infrastructure and hire qualified teachers, many parents choose to send their children to them as they are seen as being better quality than state schools.
The government has made improving STEM education one of its priorities in a bid to promote Ghana as a regional centre for science, technology and innovation (STI). To this end, in October 2018 the state pledged a minimum of 1% of GDP per year towards the promotion of STEM education. Under the 2019 budget, funding has been allocated to the construction of 10 new STEM education centres, as well as the establishment of a basic STEM curriculum in 7000 pre-primary and primary schools. In January 2019 the Science Education Unit of the Ghana Education Service also inaugurated an office to regulate and improve STEM education.
Furthermore, in January 2019 President Nana Akufo-Addo announced the establishment of an advisory council for STI, which will comprise scientists, and professionals from technology and industry. “The government believes that our development depends on our ability to understand, interpret, adapt and commercialise scientific and technological knowledge in ways appropriate to our culture, aspirations and level of development,” Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, minister of environment, science, technology and innovation, told local press.
Local, regional and international investors have been increasingly interested in sub-Saharan Africa’s education system, and according to US-based consultancy firm Dalberg, more than $689m was invested in educational institutes in Africa between 2012 and 2015 through a combined total of 70 transactions. To leverage this trend and attract more investors to the sector in Ghana, the government abolished the 25% corporate tax rate for private universities in its 2018 budget.
Ghana’s education system has also been a destination for private equity. In December 2017 Oasis Africa Fund, an investment arm of Accra-based private equity firm Oasis Capital, which invests in small and medium-sized enterprises in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, announced investment in the Legacy Girls’ College, a private girls’ high school located in the Eastern Region. Founded in 2015, Legacy Girls’ College used the private equity investment to finance its growth and expansion plans. Oasis Capital’s investors include the Ghana Union Assurance Company and the World Bank through its Venture Capital Trust Fund programme.
Opportunities for investment in Ghana’s education system remain strong, particularly in the private sector. This is largely being driven by growing demand for what is perceived as high-quality tuition as the country’s middle class expands. Meanwhile, a commitment to improving STEM and TVET education – as evidenced by the state’s ongoing implementation of a five-year, $119m strategic TVET plan – and the abolition of the 25% corporate tax rate for private universities in 2018 could also encourage interest from both local and foreign investors.
Meanwhile, the record-breaking 2019 education budget has the potential to boost learning outcomes and performances, which suffered a dip in 2017. While other challenges remain, including high student-to-teacher ratios, the sector appears set to continue on its positive trend of development.
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