The education system in Ghana has undergone significant reform over the last 60 years, with the government introducing a plethora of policies since the country gained independence in 1957 to enhance access to free and compulsory basic education. Literacy rates and education in certain subjects have improved as enrolment rates at the basic level edge closer to universal coverage. However, challenges remain, including teacher shortages in core subjects, inadequate infrastructure and teaching materials, as well as limited access in rural areas. The government’s Education Strategic Plan (ESP) 2018-30 seeks to address several of these challenges, supported by high public spending on education and greater digitalisation of the sector.
Oversight & Policies
The Ministry of Education (MoE) is responsible for multiple institutions across the education sector, develops national education policy and distributes the annual government budget allocation for education. The Ghana Education Service (GES) oversees the quality of the education system including primary and secondary education, and pre-tertiary technical and vocational education and training (TVET), while the Ghana Tertiary Education Commission (GTEC) supervises the higher education sector. The GES monitors and evaluates schools through inspections, as well as creates and distributes the national curriculum and teacher training standards.
President Nana Akufo-Addo has placed education at the forefront of his campaign. In September 2017 the government introduced the Free Senior High School (SHS) policy, which was followed by several other major policy changes in 2019 aimed at improving teacher training and revising the national curriculum. The ESP 2018-30 was developed in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and aims to improve learning outcomes, and promote accountability and equity across all levels of education. It replaces the previous ESP 2010-20 and directly supports the expansion of the education system to provide Free SHS through the accompanying Education Sector Medium-Term Development Plan 2018-21.
Successes & Challenges
The latest strategies will build on the success of previous education reforms, including one in 2007 that introduced free universal primary education. As a result, several key education indicators have improved significantly over the last decade. For example, the female adult literacy rate increased from 65.3% in 2010 to 74.5% in 2018. Similarly, the rate for adult males rose from 78.3% to 83.5% over the same period. In addition, the number of children not enrolled in primary school has decreased by around 50% in the last decade: for females the figure declined from 279,786 in 2009 to 110,013 in 2020, or 5.1% of the relevant age group; and for males from 300,154 to 155,175, or 6.9% of the relevant age group. Lastly, the primary completion rate in 2018 was 94.6% for girls and 93% for boys, demonstrating the success of policies shaping basic education.
Despite significant advancements across the education sector, the GES highlights several persistent challenges, including inadequate furniture in schools, poor sanitation facilities, oversubscribed SHS, insufficient core textbooks, and a lack of adequately trained teachers in the areas of mathematics, physics, chemistry and languages. Moreover, around 82% of the GES budget is allocated for salaries, meaning funding is highly restricted for other expenses. While the main focus of government policy has been on improving access to and the quality of education, the sector would also benefit from greater attention to spending on infrastructure and educational material.
To support the rollout of the Free SHS policy and other reforms, the national education budget increased substantially in 2019 and has remained high in subsequent years. The government allocated GHS14.4bn ($2.5bn) to education in the 2022 budget, down from GHS15.6bn ($2.7bn) in 2021 but up on the GHS11.6bn ($2bn) in 2020. Education spending in Ghana stood at an estimated $227 per person in 2019, considerably higher than the West and Central Africa average of $130 per person.
Enrolment in basic education and SHS has been steadily improving over the last decade. The net primary enrolment ratio reached 86.2% in 2019, up from 72.4% in 2009, while enrolment in secondary schools rose from 55.4% in 2017 to 62% in 2020 thanks to the Free SHS policy. Gross enrolment rates for primary exceed 100% due to the high prevalence of repeating academic years, which can reach up to 16% at some primary levels, highlighting the under-preparedness of pupils to progress to the next grade.
Basic education in Ghana consists of two years of kindergarten, six years of primary school and three years of junior high school, with enrolment for primary school starting at the age of six. While primary education is free for all Ghanaians in the relevant age group, the cost of certain materials, such as textbooks and uniforms, continues to limit access for the poorest in society. The high cost of school materials has made for a competitive private education sector, with estimates suggesting private primary schools cost a moderate 21% more than public schools, encouraging several private options to open across rural areas where access to public schools is more restricted due to a lack of infrastructure. School education is conducted in English, and children are typically taught reading and writing, mathematics, local languages, social studies, science, art, physical education and civics at the primary level. Primary education culminates in the Basic Education Certificate Examination, which is carried out by the West African Examinations Council (WAEC). Those who pass with the highest grades have their choice of secondary school; however, the exam is highly competitive, resulting in the majority of students being placed automatically in a secondary school through a computerised system. The number of students sitting for the exam has gradually increased, from 422,946 in 2014 to 468,053 in 2017. Upon completion of SHS, students sit for the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), administered by the WAEC.
The quality of teacher training, for its part, has improved under the administration of President Akufo-Addo, who mandated a four-year Bachelor of Education degree for new elementary and junior secondary teachers in 2018. Before this, teachers only needed a three-year Diploma in Basic Education.
Almost 30% of primary pupils and one-third of TVET students were enrolled in private schools in 2020. About 12% of all higher education students were enrolled at a private institution in the 2020/21 academic year. The influx of students at private institutions is closely linked with Ghana’s rapid population growth, which increased from 19m in 2000 to around 30m in 2021, with the rate of public school infrastructure investment lagging behind. However, according to the ESP 2018-30, there is little public access to data from the private sector or monitoring of private schools, with the education quality often lower than that of public schools. In 2016/17, 40% of private schools were formally registered, a figure that the GES aims to boost to 100% by 2025/26. In addition, there are fewer fully trained teachers in the private sector compared to the public sector. Of the total 365,618 teachers in 2018, 33.5% were working at private schools.
The ESP 2018-30 highlighted public-private partnership (PPP) projects as a primary avenue for reform in the sector, whereby the MoE and GES will partner with private sector actors to support the delivery of more effective education at the SHS level, particularly following the growing number of students enrolling in public schools after SHS was made free.
The National Accreditation Board, which previously managed quality assurance at the tertiary level, was merged with the National Council for Tertiary Education at the end of 2020 to become the Ghana Tertiary Education Commission (GTEC). The National Board for Professional and Technician Examinations is responsible for tertiary technical, non-university higher education. Both public and private tertiary institutions must complete a mentoring period, offering teaching programmes under the oversight of an established university for three years. Only after 10 years of operating can new institutions be given chartered degree-granting status by the GTEC.
Access to higher education is extremely competitive, with WASSCE students required to achieve at least a grade C6 in a minimum of six core and chosen subjects to be admitted to a university. There are 14 public universities, 10 technical universities, nine university-level professional training institutions and several more private universities, the most competitive of which are the University of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, and the University of Cape Coast. More than one-third of the tertiary institutions operating directly under the MoE are private, although they account for approximately 12% of total tertiary-level enrolment. Applications far outweigh admissions, particularly at public universities and disproportionately for female applicants. However, the percentage of female students in tertiary education has grown steadily, reaching 47.3% in 2020/21.
There is a poor public perception of vocational training, with many viewing it as an option for under-performing students. Enrolment of female students in TVET programmes, particularly engineering, is low. In 2019 there were 76,770 students enrolled in vocational secondary institutions, of which 26.7% were female. This reflects a trend across the whole sector for female participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). TVET schools award a Foundation Certificate to students who complete the first two years of education, a Technician Certificate I after three years and a Technician Certificate II after four years, after which time students can enrol in a tertiary-level polytechnic institution.
President Akufo-Addo has prioritised improving STEM education, with a view to matching programmes with the technical skills needed in the job market. Addressing this issue could help further lower the national unemployment rate, which stood at 4.53% in 2020. encourage greater participation in STEM subjects, in early 2021 President Akufo-Addo announced the development of 20 STEM centres and eight model science SHS, to be fitted with modern equipment and laboratories, including artificial intelligence tools and robotics. Construction was initially set to be completed by July 2021 but was still under way as of December 2021.
In 2020 President Akufo-Addo established the Commission for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (CTVET) to regulate, promote and administer technical and vocational education. The CTVET will ensure there is no course duplication, as well as supervise improvements to existing and new TVET centres.
The health restrictions implemented during the Covid-19 pandemic, including the temporary closure of schools, saw an increase in digital learning. At the beginning of the crisis, approximately 9.2m pre-tertiary children and 500,000 higher education students were unable to attend school. In response, the MoE and the GES launched the Covid-19 Coordinated Education Response Plan in April 2020. As part of the plan, the MoE rolled out several digital-learning platforms, including free access to the 24-hour Ghana Learning TV channel in partnership with the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, the Ghana Learning Radio and Reading Programme, and e-learning solutions iCampus and iBox.
While this presented a significant step forward in the digitalisation of teaching materials, access was disproportionally lower for those living in low-income communities compared to those living in urban settings with more stable electricity connections. While electricity coverage reaches 94% of households in urban areas, that figure is lower in rural regions, at 67%. An agreement by the Ministry of Communication (MoC) with telecommunications providers MTN and Vodafone in April 2020 sought to bridge this divide by providing free access to 200 school websites. The rapid development of online learning materials is helping the MoC reach its goal of digitalising the national economy through the adoption of digital platforms across all sectors.
The combination of high government spending on education and several major sector reforms to improve access to free education, as well as efforts to boost teacher training, has led to an enhanced education system in Ghana. Greater oversight and reporting by new government institutions and accreditation boards are expected to improve the quality of schooling at all levels, as well as support crucial areas such as STEM. Lastly, the greater use of PPPs could help the government bridge investment in school infrastructure and materials such as textbooks.
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