Many of Ghana’s education indicators are moving in the right direction. A young and growing population, expanding job opportunities in a dynamic economy, and funding and support from a range of sources are driving the expansion of the sector. The system is a mix of public and private provision, and the past decade has established a solid base of schooling for the vast majority of citizens. From issues of access, such as student enrolment, to issues of quality, such as teacher ratios and resources, the country is moving forward.
At the same time, however, comparative testing suggests performance lags behind developing countries when it comes to learner outcomes. As such, more needs to be done to ensure that the system meets the needs of the labour market, and that Ghanaian graduates can be competitive in a global marketplace.
Education is a top priority of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) administration, and the party made a number of campaign promises related to improving quality and access during the 2016 election campaign. President Nana Akufo-Addo has subsequently made reform a central component of plans to restructure the economy away from basic resource production towards industrialisation and technology-driven growth.
Ghana has a young population, with 57% under the age of 25, contributing to a relatively high dependency ratio of 73%. The annual urbanisation rate was 3.4% between 2010 and 2015, and as citizens continue to move to the city, the fertility rate is expected to drop from the 2017 level of 4.03 children per woman, and the size of the working-age population relative to dependents should increase. This will provide the opportunity to fuel economic growth with a growing labour force, tax revenues, government stimulus and lower expenditure on welfare services. However, to achieve this, the country will need to adequately equip young people with the relevant skills to find work. According to the World Bank, in 2016 the youth unemployment rate reached 48% for those between the ages of 15 and 24, compared with an overall unemployment rate of 5.8%. As such, the dual demands of a huge youth population and a need to improve learner performance will present both a challenge to the public education system and an opportunity to private providers.
By The Numbers
Basic indicators have been moving steadily in the right direction since the government started providing free universal basic education in 1995. At the basic level, which incorporates kindergarten, primary and junior high, the number of schools has steadily increased and enrolment has grown over the years. There were some 22,052 kindergartens open in the 2015/16 academic year, up 5.2% on the previous year. Of these, 14,145 were in the public sector, a rise of 2.2% on 2014/15, and 7907 were run by the private sector, which showed growth of almost 11%.
Overall, 1.8m children were enrolled in kindergarten. There were 22,289 primary schools in 2015/16, up 4.6% on the previous academic year, with 14,664 in the public sector and 7625 in the private sector. Primary enrolment totalled 4.36m pupils. The number of junior high schools reached 14,676 in 2015/16, up from 13,840 the previous academic year, serving 1.59m learners. In the period between 2010/11 to 2015/16, net enrolment rates increased from 60.1% to 79.5% at the kindergarten level, from 77.8% to 91.5% at the primary level and from 46.1% to 50.3% in junior high.
As these figures suggest, the government has worked towards boosting the number of children that receive a basic education. The transition rate from the primary level to the junior high level stood at 94.7% in 2015/16. While this was down from the rate of 99.1% recorded the previous academic year, it still represents an impressive trend of retention in the system.
These figures were achieved not only through offering free basic education, but also by a number of grants and subsidies that ensured that financially disadvantaged learners could attend and complete their studies. In the 2015/16 academic year the government supported just over 5.5m pupils with capitation grants that totalled approximately GHS4.14m ($991,000).
In addition, the authorities met roughly 70% of the cost of the Basic Education Certification Examinations (BECE) for 438,030 junior high students in their last year, amounting to GHS17.8m ($4.3m).
While the government is committed to improving access to public schools, many families are turning to the private sector in search of high-quality education (see analysis). At the junior high level, the number of students enrolled in private institutions grew from 17.6% in 2010/11 to 22% in 2015/16. At the primary level, private enrolment increased from 19.3% to 25.3%, while at the kindergarten level that number rose from 20.8% to 27.3% over the same period.
While both the private and public sectors have witnessed a rise in the number of institutions and learners, private schooling opportunities are growing at a much faster rate. In the public basic education system between 2010/11 and 2015/16, the number of schools increased by 5.2% at the kindergarten level, 4.6% at the primary level and 6.7% at the junior high level. This is relatively little when compared with private sector growth of 42.7%, 44% and 49.7%, respectively, for kindergarten, primary and junior high schools.
However, despite government efforts and a widening base of private schools, there is still some way to go in achieving universal enrolment and attendance. In 2015, 500,000, or about 11%, of school-aged children were not attending any type of formal school, according to UNICEF’s “Out-of-School Children” report. The problem is exacerbated at the senior high level, also called secondary school, where families were expected to pay for tuition as of 2016/17, although the government has since announced free secondary education for the freshman class entering the 2017/18 academic year in an effort to stem dropout rates.
According to the Ministry of Education (MoE), an average of 100,000 students who pass the BECE exam each year are forced to quit because their families cannot afford the fees. While there has been some improvement, there are still very low rates of attendance past basic education, with around one-quarter of students going on to enrol in high school. The net enrolment rate hovered at 25.2% in 2015/16, an increase on 22.5% in 2014/15. Demand for private secondary education is much lower as well, with participation falling from 8.9% in 2010/11 to 7.5% in 2015/16. For those students who made it into a high school in 2015/16, 54% dropped out before graduation. While this is a significant improvement from the figure of 67% in 2010/11, it still represents a substantial challenge for policymakers.
There are also issues regarding performance. According to a 2015 OECD education index – based on a range of maths and science test scores – the public system in Ghana ranked last out of 76 countries surveyed, behind Oman, Morocco, Honduras and South Africa, which placed 72nd, 73rd, 74th and 75th, respectively. The country fares better on regional benchmarks, though the absolute numbers show room for improvement. Ghanaian students outperform most of their neighbours on the West African Senior School Certificate Examination, the international secondary exit exam for the English-speaking West African countries of The Gambia, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.
In 2015 the percentage of local pupils that passed stood at 50.3% for English, 24.4% for maths and 23.6% for integrated science. Ghana consistently topped the list of regional countries in English from 2011 to 2014, but fell slightly behind only Nigeria in 2015. In maths the country held the first position in 2011, but came second to Nigeria from 2012 to 2015.
The current lack of resources poses additional problems. The government has set targets of one textbook per child at the kindergarten level and three textbooks per child in primary and junior high schools. However, in 2015/16 the ratios stood at 0.2 textbooks per kindergarten pupil and 1.7 per student at the primary and junior high levels. At the senior school tier, there were 0.5 textbooks per pupil for maths and English.
There has been a steady increase in teachers entering basic education institutions, though the student-to-teacher ratio remains high. The number of kindergarten teachers grew by 1.5%, primary teachers by 0.3% and junior high teachers by 2.5% as of 2016. The overall student-to-teacher ratio at Ghanaian schools stood at 34:1 in kindergarten, 34:1 at primary level and 16:1 in junior high that same year. When only qualified teachers are taken into account, these numbers are much higher, rising to 52:1, 45:1 and 18:1 for kindergarten, primary and junior high, respectively.
In recognition of sector challenges, the government has instituted a number of new policies to further improve access and quality, from free secondary education to teacher training initiatives and funding increases.
In 2017 the new administration boosted expenditure for the MoE by 28%.The total budget allocation for the sector grew by around 10% to GHS8.3bn ($2bn), while the government contribution to education funding rose by 51% to GHS7.6bn ($1.8bn), or 88% of the total. It remains to be seen whether the government’s commitments to spending can be met, as the country is currently grappling with a large fiscal deficit. The IMF stated in February 2017 that the government needs to urgently reduce the budget deficit after it came in at 9% of GDP in 2016, well above the IMF target of 5.25%.
Nevertheless, one of the NPP’s key priorities was a progressive programme for free secondary education. Over the 2015/16 academic year the government disbursed GHS12.2m ($2.9m) to cover subsidies for 320,488 day students across the national secondary system. As such, 37.6% of secondary pupils received a subsidy in the first term of the last academic year in a bid to boost enrolment and reduce dropout rates. In September 2017 the government announced that secondary education would be free of charge beginning in the 2017/18 academic year. The initiative is expected to cost the government $100m in the first year alone, providing books, meals, tuition and uniforms to an estimated 424,092 incoming freshmen.
In addition to the secondary school funding programme, the government has been working with international development partners, including the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID), the US Agency for International Development and Qatar’s Educate a Child fund, on the Complementary Basic Education (CBE) scheme. The CBE programme targets out-of-school 6-14-year-olds in remote areas, and has set a target of helping 290,000 children. In 2015/16 the CBE enrolled 52,823 students and established 2105 classes across 1812 communities, exceeding its targets for the year.
The government is also working to expand the number of qualified teachers in basic education classrooms. The number of trained teachers – defined as those who are professionally certified – increased by 8.4% in kindergartens, 4.3% in primary schools and 4.5% at the junior high level, while the number of untrained teachers decreased by 9.6%, 11.5% and 12.5%, respectively, between 2014/15 and 2015/16. These outcomes were achieved as part of the DfID-sponsored Transforming Teacher Education and Learning programme, a £17m, four-year government initiative to improve governance, management and pedagogical direction at the country’s 38 colleges of education, and provide free online teacher training until 2018. As of 2016, GHS19.5m ($4.7m) had sponsored 6563 unqualified teachers from 75 districts and provided them with the opportunity for professional training. There has been an uptick in teacher attendance as well, exceeding 84% during the first term of 2015/16 across all segments of the basic education system.
Vocational & Tertiary Institutions
The biggest drive towards meeting the demands of the labour market is likely to occur at the tertiary and vocational level, where important strides have already been made. The number of people attending higher education more than doubled between 2005 and 2014. In 2015/16 total enrolment in the country’s 138 tertiary institutions increased by 2.2% to 320,746 students. Furthermore, there is a notable improvement in quality in the system. The University of Ghana, for example, was ranked as the seventh-best university in Africa in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings in 2016.
The government supports university attendance through the Students Loan Trust Fund, for which all post-secondary attendees are eligible. Since its inception in 2011, 84,149 students have received financial aid. The government hopes to create a link between universities and industry, and has committed to shifting the emphasis of universities to in-demand areas, such as technical, ICT and science-related fields. “Software development and programming are key skills in the global context, and for Ghana this should be no exception,” Amardeep Singh Hari, CEO of the Intercom Programming & Manufacturing Company, told OBG. “Public and private collaboration to incentivise training in those areas is essential to keep Ghana’s ICT sector competitive.” The government has also targeted vocational offerings. The Development of Skills for Industry Project, a scheme financed by a $124m African Development Bank loan and $11m of government funds, seeks to improve technical and vocational training at both the pre-tertiary and tertiary levels through subsidies, teacher training, college infrastructure investment, and a national apprenticeship programme with industry placements for junior high graduates.
The government is committed to the task of supporting economic growth and industrial transformation through education reform. However, this will be no easy feat. While many indicators relating to access and quality are improving at all levels of the system, improvements to outcomes continue to be needed to meet international standards.
Although the government is hoping to further boost funding for the sector, its ability to successfully bankroll change will be somewhat constrained by the country’s current precarious fiscal position. Nonetheless, the sector is moving in the right direction with a consistent dedication to funding attendance, improving teacher training, expanding resources for schools and supporting relevant skills development for the labour market.
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