Reforms improve teaching standards and access to education in Ghana

 

Education reform has been a major priority of the administration of President Nana Akufo-Addo, who was elected on the campaign promise of improving access to education and learning outcomes. To this end, the government introduced the Free Senior High School (SHS) policy in September 2017. This was followed by a number of reforms launched in 2019 to improve teacher training and the establishment of a new national curriculum. These moves appear to be bearing fruit, as enrolment rates and test results have been improving. Opportunities for future investment exist in the expansion of private sector schooling, particularly at the primary and junior secondary level, but also in terms of private universities. Furthermore, the education technology (edtech) market presents significant potential, though it is still in the early stages.

Oversight

The Ministry of Education (MoE) oversees the development of all government policy for the sector, including vocational training and apprenticeships. Meanwhile, the Ghana Education Service (GES) is responsible for the implementation of sector policy, and the management and oversight of all public sector institutions below the university level. The sector is guided by the Education Strategic Plan (ESP) 2018-30, which aims to provide a roadmap for the improvement of learning outcomes and increased sector efficiency.

Public Investment

Between 2013 and 2018 the state allocated between 12% and 15% of the national budget to the MoE. However, public investment increased significantly in the budget for 2019, with the allocation of GHS12.9bn ($2.5m) marking a 39% increase on 2018. Key policy priorities include implementing the Free SHS policy and providing training to overcome the mismatch between skills and labour market demand. To support the Free SHS policy, the budget prioritised the retraining of licensed teachers, the completion of stalled SHS building projects and the upgrade of SHS buildings in 42 districts, in addition to rehabilitating 50 basic and secondary school structures.

The budget also allocated funding for the construction of 20 new technical and vocational education and training (TVET) centres, and the establishment of the University of Environment and Sustainable Development. These moves are intended to address human capital shortages in key areas in order to maintain ongoing economic development and encourage professionalisation of the informal sector. Lastly, to help ensure the country has the human resources needed to take advantage of emerging sectors such as pharmaceuticals and ICT, the budget allocated funding for basic science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) teaching in 7000 schools, as well as the construction of 10 specialised STEM centres.

Policy

The MoE established a special secretariat for reform to achieve its policy objectives in December 2018. Speaking at the launch of the new body Matthew Opoku Prempeh, the minister of education, told local media that the secretariat will “support agencies under the MoE to align all ongoing and prioritised reforms to the ESP and Sustainable Development Goals”. The most far-reaching of these policies has been the rollout of the Free SHS programme – a scheme granting free tuition to all attendees of public secondary school – which began in September 2017. Public opinion has been largely positive: according to a poll conducted by iPoll Ghana in October 2018, 72.6% of respondents said that they supported the policy.

However, the programme has faced issues with implementation. The country’s secondary school capacity has struggled to cope with the rapid increase in enrolment rates, leading to the establishment of the double-track system in September 2018, which introduced multiple sessions at 400 schools to accommodate more students. While this was intended to be a temporary measure, it has faced a backlash from certain segments of the public, with 59.8% of respondents opposing it.

“Part of the reason for this outcry lies in the relationship between public and private education in Ghana,” Robin Todd, team leader of Transforming Teacher Education and Learning in Ghana (T-TEL), a government programme to improve teacher training, told OBG. “Affluent parents generally send their children to private primary schools followed by public SHS; entrance to the best SHS provides students with contacts that will support them right through their careers.” Therefore, while the reform has done much to improve access to education among lower-income segments of the population, middle-class parents have expressed apprehension about overcrowding. However, with the Ghana Educational Trust Fund allocating $1.5bn to finance the expansion and upgrade of SHS institutions, the government announced in June 2019 that it hoped to suspend the double-track system by 2021.

In another move intended to boost learning outcomes, the government implemented a new pre-tertiary level national curriculum in September 2019. The new framework was developed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment in collaboration with the GES, and emphasises student-centred learning and continual assessment over training to pass exams. The number of subjects has been streamlined, with greater emphasis placed on languages, ICT and STEM. Beginning in August 2019 the GES launched a nationwide scheme providing all 152,000 teachers in the pre-tertiary segment with five days of training in the new curriculum. “Overall, the direction of the curriculum is exactly right, but implementation remains a challenge,” Todd told OBG. “Teachers have been provided with five days of training, but the difficulty will be addressing 15-20 years of ingrained practice.”

Teaching Reforms

The government has introduced a number of reforms aimed at improving teacher training. The most significant of these was the launch of the new four-year Bachelor of Education (B.Ed) programme, which replaced the previous three-year Diploma in Basic Education qualification in September 2019. The Bachelor of Education was developed through a six-year project undertaken by five Ghanaian universities and 105 education experts in collaboration with T-TEL, with development funding from the UK. All new teachers are required to complete the degree, which is provided by a total of 46 specialised colleges.

Entry requirements have been raised for applicants and the previous training model was overhauled. While the old diploma was based primarily on written exams with only limited classroom training, the new degree requires trainee educators to teach students from the first semester onwards, with 40% of the qualification based on a portfolio of continual assessment, 30% on supervised teaching and 30% on written exams. In line with the new national curriculum, trainee teachers will learn to employ interactive, learner-focused pedagogical models instead of rote learning approaches. In order to make the new degree attractive and accessible to SHS graduates of all backgrounds, the government has introduced a monthly stipend of GHS400 ($77.50) per month for the duration of the degree.

To increase professionalisation the GES began a process requiring teachers to register and take an examination held by the National Teaching Council (NTC) in order to remain licensed. The first of these exams was held in September 2018, with 74% of the 28,757 applicants passing and 26% failing, according to the NTC. A second examination, primarily for those who had initially failed to make the grade, was held in March 2019, and 67% of the 12,076 teachers tested this time received a passing grade.

Enrolment & Performance

While primary school enrolment rates had been increasing dramatically over recent decades, they have since declined, with the net enrolment rate falling from a high of 89.5% in 2015 to 83.6% in 2018, according to UNESCO. However, the proportion of young people attending secondary school has risen following the implementation of the Free SHS policy, growing from a net level of 56.2% in 2015 to 59% in 2018. Due to the government’s ongoing drive to boost staffing levels, the number of teachers has increased across the school system. In the primary segment the number of pupils per teacher decreased from 31.3 in 2015 to 27.3 in 2018, while in secondary schools it fell from 16.6 to 16 over the same period.

Alongside the recent rise in staffing levels and secondary enrolment, there has been an improvement in the pass rate and overall performance on the West African Senior School Certificate Examination, which is taken by all SHS students. The most significant improvement occurred in mathematics, with the share of students obtaining an A-C grade increasing from 38.3% in 2018 to 65.3% in 2019. In addition, performance in science improved, with the share of students graded A-C rising from 50.5% to 63.2%. A more modest improvement was also registered in English language A-C grades, which increased from 46.9% to 49%.

Private Education

Demand for private education is high in Ghana, although it varies depending on the stage of schooling. The share of students enrolled in private primary schools increased from 23.2% in 2014 to 27.9% in 2018, according to UNESCO. However, after rising steadily from 15.4% in 2011 to 17.2% in 2015, the proportion of students attending private secondary schools declined moderately to 16.1% in 2018. This shift can be largely attributed to the impact of the Free SHS policy, with many lower-middle-class parents taking advantage of the scheme, whereas they would previously have sent their children to less costly secondary schools. Nevertheless, with pushback about overcrowding following the introduction of the Free SHS programme and an increasing number of employers providing support for private school education, demand is expected to remain buoyant.

Furthermore, an increasing number of low-fee private institutions aimed at those living on less than $2 per day is expected to sustain demand for private schooling, especially while overcrowding persists in public institutions. According to the International Finance Corporation, 40% of private schools in Ghana were low-fee institutions as of 2016.

Universities & Higher Education

As of September 2019 there were 208 accredited tertiary education institutions in the country, according to the National Accreditation Board. Of this total, 10 were public universities, while 81 were private institutions offering degree programmes, 38 were nursing colleges and 46 were teacher training colleges.

The top-five ranked universities in Ghana in the Times Higher Education Worldwide University Ranking 2019 were the University of Ghana; Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology; University of Cape Coast; University of Education, Winneba; and Ashesi University. Competition for places at universities is high, with demand outstripping the number of available places, a situation that is expected to intensify as secondary school enrolment and attainment levels continue to increase in the coming years. However, the sector received a boost in late 2017 when the government abolished the 25% corporate tax rate on private universities. “An increasing number of private universities have partnerships with foreign schools, which has helped raise the quality of tertiary education in the country,” Leo Mensah Sossah, executive director at Benchmark Executive Business School, told OBG.

Many graduates continue to face difficulties finding qualified employment. “More and more Ghanaians are getting into higher education, but they are not finding their way into productive employment,” Kajsa Hallberg Adu, postdoctoral researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute and former lecturer at Ashesi University, told OBG. “Universities providing career days and internships is part of the solution, but there also needs to be a national job placement agency and greater cooperation with employers to address the skills mismatch.”

Vocational Training

In an bit to offset the country’s skills gap and unemployment problem, the MoE launched the five-year, $119m National TVET Strategic Plan in September 2018. The policy aims to standardise testing and certification systems, upgrade TVET infrastructure, and address the under-representation of women in engineering and technology-related fields.

Under this plan, the MoE has conducted a series of assessments of all TVET facilities, working to better align vocational training with the requirements of the market. In October 2018 the government implemented an allowance for meals and transport for trainees undertaking brick-laying, tiling, plumbing, catering, electrical and woodwork apprenticeships.

Edtech

While still in its early stages, the application of digital technology to improve access to education presents considerable potential. “Most schools in Ghana have already started doing blended learning with off-site distance learning combined with face-toface sessions,” Mensah Sossah told OBG.

Furthermore, in December 2018 the education start-up WOLO launched an e-learning platform providing remote access to SHS through online seminars, mobile phone applications and television, in addition to access to a digital library. With high and rising smartphone penetration rates in Ghana, e-learning is expected to increasingly supplement classroom teaching. “The government needs to do more to make educational material available so that students and educators are able to download them onto their phones,” Todd told OBG. “A lot of this potential remains untapped, but mobile phones are the way forward.”

Outlook

The government has shown a commitment to reform the education sector and improve learning outcomes. However, many of these policies have faced implementation issues, which have hampered their otherwise positive impact. Accommodating rising demand in the SHS and university systems will require further action to attract investment and expand private sector provision, thereby creating a more competitive market for education. While steps to professionalise teaching will likely improve performance, more effort is needed to increase the number of teachers and meet demand.

Against this backdrop, the use of edtech solutions presents considerable potential in supporting educators and learners alike. However, greater collaboration between the government, educational institutions and the private sector will also be necessary to close the skills gap and ensure that Ghana has the human resources needed to guarantee long-term growth.

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The Report: Ghana 2020

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