Prioritising knowledge: Population growth provides an incentive to develop education infrastructure

The government’s focus on increasing its social capital is demonstrated in the size and scope of its education budget. As the largest recipient of state funding in the country, the Ministry of Education (MoE) is tasked with transforming the country’s economy from resourceto knowledge-based and ensuring that graduates are prepared to enter the fast-changing workforce.

Strong population growth and commitment to meeting the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have put pressure on the state to improve its education sector. Although its primary focus remains on ensuring universal basic education for Ghana’s youngest student population, the country’s movement towards middle-income status, coupled with a huge influx of post-secondary students, have pushed the MoE to shift more of its attention toward the tertiary sector over the past year. Salary provision, specifically through the Single Spine Salary Structure (SSSS), has taken the lion’s share of the ministry’s finances and accounted for 61.4% of the 2013 national budget. Yet, a ballooning deficit and pressing infrastructure needs may alter the government’s priorities, with plans for a number of new buildings and institutions already in the pipeline.

SECTOR STRUCTURE: According to the MoE, Ghana has 19,723 primary schools, 11,709 junior high schools, 720 senior secondary schools, 39 training colleges (colleges of education), 306 technical/vocational institutions, eight public and 40 private universities.

The MoE creates over-arching policy goals, which are implemented by the Ghana Education Service. The National Teachers Council handles human resources policies and projects, including training, registering, licensing and monitoring Ghana’s educators. The National Council for Curriculum Assessment manages primary and secondary curriculums, and the National Accreditation Board accredits all tertiary institutions, with the National Council for Tertiary Education (NCTE) developing post-secondary policy for the MoE. The sector is financed through a mix of revenues, including donor funding and the Ghana Education Trust Fund.

After the 2008 Education Act was passed, the school system in Ghana was re-structured to make up two years of kindergarten, six years of primary school, three years of junior high and four years of senior high school, though the structure has since been reduced by one year, with senior high school now running for three years.

Students continuing into post-secondary studies must pass the West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examination to enter university.

Under the MoE’s Education Strategic Plan 2010-20, the chief focus of the ministry is to provide basic education to all children. Other priority objectives include boosting equitable access to education, improving the quality of teaching and learning, bridging the gender gap, and promoting science and technical education.

INDICATORS: The country’s education sector has been expanding steadily as a result of population growth.

According to the MoE, total primary school enrolment increased from 3.96m in 2010/11 to 4.45m in 2011/12, representing 12.3% growth. Enrolment in junior high schools rose by 6.7% in the same period, from 1.34m in 2010/11 to 1.43m in 2011/12. In senior high school, enrolment numbers grew from 728,076 in 2010/11 to 758,468 in 2011/12, a jump of 4.2%.

Dramatic growth is seen at the tertiary level. Although the MoE’s most recent tertiary statistics are from 2009, the World Bank’s World Development Indicators show that tertiary enrolment in Ghana has gone up by some 91.9% between 2007 and 2011, reaching 12.1% of the university-aged population, compared to 6.3% in 2007.

GLOBAL INCENTIVE: While increased enrolment is a positive sign for education in Ghana, across-the-board growth has exacerbated pre-existing challenges, with basic indicators showing mixed performance in recent years. Student numbers have increased across the board, but infrastructure upgrades have not kept pace, and teachers are in scarce supply outside of the Greater Accra Region, compounding the urban-rural divide.

Through a number of policy interventions including uniform, school lunch and textbook subsidisation, increased wages and new training programmes for teachers, tuition limits and tailored options for deprived communities, the government has shown commitment to ensuring all Ghanaian children receive basic education. But there is still much room for improvement.

The second MDG mandates the provision of universal primary education by 2015. Ghana is well on its way to achieving this goal; at the kindergarten level, the gross enrolment ratio (GER), meaning the percentage of pupils as a proportion of children in the population, increased by 1% for kindergartners between 2010/11 and 2011/12, reaching 99.4% in 2011/12, according to MoE statistics. The GER at primary school levels for children aged 6-11 years old stood at 96.5% in 2012, a slight improvement from 96.4% in 2011. In May 2013 the UN Development Programme (UNDP) released an interim report that found that Ghana is “on track” to meeting MDG 2, with significant progress made towards reaching 100% of the population.

“While official statistics have not yet been released, in terms of improving access to primary education, we have seen significant progress. At the moment primary Gross enrolment rates by level, 2010-12 school enrolment is closer to 98%,” Ernest Otoo, head of planning and donor coordination at the MoE, told OBG. Otoo said it would be difficult to reach the remaining children, as many are living in isolated rural communities and are needed on family farms for planting and harvest. However, the government introduced a fast-track Complimentary Basic Education programme in June 2013, which offers a flexible nine-month schedule to children in isolated areas.

“Classes are scheduled based on the community’s needs. We have been piloting it since back in 2007, but now looking at this level, we are giving it a bigger push. We have brought on board a good number of implementers, and we are now taking off with 25,000 children to be enrolled,” he said.

ENROLMENT & ATTENDANCE: Challenges to universal primary education persist: While enrolment has increased, attendance figures tell a different story. According to the government’s Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey of 2011 (MICS4), published in collaboration with the UN Population Fund, the US Agency for International Development, the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund and Japan Official Development Assistance, attendance at primary schools stood at 73% in 2011, meaning that a number of enrolled students are not necessarily attending class.

This is particularly true in poorer, rural areas where attendance levels are markedly lower than the national average – in the Northern Region, for example, primary school attendance in 2011 was 59.4%, compared to 81.5% in Greater Accra. And while completion rates for primary education increased from 87.1% to 91.6% between 2009/10 and 2010/11 (the last academic year for which statistics are available), enrolment drops off significantly between the primary/junior high and junior high/senior high levels. The GER for junior high school students, for example, stood at 80.6% in 2011/12, and 36.9% for senior high school.

STAFFING & FACILITIES: Teacher scarcity outside of urban areas presents a challenge to rural education. The MoE reports that the number of primary school teachers dropped by 5.1% between 2009/10 and 2010/11, from 131,057 to 124,359. In public and private schools, the pupil-to-teacher ratio increased from 29:1 in 2009/10 to 32:1 in 2010/11. Poorer rural areas show a high number of untrained teachers – only 48% of public primary school teachers were qualified as of 2010/11, compared to 90% in the Greater Accra region, and pupil-teacher ratios also show an urban/rural disparity: in the Upper East Region, the ratio stood at 41:1 in 2010/11, compared to 32:1 in Greater Accra.

Ghana faces a widespread infrastructure deficit evident in the education system through the much-decried “schools under trees” – schools being operated in ramshackle temporary facilities, or under trees where no building exists. The government has reportedly eliminated 40% of the 4000 schools under trees over the past four years, with estimates for the current number of schools under trees put at 2400 as of January 2013. Efforts to build new schools are also under way: a total of 1683 schools were under construction at the time of writing, of which 42% had been completed, 20% were at advanced stage of completion and 38% at various stages of completion, according the ministry.

As student numbers swell, teacher numbers decline and infrastructure become increasingly dilapidated, Ghana’s primary school system finds itself under mounting pressure. The negative impact of large classes, low attendance, and high dropout rates can be seen at the macro level. MICS4 found that literacy rates for youths aged 15-24 years old have declined since 2006. According to the report, the literacy rate for young women dropped from 68% in 2006 to 61.4% in 2011, and for young men literacy rates fell from 75% to 71.3%. The UNDP estimates Ghana’s adult literacy rate at 66.6%. As such, the MoE is likely to fall short of its MDG target of raising the literacy rate to 81% by 2015.

BUDGETING: The MoE received GHS4.41bn ($2.27bn) in the 2013 budget, a significant increase from GHS2.87bn ($1.48bn) in 2012, although the numbers could be misleading. Under the state’s expansive salary increases and newly introduced SSSS, wages for Ghana’s public servants have increased by 135% since 2010. In the 2013 budget, GHS2.7bn ($1.39bn) was allocated for salaries at the MoE, nearly its entire 2012 budget. “The government funding for education has been growing, but a larger chunk goes to salaries, that’s the trend we are seeing. Salary increases are viewed as investment in the future and a method by which we can raise the number of teachers in outlying rural areas,” said Otoo.

Part of the significant budget increase can also be attributed to over-spending in 2012. A report that year found that the MoE spent GHS5.12bn ($2.63bn) in 2012, amounting to excess spending of GHS2.58bn ($1.33bn). This included payment of a capitation grant covering enrolment fees at the primary and junior high school levels, free school uniforms to 1.6m pupils in deprived communities, 28.4m free textbooks and 53,555 laptops for 2000 schools under the Better Ghana Information and Communications Technology (ICT) project.

Under the 2013 budget, the government will once again invest in infrastructure and school subsidisation: GHS93m ($47.81m) will be spent to remove the remaining schools under trees, while GHS28m ($14.39m) and GHS28.7m ($14.75m) have been allocated for uniforms and textbooks, respectively. The Capitation Grants scheme will receive GHS25.8m ($13.26m), and infrastructure upgrades including funding for science resource centres, senior high school infrastructure, community schools and colleges amounts to some GHS296m ($152.17m). By the end of 2017, the government also plans to construct 200 new senior high schools, with 50 expected to be completed in 2013.

On top of salary and infrastructure spending, the government is also working to improve teacher education and training. Under the 2007 Education Reform Programme, untrained primary school teachers can access remedial courses through distance education. In 2012, 8409 teachers were enrolled in the Untrained Teachers Diploma in Basic Education programme.

PRIVATE SECTOR: Government spending alone will not bridge the education gap in Ghana. Private schools have a long history in the country, with the Accra Academy and Ghana International School dating back to preindependence, and other high-profile, pre-tertiary institutions attracting upper-middle class students, including the British International School, the American International School, Tema International School and Faith Montessori. Private institutions account for a substantial portion of the country’s overall education system – as of 2010/11, there were 5292 private primary schools, 3247 private junior high schools and 209 private senior high schools, showing annual growth of 11.6%, 16% and 4%, respectively. “At the pre-tertiary level, private sector participation has been growing. We have about 20% private sector participation, a number which was less than 5% or 6% five years ago. The private sector runs education as a business, and the demand is always there,” said Otoo.

Student enrolment indicates private schools are becoming a popular option for Ghana’s middle class: enrolment at private primary schools went up by 7.6% between 2009/10 and 2010/11, reaching 764,259 students, or some 19.28% of total enrolment. Private students represent 17.58% of all junior high school students and 8.86% of all senior high school students, both increases from 2010/11 levels.

UNIVERSITIES: As the tertiary sector welcomes a record number of incoming students, the government is moving forward on desperately needed infrastructure and spending programmes, recognising the growing demand for post-secondary education and the challenges facing graduates entering the workforce.

Infrastructure is a key priority for tertiary education in Ghana. In 2012, in line with its policy to expand access to education at all levels, the government established two new universities – the University of Health and Allied Sciences in Ho, and the University of Energy and Natural Resources in Sunyani. The government has allocated GHS5m ($2.57m) in the 2013 budget to begin work on a new university in the Eastern Region, and plans to establish 10 community colleges in 2013.

Enrolment at tertiary institutions in Ghana has shown a huge increase in recent years. The World Bank revealed 91.9% growth in enrolment at the tertiary level between 2007 and 2011, with 15% of university-aged males and 9% of university-aged females enrolled in a higher education institution in 2011. The World Bank reported the total number of tertiary students jumped from 140,017 in 2007 to 285,862 in 2011. In 2013 universities will see an even larger influx of students entering their doors, as the Education Act’s structural reforms create a double cohort of high school students graduating at both the 12th and 13th year of senior high school.

UPSTANDING REPUTATION: The University of Ghana (UG), the country’s oldest and largest university, saw its student population more than double between 2000 and 2007 to reach 28,842 students, according to New York University’s Live Wire. The current student population of UG stands at 29,754, with 26,154 bachelor’s degree students, 1816 post-graduates, 1784 subdegrees and 1300 international students.

Universities in Ghana have a solid reputation globally, according to Daniel Hormeku, assistant registrar at UG’s International Programmes Department. Hormeku told OBG that the number of international students increased from 1142 in 2010 to 1300 in 2013. “Other universities have experienced the same. The country is peaceful, our campus here has a unique culture, and the quality of programmes can be matched with the quality of programmes everywhere in the world,” he said.

As universities become increasingly attractive to the nation’s young, growing population, the government is taking small steps to help schools with the increasing influx of new students. In June 2013 the government announced it would allocate GHS7m ($3.6m) to the country’s public tertiary institutions, to assist in expansion of their student intake capacity.

FINDING WORK: An increased student population has also created post-tertiary challenges, and graduate employment is becoming a focal point in the national education dialogue. The 2010 Population and Housing Census found that 93.1% of the economically active population is employed, with the majority of the unemployed (83.8%) being first-time job seekers. About 250,000 Gov't education budget, 2010-13 youth join the labour force annually in Ghana, with more than 30%, or about 70,000 workers, comprising of fresh graduates, according to the Graduate Business Support Scheme. Only 5000 will find work in the formal sector, while the rest will seek informal employment or remain unemployed.

In the wake of growing media reports of high graduate unemployment, the Ghana-based Association of African Universities (AAU) called on the government to address the issue of post-graduate employment at its 13th annual conference in June 2013. A conference statement released at the AAU asserted that, “Funding agencies and the international development partners should consult African universities in the setting of African development agenda, and the curricula should be constantly reviewed to ensure relevance to the needs of industry, the global environment, immediate and remote societies.”

According to a 2011 report by the Netherlands Organisation for International Cooperation in Higher Education, post-secondary enrolment has traditionally been skewed towards the humanities in Ghana. The official government policy is to achieve a ratio of 60:40 sciences to humanities by 2020, a policy which is evidenced in programmes such as the Better Ghana ICT Project, which will distribute 400,000 laptops to tertiary institutions by 2016, as well as the Mathematics, Science and Technology programme, which provided 7000 students with scholarships in maths and science education in 2011/12. The government plans to grant an additional 3000 scholarships in 2013, according to the 2013 budget statement.

In an effort to promote entrepreneurship in Ghana, the government launched GEBSS in 2011 with the aim of targeting 10,000 unemployed graduates per year with a practical skills entrepreneurship programme. As of April 2013, 2500 graduates had enrolled in its business training programmes, with 500 workshops scheduled to take place in 2013/14.

The MoE also announced in May 2013 it would upgrade polytechnic institutes across the country into technical universities to offer practical programmes aimed at developing middle-level manpower.

OUTLOOK: Government commitment to education has seen the MoE’s budget swell as the country attempts to absorb rising numbers of students at all levels. Salary increases should help with the problem of teacher scarcity, particularly in rural areas, and Ghana is so far on track to reaching universal primary education.

While challenges persist, particularly in regards to infrastructure deficits and a ballooning post-secondary student population, the country could boast one of the best educational systems in the region, and a demonstrated desire to shift the economy from resource- to knowledge-based through improved education across the board. A growing deficit may limit ministry allocations in the future, but plans for subsidised basic education, new construction, and the establishment of programmes to increase education in science and maths, should help students enter the workforce and contribute to further economic development.

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The Report: Ghana 2013

Health & Education chapter from The Report: Ghana 2013

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