The large portion of the national budget devoted each year to education highlights the value Ghana places on learning and human development. The Ministry of Education (MoE) is the largest recipient of state funding, and the proportion of government money allocated to the sector has only risen in recent years.

The impetus for this is the government’s desire to transform the current resource-driven economy into a service-oriented, knowledge-based one. Achieving this will require decades, but steps are being taken to ensure that short-, mid- and long-term measures – such as ensuring universal access to primary education – provide a sustainable foundation for future progress.

According to Donnan Tay, the director of tertiary education at the MoE, “The primary focus of the government is to ensure universal basic education for all Ghanaians, but that does not mean we are not rigorously pursuing the advancement of educational standards at all levels.” Indeed, while comprehensive and significant education sector reforms are currently beyond the government’s financial capability, great strides are being made in several areas.

To a certain extent, private sector investment has filled some of the gaps within the education system. Private institutions make up roughly a quarter of the facilities for pre-primary through to secondary schooling. As for tertiary education, there are twice as many private institutions as public ones, although enrolment figures in the former are far lower. That said, there is scope for improved coordination and collaboration between private and public institutions whereby some of the benefits from the well-funded private institutions can be shared with the underfunded public system.

BY THE NUMBERS: Basic indicators are moving in a generally positive direction, albeit at a slower pace than expected. Though improvements have been made in reducing illiteracy – Ghana’s literacy rate rose from 54% in 2002 to 62% in 2008 – the MoE is likely to fall short of its target of raising the literacy rate to 81% by 2015, as set by the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG).

The education system itself was reformed under the 2008 Education Act to include two years of kindergarten, six years of primary, three years of junior high and four years of senior high school. The 13-year primary and secondary system has since been reduced by one year and senior high is now three years.

The primary education gross enrolment rate (GER) for the 2009/10 school year, the last year for which data were available, reached 94.9%, though the net enrolment rate (NER) was just 83.6%. Net enrolment includes only children of official primary school age, whereas gross enrolment includes all students, including those who have started schooling late or repeated a grade. Moving up by grade level, enrolment percentages drop quickly; junior high registered a GER of 79.5% and a NER of 47.8% in 2009/10, while senior high numbers fell even further with GER of just 36.1% (NER figures not available). GER for the tertiary system was last measured in 2008/09 at 9.6%.

OVERSIGHT: The MoE forms overall policy for the development of the education system, while the Ghana Education Service (GES) acts as its policy-implementing arm. The National Teachers Council (NTC) oversees wide-ranging efforts and regulation of human resource development through its training, registering, licensing and monitoring activities nationwide. Curriculum oversight at the primary and secondary levels is handled by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), while the National Inspection Board (NIB) monitors academic and infrastructure-related standards for both public and private schools. At the tertiary level, the National Accreditation Board (NAB) accredits all public and private tertiary institutions, while the National Council for Tertiary Education (NCTE) is in charge of developing policy within the MoE.

STRATEGY: The Education Strategic Plan (ESP) 2010-20 outlines the MoE’s long-term policy agenda and aims. The new strategic document is the fifth of its kind and replaces the former ESP, which was designed to run from 2003-15. In line with the 1992 constitution, as well as the national poverty alleviation policy and Ghana’s MDGs, the chief focus of the ESP is to provide universal basic education to all children.

It does, however, target other areas in need of attention, such as bridging the gender gap in education, improving science and technology learning, strengthening links between the private sector and tertiary education institutions, and decentralising the management of the sector. Particular emphasis is placed on developing science, technology and maths education (STME). The MoE seeks to ensure that by 2020 60% of all university students and 80% of all polytechnic and vocational students are enrolled in STME-related disciplines, a policy that is in line with the government’s economic agenda. To achieve these goals, the government has considered measures such as providing special incentives to university graduates in STME-related disciplines and reforming curricula to more heavily involve STME at lower levels of the education system.

DECENTRALISATION: The ESP’s initiative to decentralise power in the education sector also dovetails with the government’s overall goal of decentralising state control by 2015 where feasible. The Ghana Education Decentralisation Project was completed in April 2012 after two years of collaboration between the MoE, the GES and the US Agency for International Development. The project has established a new framework within the education system that will transfer decision making from federal organisations, the MoE and the GES, to district-level education authorities. Decisions pertaining to budget allocation, teacher placement and even performance improvement programmes have been reassigned to local authorities. The ultimate goal is an improved, more efficient system involving local authorities that are more familiar with the challenges and needs of their school systems.

FUNDING: The MoE’s share of the national budget rose from 23.6% in 2002 to 28.2% in 2005 and 30.2% in 2008. As a percentage of GDP, it peaked in 2008 at 10.1% before falling to 9% in 2009, having increased from 6.2% in 2003. The only ministries coming close to the MoE in terms of budget allocation are transport and health, which combined hold 31.3% of the total, only slightly higher than the MoE’s 2008 budget. Some inefficiencies in budget allocation have been identified within the ESP, such as the amount devoted to human resources. However, the decentralisation of the system is expected to rectify the issues as lower-level authorities are seen as better positioned to assign both financial and human resources to their facilities.

The previous ESP called for more equitable spending on the various stages of education by 2015. However, basic education (kindergarten through junior high) remains the focal point of government expenditure. Therefore, the ESP targets 65% of funding to for basic education by 2015. Funding for secondary and tertiary education are much lower, with senior high at 17.2% and universities 14.1% of expenditure.

KINDERGARTEN & PRIMARY: The government’s emphasis on ensuring universal primary education has seen impressive increases in both the number of schools and enrolment figures over the past decade. In the 2009/10 school year, the MoE reported 17,471 kindergartens, of which 71.4% were public, and 18,579 primary schools (74.5% public). This is a dramatic increase in kindergartens from the 2003/04 school year when there were just 7009 facilities. Enrolment doubled in the same period, from 687,643 students to 1.44m, bringing kindergarten GER up from 54.6% to 97.3%. At the current rate, the MoE should easily meet its goal of 100% GER by 2015 for kindergarten education.

A similar trajectory, though not as dramatic, is seen among primary schools. Enrolment in primary school has risen from 2.96m in 2003/04 to 3.81m in 2009/10, while GER has gone up from 86.5% to 94.9%. Despite these increases, it will likely be difficult to achieve the ESP target of 107% GER (which includes students of all ages) by 2015, though not impossible. Having risen each year since 2003/04, the primary school completion rate declined slightly between the 2008/09 and 2009/10 school years, from 88.7% to 88.1%. However, the goal of reaching a 100% completion rate at the primary school level by 2015 could still be possible if the prior pace, which saw the completion rate rise from 66% in 2002 to 88.7% in 2008, can be resumed.

SECONDARY: Junior high school enrolment reached 1.3m in Ghana’s 10,768 schools during 2009/10. This brought the overall GER for junior high to 79.5%, a noteworthy increase on the 70.2% in 2003/04, and probably even enough to reach the ESP-targeted 90% by 2015 if the pace is maintained. The completion rate for junior high, however, has been significantly harder to raise; in fact, from the 2008/09 school year to 2009/10 it decreased from 75% to 66%. It is therefore unlikely that the goal of attaining a 100% completion rate by 2015 will be possible.

While primary and junior high fall under the government’s initiative to provide free basic education, senior high does not, though a cost-sharing programme is in place to increase the rate of enrolment. Tuition fees at senior high schools vary across the country, often correlated to the quality of schooling. The GES recently revised its ceiling for public school tuition: day students will pay GHS160.70 ($95.23) per term as well as other charges that are applicable to their enrolment status. The meal cost per student was also estimated at GHS1.80 ($1.07) per day by the GES.

In the 2009/10 school year the MoE reported a total of 697 senior high schools, of which 496 were public and 201 private. Of the 537,332 total students enrolled in senior high, 89% attended public schools. The 36.1% GER reported for 2009/10 represents a significant increase on the 26.6% GER recorded in the 2003/04 school year, while also indicating the 36% GER targeted by the ESP by 2015 should be well exceeded. The MoE, however, may have more difficulty in reaching its objective of 50% female enrolment in senior high by 2015 as this has risen only marginally from 43.5% in 2004/05 to 44.7% in 2009/10.

PRIVATE PARTICIPATION: The private sector plays an important role within the national education system, contributing significant resources. Some local private institutions date back before independence, such as the Ghana International School (GIS), which opened in 1955. In 2009/10 some 28.6% (4990) of all kindergartens were private, as were 25.5% (4744) of all primary schools, 26% (2799) of all junior highs and 28.8% (201) of all high schools (28.8%). The government is encouraging private sector involvement in education by offering incentives such as duty-free imports on education-related materials. However, as funding for private schooling depends almost entirely on tuition costs, and the resulting high fees tend to exclude most students except those from more affluent families.

International schools make up a significant portion of the private education sector, most of which cater to the expatriate community. International schools are generally held in high regard, and include the American International School, the Lincoln International School, the British International School and GIS. International schools, along with many private schools, generally operate from kindergarten through grade 12.

Both private and international schools have grown in number in recent years, largely thanks to broad economic growth, rising incomes and an influx of foreign workers. They are generally regarded as superior to their public counterparts due to the fact they have smaller class sizes, better facilities and internationally recognised coursework.

TERTIARY: Just a decade ago there were only about 15 private universities in Ghana, according to the MoE’s Tay. Today, the number of private tertiary institutions offering degree programmes has swelled to 45, according to NAB data. However, as Tay said, some of these institutions offer graduate, seminary or vocational degrees and the number of “traditional” private universities is actually closer to 35.

There are eight public universities in Ghana that are 70% government funded and offer much lower tuition fees than their private counterparts. Public universities are generally held in high regard. Founded in 1948, the University of Ghana (UG) is the country’s oldest and largest university, enrolling 29,754 students in the 2011/12 school year, of which 1816 were taking postgraduate courses. The University of Science and Technology and the University of Cape Coast are the second- and third-largest universities, respectively.

There are 19 public tertiary institutions, including the eight publicly funded universities and a host of professional and vocational centres. In 2008 the contrast between public and private tertiary education was clearly evidenced by the 132,604 students enrolled in the public system versus the 18,287 students registered in private universities. “The private sector faces two main challenges to its success: cost and quality of education,” Tay said. Indeed, the affordability and prestige of public universities often make it extremely challenging for the private sector to attract students. With tuition costs often three to four times higher than public universities, private institutions are generally only an option for the wealthiest students or those who cannot gain admission to a public facility. To make tertiary education more accessible, the Student Loan Trust Fund was established in 2005 to provide low-interest loans to tertiary students; however, the fund’s finances are quite limited and restricted to minor expenditures such as books, transportation and other supplies, not tuition.

VOCATIONAL TRAINING: The majority of the technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institutes in Ghana are part of the private sector, with 151 private centres as compared with 129 public ones. However, in terms of enrolment numbers, the trend is reversed; during the 2009/10 school year, there were 64,155 students enrolled in TVET institutes, with 39,608 registered in public schools and 24,547 attending private ones. TVET institutes primarily consist of centres for community development, social welfare employability skills as well as GES Technical Institutes.

GES Technical Institutes, also known as VOTEC institutes, are the equivalent of vocational high schools, designed to produce graduates with professional-quality trade-related skills ready to enter the workforce. There are currently 26 VOTEC centres training with 20,694 students in mainly technological and industrial-related fields, 10 of which are government-run.

STME & ICT: As mentioned, improving the role of science, maths and technology in education is central to the government’s plans. The MoE is keen to incorporate information and communication technology (ICT) training earlier in the learning process by increasing student-to-computer ratios. ICT implementation in school varies widely, with schools reporting student-to-computer ratios ranging from a low of 3:1 to a high of 650:1. The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) non-governmental organisation has adopted an eponymous initiative in Ghana, the OLPC project, though it has made little headway locally, having provided just 10,000 XO laptops to date. Of more significance is the Better Ghana ICT project, which is distributing 100,000 laptops nationwide as well as 5000 government scholarships.

Though a noble goal, the push to provide every student with a laptop has sparked debate among some education professionals, who are wary of the impact, especially considering that just 17.7% of schools have internet access and only 8.3% of all computers are connected to the internet. As the argument goes, however, increasing connectivity, whilst providing each school with an adequate computer lab and diverting funds to other resources – such as ICT training for teachers and the hiring of additional ICT-specific teachers where possible – could make the distribution of what computers are available more constructive.

On a broader level, the MoE would like to achieve a national manpower ratio of 60:40 in terms of skilled science to humanities professionals. The STME focus is in line with the government’s broader ICT for Accelerated Development (ICT4AD) plan, which also seeks to increase Ghana’s knowledge economy through the spread of ICT training and use. Currently, only 12.4% of students at private universities are studying science-related disciplines, though enrolment ratios for STME disciplines are better at polytechnic institutes (32%) and public universities (38%). To address this, the MoE is seeking to increase the amount of STME programmes on offer by encouraging universities to establish or expand science and technology-related programmes. The ultimate goal is to raise the number of students enrolled in such disciplines from 38% in 2008 to 60% by 2020, as well as increasing the number of polytechnics registered in STME-related disciplines from 30% in 2008 to 80% by 2020. As a key feature of the government’s long-term economic strategy, developing a larger workforce capable of high-level technological and scientific work could also lead to the advancement of research and development (R&D) in the country.

R&D: Public and private funding for pure research or innovation-linked product development is fairly low. Official figures on overall R&D spending are hard to come by, though World Bank data indicate that Ghana spent 0.23% of GDP on R&D in 2007, slightly below the continent’s average of 0.3%. The MoE has acknowledged that there is inadequate funding for research facilities at the tertiary level, which has come at the expense of the ministry’s emphasis on providing universal primary education. The NCTE has been given the task of fortifying post-graduate education and working to involve the private sector when and where possible.

As part of the effort to stimulate R&D cooperation between the private sector and the tertiary education system, a new science and technology park is being planned at the University of Cape Coast to host a range of ICT companies. Construction of the park, for which $5m in financing has already been secured, is set to commence in September 2012, and will be the second of such technology ventures, following the first park under construction in the Tema Free Zones. It is hoped that the presence of science and technology-related companies in close proximity to universities will create enough of a spark to boost R&D, despite the limited funding from the government.

OUTLOOK: Though Ghana still has a long way to go in realising its preliminary objective of providing free, universal basic education, it is on course to achieve many of its MDGs by 2015. The education system as a whole is one of the best in the region, thanks largely to the government’s willingness to provide funding and a general appreciation of the value of education among Ghanaians. Moving up the education chain, however, local universities and tertiary learning centres suffer from a lack of funding and research support, which ultimately affects the quality and quantity of graduates they are able to produce. Nevertheless, large increases in the number of private colleges and universities over the past decade have helped alleviate some of the burden carried by public schools, though tuition costs at such institutions remain a barrier to entry for many.