Prince Armah, PhD
In 2015, the United Nations officially recognized and commended Ghana for meeting the millennium development goal on universal primary education and gender parity in primary schools. Two major primary education improvement policy interventions initiated in 2004/05 academic year namely the Capitation Grant Scheme (CGS) and the National School Feeding Programme (NSFP) might have significantly contributed to this success story. The CGS is a school tuition fees abolition policy that seeks to facilitate the attainment of universal access to primary education. The NSFP, on the other hand, was initiated in collaboration with the Dutch Government with the immediate objectives of reducing hunger and malnutrition among school pupils, and increasing school enrolment, attendance and retention, which have a relationship with improved pupils’ learning outcomes. Despite this remarkable feat, there appeared to be a significant number of school-age children who were not in school (approximately halve a million), resulting in the government’s formulation of the complementary education policy with the view to teaching out-of-school children at designated centers so they can subsequently be integrated into the formal school system at primary 3 or 4.
However, there is still considerable evidence to suggest that children typically from the poorest rural and hardest to reach communities in Ghana are more likely to be kept out of school due to financial issues, lack of proper school facilities and quality teachers, raising public concerns about limited school access to and quality of education for disadvantaged children. This comes at the back of considerable investment in education with the Government committing up to 20% of its annual budget and around 6% of GDP to education. In most cases over 80% of such budgetary allocations have gone into payments of emoluments for staff and officials (including ‘ghost workers’) as well as inefficient public financial management practices, leaving very little funds to be invested into infrastructure and instructional resources to improve access and quality especially in the deprived communities. This has potentially rendered the cost of education quite expensive in Ghana, and with the poverty gap widening, children from seemingly low-income backgrounds appear to be the most affected ones. Unemployment issues among graduates are also high on the table with many parents questioning the returns on education and potentially providing basis to show little interest in their children’s basic education.
A stakeholders’ consultation exercise VIAM Africa conducted in April 21-22, 2016 tends to point towards these views, in addition to other concerns raised about pupils’ retention and success, and quality of education in the country. The main purpose of this consultations was to support ongoing steps, by the United Nations Education Commission, to improve financing of education through the development of a renewed and compelling investment case, and financing pathways for achieving equal educational opportunity for children and young people. VIAM collated the views of over 50 participants comprising technocrats and consumers of public education at selected communities in Accra, Ghana. Consultation sessions were held at three different locations, of close proximity to the settlement of participants. The first two sessions were in the afternoon and the last session, in the evening. Each session began with an overview of the Commission’s work as required, after which discussions around key questions ensued. Owing to differences in literacy among participants, some of the discussion questions had to be rephrased in a local language (predominantly Ga, Twi and Ewe) semi-literate and illiterate participants can understand.
From interactions with participants, it was obvious that parents and guardians were very much interested in the education of their children. For some, it is an issue of giving their children a privilege they [the parent] never had. For others, it is about preparing their children for future demands and opportunities. Their interest is however attenuated by economic and socio-cultural considerations. Unemployment, poor family planning, broken homes as a result of divorce, among others were some reasons parents found it difficult to educate their children. A more pervasive constraint was the skepticism in the importance of education due to the prevailing condition of graduate unemployment in Ghana. This was, however, an expression of frustration than an outright devaluation of education. Participants further highlighted poor community involvement, retrogressive socio-cultural norms, outdated and loaded curriculum, harsh economic conditions, and poor parental supervision, among others as obstacles to raising educational quality in Ghana.
They projected that, by 2030, school fees will skyrocket beyond the reach of parents especially those from low-income background, confidence in public schools will plummet, private schools would outnumber public ones, technical and vocational education will gain momentum, and wholesale education finance for both the rich and the poor will cease. The skepticism and negativity can however be assuaged if requisite reforms and financially viable alternatives for the funding of public schools are developed and implemented, they argued. Participants also perceived that across board financing of education has proven expensive and ineffective over the years, thus government should cross-subsidize and develop a special programme for people to received quality education. This includes especial grants to students from disadvantaged backgrounds or low income homes, especially in a country like Ghana where about 24 percent of the people, measuring some 6.4million are living below the poverty line, and cannot afford to spend GHS3.60 (less than $1) on food a day.
In conclusion, although there are many barriers to school access and success, cost is widely acknowledged as a major impediment. Given the present high cost of education in Ghana relative to family incomes, the Government of Ghana will have to intervene with more appropriate and effective financial support arrangement for most families, but in a way that would not suffer political abuse as previous schemes have experienced.
The Author is an Educational Consultant and the Executive Director of VIAM Africa Centre for Education & Social Policy