Major upgrades to basic education

Students at Adum Presby Primary School in Kumasi, Ghana

Adum Presby Primary School’s Class 3 is made up of 60 children: 33 boys and 27 girls, each wearing a royal blue uniform and a short hair cut. They are packed into wooden desks by threes, and even by fours, although they are only meant to seat two, sharing their textbooks and many other things in this modest classroom. The teacher, Asamoa Margaret Antwiwaa, or as her students like to call her “Madame Margaret”, recaps yesterday’s lesson by taking up the students’ homework questions. Some of the children stand up confidently to respond, while others sit quietly, dreading to be called upon.  While it is obvious that many children are eager to learn, it is also clear that many students did not complete their homework or understand the material, and some haven’t eaten breakfast.

Under the Ghana’s constitution, the government is obligated to provide access to Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE). The FCUBE policy was put into effect by the Ministry of Education/Ghana Education Services in 1995. It has been adapted into various educational reforms and programmes as a strategy to reduce poverty restraints and increase enrollment by removing school tuition fees and levies on basic education for all “school-going age children” (grades 1 to 9).

Although school enrollment rates have increased, Madame Margaret touches on the other socioeconomic conditions constraining access, quality and completion of basic education for all. “There still aren’t enough learning materials in government schools and parents don’t want to buy books.” She explains that many of the pupils at Adum Presby (a government/public school) come from low income families. Their parents do not have time to help their kids with homework, and do not have the means to purchase their school materials or even to provide them with breakfast every morning.  Owusu Agyamang, a Regional Public Relations Officer for the Ghana Education Services, expands, “if a parent is not economically empowered, then even though basic education is free, they are still unable to send children to school.” This is particularly true of the rural and more remote areas in the country, especially the Northern regions of Ghana, where low levels of economic development, weak social services and lack of infrastructure are prevalent. According to Ghana’s most recent Preliminary Education Sector Performance Report, access to and the importance of education in these areas tend to be more limited and less emphasized.  “In these areas, there are poorer households, fewer (total and trained) teachers, low demands for education, poor infrastructure, limited community-school relationships, high teacher absenteeism, high migration, and a rigid schooling system that doesn’t account for the needs of local rural communities.” In many Ghanaian families, school-aged children (mainly girls) are often put to work to supplement household income. Sending a child to school can be seen as a loss of family wages and domestic support. As a result, some parents do not see any benefit in their children getting a formal education. [pullquote]

The deprived northern districts are all below national levels, and achievement of basic education for girls is significantly less than boys nation-wide.  These gaps however, are decreasing thanks to Ghana’s recent educational reforms.[/pullquote]

Matilda Bannerman Mensah, head of the Girl Education Unit at the Ghana Education Services, adds “there are also traditional socio-cultural practices that put preference on boys’ education rather than girls’.”  Arranged and early marriage, female genital circumcision, and bondage are degenerative practices that are still predominant (particularly in the deprived northern regions) and constitute some of the other barriers preventing girls’ access to education.

The Government of Ghana and the Ministry of Education are well aware of these limitations and are attempting to address the issues. In 2002, the national government committed itself to attaining the United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDGs) of achieving universal primary education by their targeted deadlines and included it in conjunction with the implementation of its national development strategy. The “Ghana Poverty Reduction Strategy” (GPRS) provides a guideline for the development and execution of the latest Education Strategic Plan’s objective: 100 per cent equal access to and completion of universal basic education for all children in Ghana by 2015. The aim to ensure equitable participation in and completion of basic education has meant improving the quality of teaching and learning, the provision and management of resources, and the overall efficiency of the decentralized education management system.

Ghana’s government has introduced a number of initiatives in the last decade including: a national school feeding program, free school uniforms and exercise books, extended kindergarten services, the building and rehabilitation of school facilities, education awareness campaigns, and in-service staff training, to improve both the quality of teaching and learning, and to increase equal basic educational opportunities for both male and female children in Ghana.

The number of boys and girls in each class of Adum Presby Primary School

Although these initiatives have encouraged more children to enroll in and attend school, only 88 per cent of primary students and 67.7 per cent of junior high students complete their education, hindering the 2015 target of 100 per cent basic education for all.  Gender and geographical disparities in enrollment and completion rates remain an issue. The deprived northern districts are all below national levels, and achievement of basic education for girls is significantly less than boys nation-wide.  These gaps however, are decreasing thanks to Ghana’s recent educational reforms.

Educational limitations and discrepancies stem from the lack of funding and resources available to accommodate the growing needs of students and schools within the districts they operate. “[The] quality [of education] is [being] compromised in some way,” says Veronica Jackson, the National Activity Coordinator for the Ghana Education Services. “The right thing would be to add on to the infrastructure, but it doesn’t happen that way. It all comes down to funding and resources. There are more needs to be catered for than the resources can take care of. These are all part of the challenges.”

While the largest source of funding within the education sector comes from the Government of Ghana, its share in the total national expenditure has been declining. Economic policy restrictions imposed by institutions like the International Monetary Fund’s loan agreements, have weakened the government’s ability to allocate resources where they are needed most – in public infrastructure and social services.

Increased donor share for education costs is crucial for the development of the sector and the success of its reforms. The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) contributes significantly to the implementation of the GPRS and Ghana’s subsequent national development plans. CIDA is working to improve the effectiveness of aid and the coordination of development projects in Ghana through activities aimed at improving budget planning for poverty reduction, delivery of basic services, strengthening technical and management expertise, and improving public financial management and oversight.  This assistance helps build the capacity for effective, transparent and accountable systems of governance for Ghana’s population; however, the collaborative effort of aid donors, development partners and the local government is required for sustainable educational improvements.

Girls rationing out the lunch of beans and rice provided by the School Feeding Program

Fortunately for the students at Adum Presby Primary, the school will soon benefit from more governmental and community support. Headmaster Akwasi Agemang Duku explains that the school is shortlisted for the construction of a kitchen facility to strengthen the delivery of its feeding program and a new school building, complete with more classrooms, washroom facilities, a library and information and communication technology equipment, set to be ready by the end of next year.

“The government is doing their best. Because children are the future leaders, we put everything aside and do our best. Whatever is given to us, we have to take it…God on our side and because of the work we have chosen-and we love our work- we are managing,” says Agemang Duku.

Statistical Source:

Preliminary Education Sector Performance Report 2008, Ministry of Education, Science and Sports (MoeSS)

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