CONTEXT FOR REFORM
- Ghana’s school system is a mishmash of poor, fair and good. Most schools outside the big metropolitan areas, rural schools and schools in deprived metropolitan areas (e.g. Mamobi in Accra or Effia Kuma in Takoradi) are poor to fair, while some schools in metropolitan areas are fair to good (e.g. Bishop Bowers in Accra or Bethel Methodist in Takoradi).
- More than half of the candidates who sat for the BECE in 2011 failed to qualify for admission into Senior High Schools (SHSs) and Technical Institutes. An official of the Ghana Education Service (GES) was quoted, in the Daily Graphic (29/09/2011), as saying that such colossal failure was ‘normal’.
- Ghana’s school system has long been in this deep hole of performance incontinence. Attempts by successive governments to boost performance with a melange of policy prescriptions have been ineffective in boosting performance. Some have even had undesirable consequences that have blighted the system till today. For example, the Kwapong reforms led to the creation of a two tier school system (and outcomes), which limited access to secondary schools for those from elementary schools, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
- Most of the well-intentioned educational policies failed because they were mainly demand-oriented and did not equally address supply side factors. For example, abolition of fees leads to dramatic increase in access to schooling and inversely impacts on learning quality – that is, it overwhelm infrastructure, teachers, cost allocation, text books, etc
- Addressing demand factors without tackling supply factors, at the same time, leads to universal access to poor quality education, which is rather detrimental to a country’s competiveness – half-baked educated human resources are even more dangerous (can one cite the present plethora of ‘self appointed experts’ on radio discussions as a typical instance). Apart from the immediate post independence policy, none of the policies jointly addressed demand and supply factors – most focused on demand factors.
- Demand and supply factors are linked and should be mutually tackled else a best performing school system that is able to produce quality outcomes would continue to elude Ghana.
- Address both demand and supply side factors to achieve a school system that is: universal, accessible, affordable and high performing.
Supply Side Factors
Set minimum quality threshold: minimum performance and quality thresholds for all schools in the system. Schools will be equipped and incentivised to achieve these thresholds. The rigorousness of their monitoring will be dependent on the ‘performance category of the particular school’. High performing schools can be exempted from some of the adequacy enforcements and standards and attention focussed on less successful and deprived ones – efficient use of funds.
Basic literacy and numeracy: universal achievement of basic literacy and numeracy skills are essential to boosting school participation and subsequent learning outcomes. The school system’s record on numeracy and language is abysmal: 33,708 (22.9 percent) out of 147,227 candidates who wrote the 2011 West Africa Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) in the country failed in Mathematics; and a recent report by the Chief Examiner of the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) identified ‘candidates’ inability to read and comprehend questions correctly as the cause of students’ low grades’.
Language of instruction: proficiency in literacy is very critical for further academic success and language of instruction was among the three key ingredients found to account for sustained system improvements and achievement of excellence by Mckinsey & Co Consultancy’s recent research on best performing school systems. Ghana must adopt a two-prong approach: mono- literacy (use English language for instruction at all levels of the school system) and tri-lingual (encourage learning and speaking of other significant languages: English, local language, French). Singapore chose this system, in 1987, after experimenting with all types – mono-literacy, bi-literacy, and tri-literacy. This minimises unequal start for those from disadvantaged backgrounds and areas, as most middle and upper classes speak English with their children at home and give them head start at school, where a bi-literate or tri-literate approach is followed.
Recruit motivated teachers
Unqualified teachers: use recent graduates from the universities and polytechnics (or national service personnel) as an interim measure to fill teaching gaps in rural and urban deprived schools to teach basic numeracy and literacy.
Make teaching attractive: salaries of both qualified and the ‘unqualified’ graduate teachers will be made attractive. A scheme, similar to Teach First in the UK or Teach America in U.S.A, will be introduced. These two systems recruit top graduates, without teaching experience and commit them to two years of teaching in deprived schools. Graduates are hotly chased after by employers because of their commitment, adventurousness and academic performance;and those who decide to stay in teaching are fast-tracked to obtain teaching qualifications and school leadership positions.
Use uniform teaching materials:all teachers will use universal literacy and numeracy materials. This will make teaching, particularly for the ‘unqualified teachers’, easier, ensure uniformity and ease performance monitoring. Singapore created the Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore (CDIS) in 1980 to develop supporting teaching materials that could be readily used by less-experienced and less-skilled teachers.
Infrastructure and school management
Defined basic infrastructural level for all school:all schools should have the essential facilities: buildings, toilets, desks, chairs. This helps pupils both psychologically and practically to be interested in school: they see their school as similar to others and have the physical learning aids (chairs and desks) to stimulate and help them participate in learning.
Involve charities/stakeholders:a very practical and effective way would be to encourage responsible charities (NGO’s) and churches to build and run schools with the government funding the running cost (recurrent expenditure) of the schools. This would expand and increase the stock of schools, in all areas; and encourage competition among schools, which would lead to better outcomes. This will be similar to the academy programme in the UK, Charter school programme in the U.S.A, Christian missionary schools in Hong Kong, and Free schools in Sweden. The majority of Hong Kong’s schools have been publicly funded but privately ran by charitable trusts including Christian missionary organisations, since the 1960s. This strategy ensures value for money (offset capital cost for school buildings for the government). The for-profit sector will not be involved in this scheme. Chile involved the private (for profit) sector in its attempt to widen access to education but this has led to an ‘education apartheid’ where achievement variance, based on social class, is one of the highest in the world.
Establish data systems and performance assessments: annual data will be gathered from all schools to assess the reform implementation journey, gain insight into the workings of the systems, and ensure intended outcomes are being achieved. Standardised tests will be carried out at key stages of the school system (Primary 6, JHS 3, and SHS 3) to gauge students and the schools leadership performance. Collected and performance assessment reports will be made available to the public.
School and system accountability: comprehensive data on performance (thresholds and targets achievement) will be shared with stakeholders (students, parents, teachers, school leadership) and an abridged version including explanations for levels of achievements and any action plan to tackle performance shortfalls will be made available to the public. This will make the system transparent, promote competition among schools, and make school leadership accountability for performance.
Inspectorate authority: a new body, akin to OFSTED (Office for Standards in Education) in England, will be established, independent of the Ghana Education Service, to inspect and assess performance of the system (collect data on achievement of thresholds from schools, and make these available to stakeholders and the public). This body will undertake the quality assurance function of the system, monitor improvements and evaluate the activities and effectiveness of the GES and individual schools, and provide independent advice on the effectiveness of government education policies.
Professionalising teaching and accountability
New qualification: the quality of a school system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers. A new teacher qualification system, which raises requirements, will be implemented. This will attract bright and ambitious students into teaching, as in Finland, Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea. The newly qualified teachers will replace the ‘unqualified teachers’ along the improvement journey.
Top up system: teachers who qualified on past certification requirements will be required to complete ‘top up’ modules to be in line with the new qualification requirements.
Continuous professional development: continued professional development will be made obligatory (as in medicine and legal professions) for all teachers, as part of the new regulated teaching profession, and made an essential condition for promotion. Studies have shown that high value-added teachers increase their students’ probability of college attendance, raise earnings and improve the quality of their neighbourhood. Hong Kong, Singapore and Finland make professional development essential requirement.
Transparent career path: a defined teaching career track with clearly spelt out salary and career grading scales, requirements for career grades and promotions, and rewards for each grade on the career track will be established. This will make the profession transparent, accountable and minimise any hint of favouritism or nepotism.
System oversight, management and accountability
A framework for running the system, covering administrative, logistics, financing and organisational structure (responsibilities and expectations at each level of system leadership – national, regional, district, circuit – should be made clear) will be implemented. Ghana Education Service (GES) will be strengthened and made responsible for implementing the framework. GES will ensure the effective running of the school system at all levels (national, district, circuit).
Decentralised management: area oversight responsibilities will be decentralised to regions, districts, circuits GES units. This will reduce bureaucratic delay, and make supervision and support to schools speedier, focussed and tailored. Decentralised unit heads will responsible for performance in their area and held accountability for any lapses. The officers will supervise the use of education grants, teaching standards and pupil attainment, and ensure that resources are put to effective use.
Stakeholder involvement: community members, parents and teachers will be consulted and involved in decisions making for schools to promote transparency and ownership. Schools will have management boards made up of volunteer parents, teachers and community members. These boards will support and not interfere with the duties and responsibilities of school heads.
Political and strategic leadership: parallel accountability of political leadership will be mandated. District Chief Executives and Regional Ministers will be made accountable for the system’s performance in their areas to their superiors. They will be required to ensure expectations for schools in their area are met.
Meet basic needs of pupils
Abolish of all fees: children are less likely to attend or remain in school if their parents can not pay their fees. Abolition of school fees in Uganda and Malawi led to high enrolment rates by the poor and disadvantaged.
Provide essentials (text books, uniforms, fortified food and others): free or easy access to text books and learning aids for all pupils, free school feeding, and free school uniforms are some of the things that will be provided to encourage learning and retention at school. Children from rural and deprived areas in Ghana continue to experience malnourishment. Children deficient in nutrients are unable to concentrate in class and achieve low test scores. Free school meals, fortified with essential mineral and vitamin supplements, will be targeted to rural and deprived urban pupils.
Equal opportunities (plus means tested provision: free basic items including fees will be universally available to urban deprived and rural schools but means tested for urban non-deprived schools. This will ensure equal opportunities for all and avoid subsidising the education of those who are in the position to pay – effective allocation of funds and equal playing field. Means testing at ‘metropolitan and non- deprived’ schools because if totally denied to all schools in metropolitan or non- deprived areas it may indirectly raise entry barriers for bright disadvantaged pupils in such areas.
Abolish the school shift system
The shift system creates and perpetuates an unfair two tier system. Children are discriminated against based on where they live. Shift schools operate two 4 hour day shifts while non-shift schools operate 6 hour day schooling – 2 hours difference can achieve a lot in learning. Chile saw big improvement in education outcomes when it abolished its shift system and increased instruction time in the 1990’s.
Increase senior secondary enrolment and completion rates
Increasing the enrolment as well as the retention and graduation rates of senior secondary school students in Ghana will be urgent. Community secondary schools and model schools have not had the intended impact on enrolment and retention because they lack essential amenities: teachers, infrastructure, and motivation (inadequate supply of qualified teachers who can generate interest in school).