Education in Ghana dates back to the early 1600s; however, up until the mid-1800s the system relied heavily on cultural tradition and generational wisdom passed from elders to children. After hundreds of years of reform and experimentation, Ghana still struggles to maintain a successful, cost-effective education system. Present-day Ghanaians continue to make strides toward the goal of “education for all;” although, economic hardships and other factors hinder that dream from becoming a reality.
In order to gain a better understanding on Ghana’s current education system, it is important understand the history of the of the education movement. The earliest movements toward a formal education system begin in the mid-1800s with the migration of Danish, Dutch and English merchants settling down in the then Gold Coast region. In order for the native women to help educate the settlers’ mulatto children, the colonists set up the first school. Living by the motto, “To make civilization march hand-in-hand with evangelization,” the foreign colonist worked to spread the Gospel by educating the natives, knowing that well-educated natives would be vital to their mission (To Be Worldwide 1). The exploring Christians were integral in jumpstarting Ghana’s education system, and many of their same values are seen in classrooms today.
The Danish Governor to Ghana, John Von Richelieu, realized the potential of the people of Ghana and its resources. In 1828, with guidance and funding from the Basel Mission Society of Switzerland, the first network of education was constructed. In addition to the core studies of reading, writing and mathematics, students also learned about carpentry, masonry, blacksmithing, shoemaking and sewing. With all of their newly acquired skills, natives were now able to contribute to the betterment of the community, as well as make a living for themselves. The main achievement by the Basel Mission Society was the transcription of the native languages of Twi, Ewe and Ga to further promote their Biblical mission (To Be Worldwide 1).
The Colonial Era, beginning in 1874, was a period of British rule in Ghana’s education history. In an era marked by expansion, some 139 schools touted an enrollment of over 5,000 students by the end of 1881. For the first time in Ghana, a Training College was constructed in addition to three grammar schools and seven boarding schools catering to both boys and girls. With the explosive growth came new problems, as there was no “guide or standardization” for how education ought to be administered. In an effort to create cohesion in the system, the government set up positions for both an Inspector of Schools as well as a Director of Education. With the leadership of Sir Hugh Clifford, a new set of goals was created that included primary education for every African boy and girl, a teacher training college in every province, increases to teachers’ wages, and the creation of a “Royal College” (Baah, Otoo, et al. 10-12).
As the wealth in the region grew due to Ghana’s rich resources of gold, cocoa and timber among other things, the need for industrial and technical schooling was needed. In 1927 the Prince of Wales College, later the Achimota College, now the University of Ghana was opened with the support of the “Phelp-Stokes Fund” provided by the United States and offered secondary and post-secondary education to both sexes. Scholarship opportunities were set up for students that sought to study at British universities, and the Cambridge University School Certificate examination, which was provided to the students in one of several native languages, began to be administered to rank students. During the period, education opportunities in domestic science, child welfare, bookkeeping and typewriting were introduced to the curriculum due to an increase in opportunities to work away from the home (To Be Worldwide 2).
The 1920s and 1930s were a period when special emphasis was placed on training teachers, as well as additions to academic improvement, but the enlistment of European inspectors, teachers, and students to assist in World War Two slowed progress (To Be Worldwide 2-3). The movement can in large part be pinned to Governor Gordon Guggisberg’s 1919 Ten-Year Development plan that called for improved teacher training, increases in vocational training and stressed equality for girls. The most significant change during this period, however, was the replacement of many European administrative leaders with well-educated African adults. V.A. Tetty was appointed as the first African Director of Education. Still under British influence, English remained as the primary instructional language, but native languages were allowed in classroom instruction and some textbooks were printed in local languages (Baah, Otoo, et al. 10-12).
The 1950s, under the leadership of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, brought extensive change to the education system, as well as the former Gold Coast. By this time there were approximately 3,000 primary and secondary schools, but school enrollment rates stalled around 7 percent. In 1952, the Nkrumah party introduced a policy of “Education for All”, but Nkrumah was not done yet. Nkrumah’s party fought for self-government and on March 6, 1957, the Nkrumah administration declared its independence from Great Britain. With its newfound independence, Ghana was poised for extensive policy change in education (Baah, Otoo, et al. 11-12).
Nkrumah’s dream of free education for all was set into motion by the 1961 Free Universal Primary Education Act (Act 87). Education was made free and compulsory, and included free materials and textbooks for students. Local education administrations were created and held responsible for the buildings, equipment and maintenance of primary schools (Baah, Otoo, et al 12). The education system in 60s consisted of six years in primary school and four years of secondary education. Those students deemed “suitable” by testing were afforded the opportunity to at a three-year university, while those “not suitable” could continue their education at a two-year pre-vocational school. The system, while functional, was criticized for being “too long and too academic” which prompted the reinstatement of experimental Junior Secondary Schools in 1974, focusing on core curricula and occupational skills. The aim of the new measures was to get students into an apprenticeship that would, hopefully, lead to self-employment (To Be Worldwide 3). With the economic boom behind them, Ghana’s esteemed education system was beginning to lose its gusto.
By the mid-1970s into early-1980s, Ghana’s once thriving education system became to fade due in part to severe economic hardship, disruption from military coups and general lack of concern by bureaucrats. The system was hit hard losing much of its government funding for materials. Drop out rates soared as the educational infrastructure began to crumble, and the qualified teachers trained by Ghanaian universities began to move to Nigeria where the oil business was thriving (Akyeampong 5). The World Bank released data showing that the education budget had fallen from 6.4 percent of total GDP to a meager 1.4 percent. The once highly qualified teaching positions were now filled with untrained, under qualified teachers and the whole system reached a state of crisis (Baah, Otoo, et al 12-14). The mass departure of teachers started a perpetual decline in Ghana’s system that can still be felt today.
With the entire education system hanging in the balance, Ghana reached out to international partners for help and guidance. With assistance from the World Bank, Department for International Development and other international grants, the entire system was reviewed and overhauled in 1987. The new proposals sought to increase access to basic education, shorten the pre-university classroom time from 17 years to 12 years, make education cost effective, and improve the quality of education by making it more socio-economically friendly for the poverty stricken populous. The 1987 reforms again reinstated the Junior Secondary School on a nationwide basis and changed the system’s structure again. Primary school of six years and junior secondary school of three years remained free and compulsory, and while conditions improved students’ test scores were still sub-par (To Be Worldwide 4-5). The decline in student scores correlates directly to the attrition of the highly qualify teachers from years past. Again, Ghana reached point where reform and policy change was the only option.
With the introduction of the policy known as the Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education, more commonly FCUBE, in 1996, the system became less centralized and a new donor support system was put in place. The goal of FCUBE is to improve learning and teaching, in addition to reviving the basic education facilities. Schools now became a hub for community involvement and School Management Committees and Parent-Teacher Associations were set up to encourage interaction between parents and administration (Baah, Otoo, et al. 14).
The most recent reform, known as Vision 2020, seeks to help Ghana reach its goal of a “middle-income country”. Some of the highlights of this movement include reducing poverty, increasing employment opportunities and reduce inequalities among the people. The bill also stresses the importance of science and technology in an era where those that are technologically savvy prevail. Most importantly, the policy highlights equality for girls in the classroom (To Be World Wide 5).
As of 2010, Ghana’s formal educational structure consists of six years in primary school, three years of junior high school, three years of senior high school and four years to earn a university bachelor’s degree. Parents are encouraged to start their children at the age of six. The goal of first nine years of education are to provide children with a variety of skills and propagate new ideas while creating positive attitudes toward education and helping the student become an asset to their country (To Be Worldwide 4).
Perhaps the most innovation in Ghana’s systems comes from additions to the curricula. At the primary school level, students are introduced to basic concepts including English, Ghanaian language and culture, mathematics, environmental studies, integrated science, religious and moral education, music, dance and physical education. The junior secondary school gives students more choice in their education. Some of the different paths include agricultural and general science, pre-vocational and pre-technical skills, social studies and French is offered as a third language. As the education progresses into senior secondary school, students can further specialize their skills. At the senior secondary level, students continue education in core classes of English, math, integrated studies and social studies, but may also choose from intensive programs in agriculture, arts and sciences, business, vocational or technical. Nearly every aspect of the curricula has work-related applications and promotes students that will be able to enter the workforce upon graduation (To Be Worldwide 5-6). The western influences on curricula are apparent, and are closely related to the homo economicus, human capital model. Ghana is making concerted strides toward becoming a global player in the education sector, but it has yet to break through, often times borrowing more from other countries than sharing its own ideas.
Student assessment in Ghana is strenuous, but fair. Primary and senior secondary schools are based on a 40-week school year and students are continually assessed based on performance. Due to the large quantity of students seeking tertiary admission or scholarships, exams are both high stakes and competitive. After the completion of the ninth grade, or JHS 3, students take the Basic Education Certificate Examination that covers nine or ten subjects. There are approximately 70,000 students vying for a seat in one of 500 secondary schools. At the completion of twelfth grade, or SHS 3, students take the West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examination, WASSCE, covering seven or eight subjects (US State Department). A student’s “final grade” is based on a system that weighs 30 percent of in-school performance with the remaining 70 percent coming from the WASSCE (To Be Worldwide 5). The grading system is extremely tough only giving out 3 percent of A’s, while 40 percent fail annually. C’s and D’s have become competitive grades among students, but in order to meet the minimum university requirements a student must have a C- average on an A through E scale and pass each section (US State Department). Even with the high expectations from students, literacy rates in 2000 barely top 50 percent (CIA Fact Book).
After a student successfully passes the examinations with high enough marks, they have the opportunity to enroll in one of twenty-one private institutions that hold accreditation by the National Accreditation Board. These accredited schools have the power to issue bachelor’s degrees, but annual enrollment remains at less than 5,000. Students that do not gain acceptance to an accredited school may be able to join one of ten three-year public polytechnic schools. While these schools cannot issue a bachelor’s degree, they do offer Higher National Diplomas, HND, in business and technology. The credits earned in the HND program typically transfer to Teacher Training Colleges and other non-degree programs (US State Department).
While Ghana still boasts an “education for all” philosophy, some children are never afforded the opportunity. Although Ghana’s constitution prohibits minors under the age of 15 from working, this rule is often overlooked in poverty stricken areas. It is estimated that more than one million school age children do not go to school in order to work and help their parents pay bills. Even though classroom education is free, parents are tasked with providing school uniforms, some books and transportation for the student (Reuters). For many students growing up in impoverished areas that lack basic necessities such as potable water, electricity and health facilities, the dream of formal education will remain unattainable (Baah, Otoo, et al. 8).
One issue that Ghana struggles with is the inclusion and education of special needs students. Beginning in the 1970s, educational leaders worked on inclusion techniques as to leave no student behind, regardless of disability; however, due to a lack of continuing support and training of teachers, special needs students are still neglected. The Ghana Education Service invests in Assistive Technologies for those students, but due in part to overcrowding and lack of one-on-one attention, no extraordinary results have been produced. It seems that the implementation lags behind the policy (Kuyini).
Ghana’s government is set up as a Constitutional Democracy, and continues to have lots of English influence practicing English Common Law and Customary Law. Nearly 70 percent of the population identify themselves as Christian, 16 percent as Muslim and the remaining hold traditional or other beliefs, creating diversity within the system and between communities. In most provinces, religion is still taught in the public classroom. One major issue facing Ghana right now is the struggle to reintroduce returning nationals who worked cocoa plantations and escaped the civil unrest in Cote d’Ivoire (CIA Fact Book).
The history of the education system in Ghana is a story of ups and downs, triumphs and struggles, perseverance and failures. It is surprising how quickly the education system flourished, only to hit economic decline and subsequently fall into ruin. Even more interesting is how resilient and responsive the government is in times of crisis, calling from reform after reform until the situation improved. Ghana’s system is not all that different from that of the United States in terms of material covered and education techniques. If the United States can learn anything from Ghana, it should reevaluate how it tests students. Ghanaians are heavily tested and high marks are hard to attain, but at least there seems to be no grade inflation and the idea of weighted overall scores is appealing.
After researching different forms and methods of international education, there is a realization of just how blessed the United States is. Growing up in a country that provides low-cost education with opportunities to grow and be a productive citizen is a true gift, a gift that is unparalleled. While some countries do have a better education system in some regards, few if any can compare to what the United States has to offer, even considering the economic downturn since 2008. Students in America need to open the eyes and realize what a blessing it is to be a part of such a great country and education system.
Akyeampong, Kwame (2009): Revisiting Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE) in Ghana, Comparative Education, 45:2, 175-195.
Baah, Dr. Yaw, Kwabena Nyarko Otoo, et al. “Teacher Attrition in Ghana.”Teacher Attrition in Ghana Results of a Questionnaire Survey 2009.
United States. Central Intelligence Agency. World Fact Book: Ghana.
- Web. <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/gh.html>.
U.S. Department of State. (2011). The educational system of Ghana. Retrieved from