Ghana Aims to Improve Public, Rural Schools in 2011

 

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ACCRA, GHANA – When Joseph Quaye Amoo, 22, moved to Volta in eastern Ghana to teach at a rural community school, he was surprised by the vast difference between urban and rural education.

As part of the Ministry of Education’s National Service Scheme, Amoo is teaching information, communication and technology, ICT, to primary school students for a year after graduating from the Ghana Institute of Journalism. He says he first noticed the divide between education offered in rural and urban areas when he pulled out his laptop one day and it was the first computer that many of the students had even seen.

“More than half of the class I was handling had not touched a computer before,” he says. “This indicates how wide the digital divide is between these pupils and their counterparts in the capital city, Accra, and the other big cities and towns.”

He says the laptop sent the students into a frenzy.

“All the pupils started craving to catch a glimpse of this newbie in town,” he says with a big smile on his face. “They were indeed excited to type their names themselves on the computer. I felt fulfilled!”

And this was just the beginning.

Obtaining quality education remains a challenge for students in Ghana’s rural areas, where government schools lack the most basic amenities. Although government schools in urban areas tend to have more resources, they, too, suffer from a lack of funding. Private schools routinely prove to offer superior educational opportunities, thanks to families’ ability to pay for tuition and special programs. Ghana’s president has pledged in both his state of the nation and Independence Day addresses to improve education for the youth, and, therefore, the future of Ghana.

Ghana was the first country to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989, but many say the development, survival, protection and participation of children in the country are still lacking. One of Ghana’s Millennium Development Goals, a U.N. global action plan to achieve eight anti-poverty goals by 2015, is to achieve universal access to primary education for all the country’s children. Ghana’s Gross Enrollment Rate for primary school has increased from 93.7 percent to 95.2 percent from the 2006-2007 school year to the 2007-2008 school year, according to a government progress report. But many say it is the quality of education offered in public schools that is the problem.

In addition to the lack of computers, schools in rural areas also lack electricity, potable water, furniture and transportation, Amoo says.

Long distances between schools and homes make children routinely late to school, he says. Some days, students who live across rivers can’t even get to school if their parents need the family canoe in the morning to fish, a popular livelihood. When the canoe is available, they lack life jackets and other safety measures.

Amoo says a lack of furniture in schools in rural areas also makes the commute difficult, as many must carry their own desks from their homes to the school.

“It is disheartening to see pupils as young as 3 and 4 years old walking several hundreds of meters and suffering under the heavy wooden tables and chairs every day,” Amoo says.

Water from the nearby stream is not safe to use unless heavily treated, which Amoo says few can afford. Holes have been dug to create boreholes, or wells, but Amoo says the projects have not been finished. Consequently, the students must use stream water, leading to many water-related diseases, such as ringworm and skin rashes.

Food is also in short supply. Amoo says many children ages 3 to 6 complain of stomachaches during class, as teachers have discovered that they come to school without breakfast. Some must wait until noon or even later to eat their first meals. Teachers say parents are often forced to focus on fishing and farming than feeding their children.

Government-funded food programs exist in some schools in the city and have motivated parents to send their children to school. Amoo says rural schools are in dire need of these programs, which they can’t afford on their own.

Amoo says rural schools also lack special needs teachers. He says one autistic student has shown no intellectual improvement during the past four years because she receives no special attention.

Amoo says that special education for children with disabilities is a legal right. Under the Children’s Act of Ghana, children with special needs have a right to special care, education and training wherever possible to develop his or her maximum potential and be self-reliant.

Although resources at government schools vary, many government schools in and around cities aren’t much better off than those in rural areas. The headmistress of a government primary school in an Accra suburb, who asked not to be named to protect her job, says that although the school has furniture and other amenities, it lacks the money to use them. Some classrooms have electrical wiring, but the school can’t afford electricity. The school also has toilets, but they have all broken down because water is too expensive.


“Since there is no water in the school, we ask the children to bring along some gallons of water to help in flushing the toilet, but their parents have stopped them from doing so,” she says. “This is because it is expensive to get water for the household and, besides, they expect the school to provide all this.”

As a result, students must pay to use the already strained public bathrooms. Students miss class because the lines are long or they decide to skip class once outside, she says.

The headmistress also says that most children live with extended family and that few parents attend Parent-Teacher Association, PTA, meetings. She says that the only funding the school receives comes from the government, but that the process to request funding is long and tedious. The school also lacks a government food program and a library, and its sports compound must be used as extra classrooms because insufficient funding has halted a project to build new classrooms.

Private school students in Ghana tell a much different story. Louisa Derry, 15, says that her private school in Accra is well-equipped compared with government schools.

“Our facilities and the attention of our teachers and parents are way better as compared to some schools, especially in the rural areas,” Derry says.

Derry says that her school has a library well-stocked with the most up-to-date books, a state-of-the-art science laboratory with an ICT lab and Internet access, extra classes for students who need special attention and extracurricular activities. She says that while extracurricular activities at government schools mostly consist of sports programs, girl guides and boy scouts, her school also offers basket weaving, beadmaking, cosmetology, and cultural drumming and dancing. She says that there is no government food program because it is a private school but that every student receives a snack and lunch coupon, which parents pay for in tuition fees.

Derry says that parents and teachers are heavily involved in the students’ education. She says the PTA supports the school and sometimes buys equipment for it.

“The relationship between the parents and the teachers is very good,” Derry says. “My dad, for instance, always wants to know how I perform in school. Due to this, he always comes for the PTA meetings and asks questions about my academics. The same applies to most students in the school.”

During Ghana’s Independence Day celebration on March 6, President John Atta Mills dedicated the day to the country’s youth.

“As a government, we will do our utmost best to create the opportunities that will allow you to develop your potential to its fullest,” he said to the youth. “We will provide more schools; free uniforms; free textbooks; and endeavor to make Ghana a safe place for you to pursue your dreams. You will have to play your part by positioning yourselves in a way that the best part of our existence will not pass you by.”

During his state of nation address last month, he said that the government would expand the capitation grant, a government fund for schools, as well as the school food program. He said that a restructuring of the food program had regained the financial support of previous development partners who had pulled out because of poor financial reports. The government will also continue to provide incentives and motivation packages for teachers, especially those in deprived areas.

A senior researcher at the Ghana Center for Democratic Development called for greater transparency in the way the capitation grant is spent last July, citing leakages along the transfer chain from the government to district education offices to schools.

International organizations have also aimed to reduce the disparities among schools. UNICEF donates books and other supplies to schools in rural areas. For example, it distributed bicycles to girls in northern Ghana so they could get to school. Plan Ghana, an international children’s development organization, provides infrastructure, such as toilet facilities, playgrounds and libraries, to schools in rural areas.

Amoo says that for Ghanaian children to compete with other children on the global front, the country needs to invest in their education, put them first, listen to their views and take them into consideration. He pleads that government leaders not misplace their priorities when it comes to the development of the country.

“Remember that your decisions and actions you take as a politician, a reverend minister, a doctor, a teacher, a journalist or any other professional may touch a life,” he says.