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Calls for increased transparency & funding for basic education

Originally published in Public Agenda on August 27, 2012.

By Schuyler Durham

The Institute for Fiscal Policy (IFP) hosted a workshop on Thursday, August 23, 2012 to provoke discussion about money mismanagement and increasing the quality of basic education resources throughout Ghana. The workshop was chaired by Prof. Jerome Djangmah, former head of Zoology Department at University of Ghana, Legon, and later pro-vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana.

Dr Zakaria Yakubu, programmes director of Integrated Social Development Centre, in his welcoming address, pointed out that, “when money is mismanaged, it is the poor… who suffer.” This statement set the tone for the workshop, which focused largely on how Ghana can best provide quality education to those in poor public school districts. According to IFP’s research, of the bottom 50 schools, in terms of BECE performance, 41 are public schools. Compared with the five public schools that make up the top 50, it becomes clear that there is a great disparity between the education received by Ghanaians in various settings, having largely to do with public funding.

IFP also found that general public funding has been on the decline since 2008. While education expenditures made up 10.1 per cent of the total GDP in 2008, that figure dropped drastically to 9 per cent, the following year. In 2010 the figure rose again, by less than a per cent, but several actual expenditure statistics show that financing continued to drop, especially in areas like teacher training.

Indeed, properly trained teachers have become the minority. Since 2008, untrained teachers have made up over 50 per cent of the total teachers in public schools. This, on top of irregular school inspections and declining textbook availability, has created a difficult environment for students to successfully learn.

Another major issue, brought up by IFP, was the gap between male and female graduation rates. Of the three years researched, male pass rates never dropped below 61 per cent, while female pass rates only breached 58 per cent in one of those years.

According to IFP, the most common root of problems with public education is the irregularity and unpredictability in the flow of funds, as they work their way down from the Ministry of Finance. Another major issue is the lack of school inspections, which has been shown to lead to decreased productivity from teachers. In some rural areas, where school inspections are especially scarce, teachers have been known to take long stretches of time off school, leaving children to fend for themselves, educationally, for weeks on end.

Representatives from the Ghana Education Service (GES) were in attendance and responded with hopeful words about how their budgeting will improve in the future. They said they had revised their list of needy schools, in order to give better resources to those who need it. Per child spending in needy areas will increase by 7.5 Ghana cedis in this next year. Also included in their rebuttal was a promise to introduce school report cards, to make school inspections easier and more frequent.

The GES also ensured those at the meeting that there are going to be increased grants, targeted to needy girls in school. “Intensive packages,” were promised, though no definitive figures were announced for this.

In general, the GES reported, there are plans in place to meet all goals set in the 2010 Education Sector Strategic Plan by 2015. As it stands today, not one of those goals has been met.

After the response by GES, a back and forth ensued in the room between those upset with insufficient funds and money mismanagement within education, and those working within the infrastructure to adequately provide for the people. The tone was respectful and friendly, though it was clear that the main rift between the two parties is an issue of trust. Members of the GES continually promised future action, in response to concerns raised. Their promises were met with cautious approval, one attendee responding that he was unable to satisfactorily accept their response until there is increased transparency in the flow of money downstream to individual schools, and more reliability in government grants.

Mrs Philomena Johnson, who presented IFP’s research earlier in the workshop, helped calm the buzz of debate with a few summarizing words. “It is clear,” she said, “there is the need for strong collaboration between agencies and Civil Societies.” She continued that there “has to be mutual trust” between these two. Without this, Mrs Johnson warned, nothing is possible.

The morning was an example of what is going to be needed for true progression in the educational sphere; a space in which various facets of educational involvement can put their heads together. With increased conversation between government agencies and concerned citizens, there is sure to be a brighter future for the school children of Ghana.

In the end, Prof Djangmah closed, “what you get is what you put in.” Let’s give the youth the attention they deserve, and allow Ghana to continue to progress.

Read the entire article online here…