GHANA: Surging enrolment presents challenges
Ghanaian schools are struggling with overcrowding because of surging enrolment after school fees were dropped last year.
Accra, 11 October 2006 (IRIN) - Churches and community centres have been turned into schools as Ghana’s education system struggles to cope with record numbers of students who have enrolled for basic education since school fees were scrapped last year.
The removal of fees is part of Ghana's ongoing effort to boost enrolment and make education accessible to a larger section of the population, in line with the United Nations Millennium Development Goals for education.
There was a Ghana-wide increase in enrolment last year of more than 616,000 pupils, equalling a 16.6 percent rise in the first through ninth levels, largely as a result of a new programme that removed school fees in the country's lower educational system.
The Ministry of Education, Science and Sport said there was an extra need throughout the country for 17,000 teachers and 13,400 classrooms.
The largest increases by percentage occurred in the north of Ghana, where the Upper East Region recorded a 22 percent rise in the basic student population. More girls (321,000) than boys (295,000) entered the school system last year throughout the country. World Bank help
The country’s strained education system will get a boost from a US $11 million World Bank grant that will be used to construct classrooms, purchase textbooks and recruit more teachers.
"The grant is a welcome addition to funding to the education sector in Ghana," said Peter De Vries, head of education for the United Nations children’s agency (UNICEF) in Ghana.
"The [removal of school fees] has led to a strengthening of enrolment but also led to new challenges. We need to see this funding in the whole context, and it fits into the national plan."
The World Bank funding will be applied this school year through Ghana's Education For All Fast-Track Initiative (EFA-FTI).
It will be used to construct 150 new three-unit classrooms, rehabilitate 100 existing classroom blocks and provide new textbooks, tables and chairs. The money will also be used to recruit and train more than 17,000 teachers, which the government hopes will bring the pupil-to-teacher ratio down to its target of 35.Imaginative measures
To respond immediately to the strains on the country’s education system - namely the deficit of teachers, classrooms and teaching materials - the government has called on school districts to implement a "shift system", whereby students will attend school during just one of several shifts throughout the day.
Ghana had a net primary school enrolment of 69 percent in the 2005/06 academic year, up from 59 percent the previous year. Adult literacy stands at 54 percent.
Although Ghana has made great strides in education, there are still glaring regional differences, De Vries said. In some northern districts, less than 50 percent of the teachers are qualified and less than 40 percent of primary school-aged children attend class, he said.
The government has asked leaders of churches and community centres to make their buildings available for temporary classrooms. Teaching outdoors has not been ruled out.
“We will certainly have the children study under trees,” said Bannerman Mensah, deputy director general of the Ghana Education Service. “Which is better, a child who doesn’t go to school or one who has the chance to be taught under a tree?”
Although Ghana is struggling with record enrolment, a strike by secondary school teachers has left many classrooms across the country empty.
Teenagers have formed study groups or created individual daily school plans as their teachers stay home to demand better pay and other benefits. The strike is affecting 360,000 senior secondary students nationwide.