… a conversation with Dr. Haggar Hilda Ampadu, the Executive Director and the Inspector-General of Schools at NaSIA
The role of education, particularly at the pre-tertiary level, in building the human resources required for national development cannot be over-emphasised. In keeping with this, the National Inspectorate Board (NIB) was established in 2008, by the Education Act, 778 as the agency under the Ministry of Education responsible for the Inspection, Evaluation and Enforcing of Standards at the pre-tertiary level.
After more than a decade in existence, the impact of the board was limited, especially as a result of budgetary constraints as well as its limited scope of operation.
Following the modest level of effectiveness, the board was in 2019, reconstituted into the National Schools Inspectorate Authority (NaSIA), with the express mandate of Parliament to provide an independent external evaluation of the quality and standards in basic and second cycle educational institutions in the country on a periodic basis; a tall order by any metric.
What does the expanded scope of operation translate into? What are some of the most significant challenges faced by pre-tertiary institutions in the country? What steps have been taken to address these challenges? What does the future hold for basic and second cycle schools, their proprietors, teachers and learners?
These and many other issues are discussed as the B&FT’s Bernard Yaw Ashiadey and Ebenezer Chike Adjei Njoku speak with the Executive Director and the Inspector-General of Schools at NaSIA, Dr. Haggar Hilda Ampadu (HHA).
B&FT: Can you kindly elaborate on the mandate of NaSIA and where it falls in the nation’s educational hierarchy?
HHA: There is the Ministry of Education, which is the policy setting arm for education on behalf of the government, then there are the 22 agencies which fall under the Ministry and NaSIA is one of the agencies under the Ministry at par with the likes Ghana Education Service (GES) and National NTC.
The mandate of NaSIA is to set and enforce standards to be observed in all pre-tertiary institutions in Ghana; from kindergarten to SHS level, beyond that, it is the mandate of Ghana Tertiary Education Commission (GTEC). Currently, we offer five core services in that mandate; we have the school establishment, licensing, inspection, monitoring and evaluation as well as school transitioning arrangements.
B&FT: Kindly elaborate on each of these core services
HHA: School establishment is when a citizen of Ghana decides to open school as business. Said individual would need to write to NaSIA to say they want to establish a school and part of our process is that to be able to establish a school, you need to be registered as a business in Ghana. Currently, when you go to the Registrar General’s Department and you say, “I want to register my business called XYZ school,” you will be asked to come to NaSIA first to request a letter of introduction, since we regulate schools, then you can go back to the Registrar General’s Department to register your business as a school.
Why is this done? So that the name used for the school matches with the business that is being registered; the same name submitted to us must be the same name given at the Department, without that the registration would be impossible. Beyond that, we have Inspectors go out to inspect the site, in collaboration with Assembly – Municipal or District, depending on where the school is located – to show it is fit for purpose. Once the report comes back to us, we give you an approval letter to start building the school. That is the establishment process.
Once you are done with this, you write to us to let us know that the building has been completed and Inspectors will go back to the site, then, you can apply for what is known as Notice of Intent to Operate; that is the licensing process. That is a provisional licence to operate.
Then, there is Monitoring and Evaluation. Schools pay us an annual fee for licensing because annually we would come to the school and inspect the school to ensure that things are going the way that they should. If we had recommendations at the last inspection, we are now inspecting to see if they have been implemented, or are we finding new things that we should be concerned with? That falls under Monitoring and Evaluation.
Then, there is the Inspection itself, which is what we do on a regular basis. Inspection can be triggered by anyone including a private citizen, who has perhaps observed some issues that could be putting the safety of learners at risk. We would come in to take a look at it. That is what we do mostly, to make sure that children are learning in a safe environment and also, that they are achieving outcomes from the education system.
Finally, there is the School Ownership Transition. What do we mean by that? There are some private schools who decide at some point that they do not have the needed resources to run the schools – they have the facilities, they have the infrastructure, they have everything but they want the government to absorb it and take over. So they apply to us, as we are the agency responsible for that, and say that they want the government to take over the administration of the school and it becomes a government school.
Also, if someone owns a school and wants another person to take over the running of the school, the person would have to write to us, seeking permission because if something wrong should happen in the school, we cannot come and hold you accountable as it is now in the stead of someone else.
Those are the five key areas.
B&FT: Is the fees paid by the schools a flat rate?
HHA: It is flat for the private school operating the Ghana Education Service (GES) curricula.
B&FT: How about a number of institutions or campuses owned by one individual? Is the fee paid as one or per campus?
HHA: It is per location; the fee is per campus. We do that because a school is defined as an entity with a head, and if you have multiple campuses, each campus has its own head and is a school on its own, to some extent. If you have 10 campuses and they are all under the XYZ group of schools, you are the proprietor, so it has to be registered to you. But campus A would pay its registration fee, same as B and C and all the others.
B&FT: But how does this play out at the Registrar General’s Department?
HHA: At the RGD, it is registered as a business and paid once. But because we monitor per school and each school would have its own identity and its own culture, even though it is owned by you, they are operated by different individuals and we treat them as separate entities and not a group.
For instance, at the Kanda Cluster of Schools, we do not treat the group as one but each campus as a separate entity. NaSIA holds the head accountable and each campus would have its own certificate because for us, the safety of children and leadership of the school are the most important. Who is leading the school, who do we hold accountable in the event that something happens or children are not achieving learning outcomes? It is the Headmaster, who is, in a sense, the CEO of the school.
B&FT: How much does NaSIA charge as fees to schools?
HHA: Before we took over from the Ghana Education Service (GES), it was charging GH¢200 applications and GH¢200 per level. A level is defined as kindergarten; basic 1 to 6; JHS and SHS – so if you are full school you are paying GH¢800 per year and a processing fee of GH¢200. This is for schools operating the GES curriculum and even GES schools themselves.
Then, there are the International Curricula Schools (ICSs), of which there are about 110 in the country. Those are charged GH¢2,500 per level as they require more stringent inspection due to their overseas accreditation bodies that come to ensure that they are doing the right thing. We also use specialised inspectors, people who understand their curricula. These are usually ex-teachers who are trained to be inspectors.
B&FT: With such funds coming in shouldn’t institutions such as NaSIA be looking towards self-sufficiency?
HHA: Until November 2019 when we took over the mandate from GES, we had no means of being self-sustaining and we were totally dependent on the government. Now, there are more than 60,000 plus schools in the country and we are supposed to ensure that they are doing the right thing. Now, with the budget we had we could scarcely inspect 20 schools in a year, let alone, more than 60,000. But makers of the law saw it fit to upgrade us from a board to an authority with more enforcement capabilities.
Also in part six of Act 1023, it gives us the power to generate income from the system. The part six of the law says that we should cover the cost of doing business, public or private. Even if it is a GES school, GES must cover the cost of inspection. We are not to declare a profit, however. But at this rate, in the near future, the organisation will be self-sustainable and will be able to inspect more schools to ensure quality is being attained in the education sector.
B&FT: You should have the highest number of staff in the country then, when it comes to the education sector.
HHA: We have inspectors in every town that you can think of. We have about 600 inspectors across the country. The organisation has been in operation since 2008, but we were just revamped a year and a half ago, so this is all work in progress. We are going to have a lot more inspectors. We are looking to have an Inspector Certification Programme, where ordinary citizens who qualify can apply to be inspectors on a part time basis – you inspect, provide a report and get paid until there is the need for another set of inspections.
BFT: Speaking of standards, do they vary between rural and urban?
HHA: No, standards are the same across the country
BFT: Say my resources are limited, and I want to set up a school under trees, will I be granted permission?
HHA: No. No way. And I believe if the revamped NaSIA had been in operation for a while there would be less schools under trees. Now we have more stringent processes for you to establish a school to begin with. Most schools under trees are started with good intentions; citizens who see a need for their children to be educated but there are no school in close proximity to where they live, public schools, that is. So they get their children together, find a teacher in the neighborhood to start.
But we are going to engage the Assemblies because there are funds for these things to be provided; why is there no school and children have to go under trees to be able to study and I think because there was no one paying attention to these things, people were doing the best they could for their children to get an education. But we are going to ensure that does not continue. Whether you are private or a public school, you will undergo the same establishment regime and this will curb instances of schools under trees and in living rooms and kitchens and areas that I would not like to share.
B&FT: Still on standardisation, can there be a standardised cap on fees paid by students to schools?
HHA: The Minister of Education has to approve fees for private schools. It is actually in the law. But we decided not to implement it currently because we are newly revamped and have a lot to do. Also, private schools operate private businesses and you as a citizen choose to buy the business, so they have every right to charge what they want to and if you as a citizen goes to patronise them, that is okay. They have the right to charge what is reasonable, and reasonable is the key word. But where the fees are not reasonable, the government can look into it but if there is a Parent Teacher Association (PTA), for instance, and it approves the fees, the government is unlikely to interfere.
During the closedown of schools as a result of COVID-19, we had a lot of petitions about school fees and online learning being the same as traditional, in-person learning and parents were up in arms and that is where we got to understand that inasmuch as people paying these fees, they are not happy. Government also provides public schools as an option but most people do not want to take their wards to the public schools.
What we are going to do as NaSIA, with leadership from the Minister, Yaw Osei Adutwum, is to ensure that the public school system improves so that citizens have confidence to take their children to these schools as opposed to pushing them to private schools. That is not to take business from private schools but we have to make public schools competitive.
Competitive public schools
B&FT: Talking about competitiveness, what will you make public schools more competitive?
HHA: There are two things here. One, Minister, Hon. Adutwum wants to establish model public schools like Ghana International School (GIS) etc. Could we have public schools that would deliver like the GISs, so that people would line up and have a long waiting list just to get in? Can we also improve the public school system so that it becomes competitive? So that there is healthy competition?
The other thing that we want to do is to borrow best practices from the best private schools. What we tend to do is to borrow from outside the country, but there are schools that are performing well here and people are willing to pay so much money for. What are they doing right that everybody is willing to pay that much money for? What can we learn as inspectors from that system? Can we bring the learnings to the National Teaching Council and say in the continuous development of teachers, we have observed that at GIS, these are the approaches they use, can we adopt similar to train our teachers?
Until now, believe it or not, these schools were not being inspected by anyone. So nobody from the public school system has been there to see their practices until the revamp. Now we have inspectors trained in their models; IBE and Cambridge, who can inspect them, give them value for money, give them feedback et cetera.
B&FT: There are a lot of private schools that follow the GES curricula and not necessarily the IB or Cambridge curricula but they still perform exceptionally and better than public schools. Could learnings be derived from there as well?
HHA: Yes, and as inspectors, we will become the mediators of sorts, when we are there, we get to be exposed to all sorts of things. Can we compare the learnings? The good thing is that I sit on the boards of GES and other agencies and representatives from these bodies sit on NaSIA’s board, so we get to share a lot of data.
B&FT: Do you have timelines to move standards from one level to another and what would serve as Key Performance Indicators?
HHA: What we are going to do is to establish a baseline. How are schools performing in the country? We started that until COVID hit, so we could not inspect the number of schools to establish the baseline. This year, we will attempt to do it. This baseline gives us an indication of what is on the ground; these are the reasons why schools are not performing as they ought to and based on that, we can implement interventions.
If our data tells us, for instance, that teachers need training in certain methodologies –as part of our inspections, we do lesson observations, where we sit in classes unannounced with our tablets to collect data on teaching of English, Maths and Science, among other things– we can institute interventions. Then, we give ourselves one academic year after interventions to see if improvements will be recorded and give ourselves another academic year to see what progress is made.
B&FT: In your experience so far, what have been some of the biggest challenges which pre-tertiary educational institutions face?
HHA: Infrastructural challenges. For the few schools that I have had the privilege of inspecting myself, infrastructure has been the biggest. Inasmuch as we want to focus on learning outcomes, if learners do not have a conducive environment, it is a challenge.
I went on an inspection at a fishing village in the Oti Region and I observed that in the morning, the learners have to go help their parents fish before they can come to school. So when school was supposed to start by 7am and end at 4pm, school was starting at 10am but it was still ending at 4pm. So these children were missing three hours of contact time with teachers and that was affecting their performances.
We were able to meet with the village leaders and parents and explained to them why they should release their wards to come to school and they said if that is done, there would be no food at home, so we should choose between food and fees and learning. We negotiated for school to start at 8:30AM and they were happy with that and the Headmaster wrote to us to say that by the very next term, performances had improved. These are some of the localised interventions. We do not always need broad solutions to have improvement.
Closure of ‘not-fit-for-purpose schools, digitisation and expansion
B&FT: Will we see NaSIA begin to close down schools like National Communications Authorty (NCA) does with broadcast stations?
HHA: That is not too far into the future. There are some schools that are not fit for purpose and should not be in operation but because the law just came into effect and there has been COVID-19, we are now embarking on awareness and relationship-building to tell people what the law says, why they should abide by it, the benefits and give ourselves until the end of the year. We have to be charitable and in 2022, we can start enforcement against those who have not performed after we have given them this grace-period.
B&FT: The statistics point to a ratio of one inspector to more than 100 schools, give or take…
HHA: Yes, that is a huge ratio but when we go on inspections, we inspect four schools per week because of the data that we take. A team of two inspectors cover four schools per week depending on size and population. We have digitised our approach, which has made it easier for data collection but the human resources is what we will focus on so that we can have inspectors in every district.
B&FT: With the volume of work, should we be expecting regional and district offices?
HHA: We have already started, we are looking for office spaces, to share space with our sister agency, the National Teachers Council. For instance, we have a lot of private and public schools in the Ashanti Region and we get a lot of calls from there. There is also the Western and Northern regions, so these are the ones we are looking at immediately. By June, these three offices should be operational and by end of year, the others should be.
B&FT: Despite your relatively young age, there should be some high points. Care to share them?
HHA: Yes. Before the revamp, we used to be able to inspect, on the average, 50 schools per year, and that’s how the then NIB operated. With the revamp, we adopted an approach to selecting and inspecting schools that were based purely on science – we used a statistical sampling approach, so in that approach, we select a sample of schools to inspect that will give us a true reflection of how schools are performing in the country.
With that, the statistics showed that for us to be able to tell how schools are performing – based on the data of schools that we have in the system – 2,381 schools must be inspected, which is a far jump from 50 schools and we attempted this ambitious approach to inspecting schools in the 2019/2020 academic year but by March, when the president shutdown schools, we had done 794. If the shutdown had not happened, we would have covered the 2,381 schools and that desire is there to get our baseline and it is from our baseline that we will measure if there is any improvement.
When we were the NIB, we did not have a clear cut policy on which our work was based and if you are a standard setting agency, that means your processes should be based on a written down and well established set of approaches, we didn’t have any such. We have now embarked on the establishment of two key policies – the School Establishment and Inspection Policy and the School Licensing Policy. Both have guidelines to ensure implementation and all four documents are currently ready and we have started operating both policies and that is what we base our work on.
We have also digitised our approach to inspection. Until the revamp, it was paper based and we were producing, on the average, 46-page reports per school and there were complaints that headmasters did not read the reports but just signed off on them and filed them. Now have reduced it to a 10-page report with 3-page executive summary. So if you are a very busy headmaster, at a glance, you can see the recommendations without going through the entire report.
Stability in education curriculum, proof of licensure and NaSIA impact on tertiary quality
B&FT: Whilst this is not within the direct remit of NaSIA, how do we ensure that the pre-tertiary curricula, which seems to change with successive governments, remains stable?
HHA: The curriculum ICSs run makes them the preferred choice; it makes learners more of a global citizen as they are able to thrive anywhere. In order to have learners who can compete globally, we needed to have a curriculum that is global in its outlook and that is what informed the last curriculum change. I do not foresee changes in the near future as current one borrows from IBE and Cambridge and some common core programmes from the USA. We borrowed from various jurisdictions to ensure to make them fit for purpose without losing Ghanaian cultural values. What we have now is well rounded and it will make learners more competitive on the world stage?
B&FT: what is the state of impasse with private schools over the proof of licensure before accessing their funds in banks and what informed that move?
HHA: It stemmed from our awareness campaign. We revamped NaSIA with changes to our name and mandate so we needed to introduce ourselves, especially as the Board made a ruling that any organisation, whose business will be affected by us should be informed as such. When GES handed over the registration of schools to us, one of the things they said is that banks usually require the certificates from school owners to be able to open accounts. So we wrote to the banks to introduce ourselves and make it known that we are the ones responsible for the issuing of certificates to school owners, such certificates should be demanded from us and not the GES.
Since the certificates were not forthcoming, some banks decided to implement the requirements strictly. The intention was not that if you had an account, you were being barred from operating it but they decided to implement it that way; if you are already operating an account as a school, we need to see your certificate.
So that was it and what we found out in the process was that there were schools operating in this country, collecting fees from citizens, who were not registered with the RGD, so they were note even paying operating taxes or statutory payments for their employees because nobody knew they existed. When the banks found out and directed them to NaSIA, our first requirement was to show proof of registration. It was then that we had to issue letters of introduction to the RGD and these were schools, some of which had been in existence for years.
I believe regulators should be allowed to do their work because we complain about the system not working. Some schools said they could not afford to pay, so we gave them payment plans, concessions and discounts.
B&FT: What bearing does NaSIA have on the quality of tertiary students?
HHA: When we do inspections, in our data collection, we do what we call external assessment results. Three years cumulative of how the school has performed in the external assessments such as WASSCE and BECE, how are your students doing? Also in the law, we measure the level of scholarship, how many have been able to move up the academic ladder? We measure that as well.
There are schools where no one has gone beyond a certain level. What we do is to look at the cumulative assessment result, and give a value to it – outstanding, satisfactory, good etc. If a school’s score is unsatisfactory, if it is a public school, we will inform GES and perhaps, this could be a leadership problem; it could be teacher absenteeism.
Again, what GES is doing is to sign performance contracts with heads of schools and give them Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and these external assessments are crucial. These measures will ensure the quality of students coming out are better. If learners from these schools proceed to tertiary institutions having seen a more than 40% improvement, their outcomes would be better.
B&FT: Isn’t it likely that poorly performing schools are in the rural areas and perhaps, social factors are more responsible, or is that an erroneous take?
HHA: It is erroneous. We tend to think schools in the rural areas do not perform well but it is not always the case. We are about to undertake a study to see if location or infrastructure significantly affects schools’ performances. During our assessments, we find schools in the hinterlands outperforming those in urban areas. I think a lot lies on the leadership. There are some people who are really motivated to lead and if they show leadership and are able to rally around the students and teachers to do what they have to do, we have seen significant results. In all honesty, we have some of the poorest schools in Greater Accra. And these are not isolated instances and this is from preliminary data from our 794 inspections.
B&FT: What is NaSIA doing to ensure standardisation with how schools employ technology to their learning processes?
HHA: In June last year, we released the e-learning standards as part of our tools. This was in response to parents who believed they were paying school fees but they were not seeing any results and they were the ones doing the homework and tutoring. As a result, we issued the standard to suggest what tools must be used, teacher training and delivery, what resources should be employed as well as what roles parents play.
We also conduct virtual inspections, where we request access to your learning management system, and sit in and observe – just like we do in a brick and mortar classroom. We have indicators to determine if the learners are actually learning, to see if the teacher is teaching effectively. Also, are students still getting benefits from the system and are parents getting value for money? This is a path that we will continue on.
We have also had requests for the opening of entirely virtual schools, so far, there have been about two, and we are looking into how to standardise that. But because we have the e-learning standard, we are going to base it off that. Virtual schools will require a physical office, at least from where to operate, and this will be inspected, alongside equipment, practically the same processes we will take for the establishment of any other school to ensure they are fit for purpose and will deliver value for money.
B&FT: Should private tutors, whose services were in high demand during the height of the pandemic, be regulated as well?
HHA: Once a teacher has at least three children gathered for learning, I believe, what we have there constitutes a school and that must be regulated. For a one-on-one scenario, it is still a little gray but we are looking into it, I doubt we will charge any fee but we have to issue standards to ensure safety of learners and teachers alike and if anything happens, we inform the NTC and the teachers’ license is taken. Learners must feel safe in any learning environment, even if it is their home. We intend to employ these regulations virtually as well, as there are avenues for abuse even online.
B&FT: How are schools in the rural areas being equipped to engage in virtual learning?
HHA: We are very well aware of the digital divide. In our inspections, we have been to a number of villages without constant electricity. We do not have an immediate answers to the problem but we know that organisations such as the Centre for National Distance Learning and Open Schools (CENDLOS) under the Ministry has tools such as its iBox. The iBox is an education tool, which can be offline and can be accessed electronically and they put it in the local library and children can go there to access it. But if all the children in a community want to access one iBox, you can only imagine the challenges. But these are things on our list and we are working at them.
B&FT: Should we consider re-examining the modes of learner assessments, in light of these emerging developments?
HHA: Currently, due to the pandemic, we have seen that what can be achieved in an in-person setting can also be achieved virtually and this has given us more opportunities to deliver learnings to students and this is promoting a hybrid system, so that the benefits gained would not be lost. I believe with the passage of time, when it is more ingrained, there will definitely be a conversation in this regard, to reflect the reality on the ground.
Currently, I know we are going to do the stage gate assessment for P2. P4, P6, in the public education system, so that students do not wait until the end of year six to be assessed for the first time, so that we are able to catch students who are struggling quite early.
B&FT: How crucial is investment in STEM education to make our students truly competitive globally?
HHA: The future is largely science and technology, we are in an environment where we should be manufacturing and we need STEM to be able to do that. If we have more students coming out as engineers etc, then we will become more of a manufacturing country. Investment in STEM is crucial if we are to become the sort of economy we aspire to be. The new sector Minister has a vision to produce more engineers because engineers are solution oriented people and they can work in every sector.
Visibility of schools’ licenses
B&FT: Should schools’ licenses be more visible for the general public?
HHA: They should. We will administer something similar to the licensing by the Health Facilities Regulatory Agency (HeFRA), where licensed health facilities have bold indicators. This should be evident on the buildings. Also, all licensed schools will be on a database on our website, where you can search them by name to see their standing – this we have already begun.
B&FT: Should schools be engaged in commercial activities other than teaching?
HHA: Not at all. It is one of the questions we ask during the licensing process. We find out what other activities are conducted on the premises. We have found schools where everything is happening but school. Children should learn in environments that are conducive for learning. We should not have a school which is in someone’s living room and half of the living room is a ‘chop bar’. We have found schools in stranger places, I can assure you but we will address all of these.