Development Discourse with Amos Safo … World Bank- Ghana collaborate to eradicate ‘learning poverty’

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In contemporary development literature, ‘Human Development’ has been depicted as the eventual goal of an economy’s development process; with economic growth often seen as an understated representation of human welfare. This comparison has widened the goals of human development, but there remains an opportunity to define the important interlinkages between Human Development (HD) and Economic Growth (EG) over time.

Human capital is a set of person’s abilities and skills, having direct impact on one’s economic and social activity potential. Human Capital Index measures the amount of human capital that a child   born today can expect to attain by age 18. The definitions of human capital usually emphasise the individual’s education, skills, abilities and knowledge, which increase the productivity of his economic activity for personal benefit and societal wellbeing.   The concept of human capital is primarily related to the economic behaviour of individuals, especially the way in which their accumulated knowledge and skills boost their productivity and income – thereby increasing productivity and income of the society.  This explains why countries which have developed and those experiencing steady economic and human development are those that are investing in quality basic education; or are at least making efforts toward achieving that target. It is therefore a risk for any society to leave a large percentage of its population illiterate.

Let me emphasise that by purposefully contributing its efforts and resources into education and skills, the society can achieve its desired economic return – both at the individual and society levels. Case studies across the world are proving that investments in human resources and human capital are becoming a key factor for the development of countries and businesses.  At a personal level, I am a good example of how education can bridge the poverty gap and give opportunities for children from diverse backgrounds to have some hope. This explains why I have an attraction for state investment or development support for basic education, including secondary, technical and vocational.

GALOP

Last week, the World Bank approved US$150million for the government of Ghana to strengthen Ghana’s education system, to improve the quality of education for over two million children in low-performing basic education schools. The Ghana government is expected to provide counterpart funding of GH¢69million to bring the total to GH¢219million.

The financial support is under the ambit of ‘Ghana Accountability for Learning Outcomes Project’ (GALOP), targetted at supporting teaching and learning through modern in-service teacher training, and provision of learning materials and improved community engagement. Overall, GALOP will enhance education outcomes to build Ghana’s human capital.

“GALOP is estimated to benefit 2.3 million children; including 1.2 million girls from direct interventions, and over 70,000 teachers, headteachers, circuit supervisors, and national, regional and district education officers.” said Halil Dundar, World Bank Education Practice Manager for West and Southern Africa. From the development perspective, GALOP is an intervention geared toward Ghana’s long-term development, starting with human capital development.

A World Bank release quoted Pierre Laporte, World Bank Country Director for Ghana as saying: “The project focuses on underserved areas and on improving the quality of education for increased human capital, and supports the World Bank’s twin goals of ending poverty and promoting shared prosperity. This operation directly aligns with government’s Strategy and with the World Bank’s Africa Strategy of improving inclusive and equitable access to quality education at all levels”.

Objectives

The statement noted that the timing and objectives of GALOP are aligned with the current focus on learning-poverty, and the project’s implementation is expected to lead to an improvement in learning outcomes at the basic level. Thus, while the interventions will be national in scope, learning interventions will target 10,000 basic schools identified with major challenges in learning outcomes and resources. Key outcomes include improved teaching practices in targetted schools; including targetted instruction, decreased absenteeism among teachers, effective allocation of teachers across schools, and increased utilisation of the accountability dashboard to improve learning.

In fact, in many parts of the country – especially in the north, basic education outcomes, if any, are so terrible that some schools have yet to produce a university graduate since their establishment several decades ago. These school are deprived of everything, including teachers; hence the project’s focus to support capacity development of three newly instituted semi-autonomous government structures in curriculum and assessment, inspections and teacher management, which are fundamental to sustainability.

Key Challenges in Basic Education

According to the release, GALOP builds on the findings of Ghana’s Systematic Country Diagnostic; which identifies education as key for increasing labour productivity and building Ghana’s human capital, and perhaps government’s ‘Ghana Beyond Aid’ policy.

Despite the substantial progress in access to basic education, Ghana’s basic education subsector still faces several major challenges which contribute to low-adjusted years of schooling: low learning outcomes, and regional and gender disparities in learning outcomes.

A background report to Ghana’s educational system indicates that although a child who starts school at age five can expect to complete 11.6 years of school by his/her 18th birthday, actual or expected years of schooling is only 5.7 years. This is due to the low quality of basic education as measured through standardised student assessments. And rural areas, whose schools constitute a large number of neglected schools, are the worst.

An evaluation of results over the years indicates that the Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) did not change between 2013 and 2015, and indicated that just two percent of Primary-two (P2) pupils were able to read at an appropriate grade level – with 50 percent unable to recognise a single word.

Also, the 2015 Early Grade Mathematics Assessment (EGMA) found that higher order mathematical concepts were a challenge, with 75 percent of P2 pupils unable to answer a single conceptual knowledge subtask (i.e., word problem) correctly. Further, the 2016 National Education Assessment (NEA) confirms these findings with 30 percent and 50 percent of P4 pupils below the minimum proficiency for English and Mathematics respectively; at the P6 level, these figures are approximately 30 percent for both subjects.

Thus, poor literacy and numeracy at the basic level is consequential in later years. In other words, poor performance at basic level feeds into poor performance at the secondary level. The report notes that at the secondary level learning outcomes are also low, with only 33 percent of students passing the WASSCE (grade 12 exam) for Mathematics in 2017 and 2016, with less than a quarter of students qualifying for entry into tertiary education.

Regional and gender parities

Another area the probably prompted the policy intervention is regional and gender parities. World Bank and national data indicate that Ghana has made significant progress in terms of increasing access to pre-basic education. Gross Enrolment Rates (GERs) at the KG and Primary levels are over 100 percent, and gender parity has been achieved at all levels of pre-tertiary education. What remains is the senior secondary schools.

Recently, however, the Free SHS programme has greatly improved access to secondary education as indicated But regional disparities continue to widen. The report finds that there are significant regional and gender disparities in learning outcomes, regarding examination pass-rates by gender and region for the BECE in four core subjects. This statistic shows that among those regions which generally perform the worst are the Upper East, Upper West and the Northern Regions – where poverty is highest. Some critics frequently argue that the northern regions are blessed with free education and should stop complaining about lack of development.

The fact, however, is that free education without the necessary learning and teaching materials did not benefit many northerners.   Disaggregating data by region shows a strong correlation between poverty rates, rural-urban divides and educationally-deprived districts.

Poor scores

The data indicate that there are also important disparities at sub-regional levels and in terms of rural/urban areas. The trend is that pupils in rural areas score substantially lower on the NEA and EGRA than those in urban areas: the percent of pupils scoring non-zero scores in EGRA for English was just 19.6 percent in rural areas compared to 39.5 percent in urban areas, while the proportion of pupils providing correct answers in P4 Math was nearly 10 percentage points lower among those students in rural areas compared to those in urban areas.

There are also gender disparities. National pass-rates for BECE show that males perform better than females in all subjects; except for Social Studies, where females outperform males. At the secondary level, students’ performance in the WASSCE is low, particularly for Mathematics. Further, 23 percent of students qualified for tertiary education in 2016, with 26 percent of males qualifying compared to 20 percent of females – hence, targetting 1.2 million girls with the intervention will change the equation over time. UNESCO considers gender parity to have been attained when the Gender Parity Index (GPI) is between 0.97 and 1.03. As the current figures indicate, Ghana has a lot of ground to cover in terms of gender parity.

Social and economic policy

The current government was elected in December 2016 on a promise to implement a ‘Coordinated Programme of Economic and Social Development Policies (CPESDP) 2017–2024 in March 2018’.  The policy aims at doubling GDP by 2024, by creating favourable conditions for investment in the private sector and increasing youth employment opportunities.

The aim will broadly be achieved by: (a) revitalising the economy; (b) transforming agriculture and industry; (c) strengthening social protection and inclusion; (d) revamping economic and social infrastructure; and (e) reforming public service delivery institutions.

A key priority of government is to move ‘Ghana Beyond Aid’ as a long-term vision centred on five pillars: (a) enhancing domestic revenue mobilisation without undermining productive activities or distorting private incentives for work; (b) encouraging higher private savings as a source of loanable funds to support domestic credit and capital markets; (c) pursuing more transparent, prudent and accountable use of public resources; and (d) leveraging resources in more innovative ways.

As Ghanaians go to the polls on December 7, 2020, the electorate need assurance of government’s commitment to social investments for the benefit of all, irrespective of origin.  Without doubt, investing in general basic education and education is the surest means to achieving the ‘Ghana Beyond Aid’ objective.

***The writer is a Development and Communications Management Specialist, and a Social Justice Advocate.  All views expressed in this article are my personal views and do not represent those of any organisation(s).

Email: [email protected]. Mobile: 0202642504/0243327586

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