The default position on providing education largely rests on every government. It is one of the reasons why people are taxed so that the state can provide social services which include education and basic healthcare.
In most advanced jurisdictions, education from primary to high school in public schools are provided at no cost to pupils and students.
Mirroring global trends, Ghana has experienced rapid expansion in access to education over the past 15 years. According to the UNESCO, Global Monitoring Report published in 2015, between 2000 and 2011 the net primary enrolment rate more than doubled from 30 per cent to 77 per cent due to a variety of factors, including a considerable rollback of fees, a tripling of education spending by government, and rising incomes.
Over the past decades, successive governments have been trying to eliminate schools-under-trees but as progress is made, news schools-under-tree emerge.
Despite these gains, the goal of providing every child with access to quality education remains a distant one.
The quality of education in some public schools is generally poor, infrastructural gaps persist, lack of teaching and learning materials, teacher absenteeism is high, and in certain rural and urban areas, access to government schools remains low.
When the market is fully saturated by the state providing education at the lower level, there will be no incentive for the private sector to enter the market to provide education, although there may be some classes of individuals who would not want their wards to be schooled through the public school system.
However, most middle- and working-class parents would prefer to keep their kids in a public school if the schools offered a competitive learning environment for kids to learn.
Available data in Ghana shows the active presence of the private sector in the provision of education in Ghana. While it is obvious that the state resources are not at par with the increasing population and demand for education, the intervention of the private schools needs to be seen as a “redeemer’.
The traditional notion has been that private schools are for the rich. However, through the low fee private school’s initiatives, private school education is now within the reach of those who could hitherto not afford it.
Over the past decade, the number of low-fee private schools (LFPS) in low- and lower-middle-income countries has steadily increased. In India, for example, the number of LFPS has more than doubled since 1993, and in Kenya, it has tripled since 1997.
In Ghana, the Ghana Education Service (GES) estimates the number of Private Schools to be increasing in under-served communities where either there is no public school or traditional private schools are priced beyond the pocket of parents.
Despite a number of challenges, including poor infrastructure and lack of financing across the board, and the recent hit by the global pandemic, private schools across the country have demonstrated impressive resilience.
Generally, they are regarded by parents as more likely to be accountable for both the quality of education and educational outcomes.
Within this context, private sector schools have emerged as a viable provider of quality education in Ghana. A survey conducted by UNESCO revealed the number of private primary schools in the country has increased by more than 46 per cent between 2009 and 2015 and enrolment rates in private schools have also increased rapidly, from 18 per cent to 25 per cent of total primary enrolment.
Access & quality
Affordability of LFPS plays an equally crucial role in access. These schools offer parents with flexible payment plans. Their tuition is relatively low compared with traditional for-profit private schools.
Total costs of low-fee private education to households do not only cover tuition; they include books, transportation fees, uniforms, testing fees, and more. Additionally, the issue of affordability is linked to problems faced by the poorest households, especially in rural areas.
The question is: should the state be interested in supporting private schools including low fee private schools? I think the answer is a big yes.
There will be those who will argue that the state has not overcome the plethora of challenges confronting its own public schools, so why should it be concerned about private school?
Payment of taxes are statutory and its liability is strict. When tax rates are set by Parliament, it makes no distinction whether one works in a private or public sector. At least some form of support to private schools can help increase access and reduce cost of education at the basic level.
It is, therefore, important that the state provides support to private schools and LFPS to ensure that they get the needed logistical and financial support to enable them to complement government’s efforts to provide quality education for all.
In view of its expanding reach, the private school sector in Ghana cannot be ignored.
In order for these institutions to achieve their aim of increasing access to quality education in a sustainable manner, contributions from many actors are needed.
Parents and caregivers must continue to assist teachers by ensuring that they provide basic learning tools and materials for their wards and demand quality from school owners.
Proprietors should invest in evidence-based practices which improve learning outcomes, not just test scores. And perhaps most importantly, government and private education actors must enhance the extent of their collaboration, bound by a shared goal of enhancing learning.
Government approach to education must be inclusive, provision of teaching and learning materials and regular in-service training.
Government could support private schools financially to help them solve their infrastructure challenges. They could approach the education sector in an inclusive manner by extending their various educational programmes to private schools, especially LFPS.
This form of assistance can include in-service training for teachers and provision of the needed teaching and learning materials and other logistics to LFPS.
The writers are with CUTS International Accra, Ghana.