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The decline of basic education in Ghana

Gideon Kwasi Animah, PhD Student at University of Bath

Quality primary education in most sub-Saharan African countries, including Ghana, is still saddled by serious shortages in resources due to increased enrolment. When an educational leader recently asserted that ‘it is better to learn under trees than not to be educated’ (see Mohammed, 2024), their statement made me ponder about the future and progress of quality basic education in Ghana.

Since 2016, the main focus of the education sector in Ghana has been the senior high school level. The current government’s Free Senior High School (FSHS) policy was a core plank of its political campaign and so this promise must be fulfilled. As a result, the 2017 budget indicated that the government intends to use petroleum revenues to fund its FSHS policy, which has left the basic level of education in a deplorable state (Fusheini et al., 2017).

While the aim of the UN’s sustainable development goal 4 (SDG4) is to ensure equitable and quality education for all, many uncertainties still exist in Ghana. Concomitantly, less attention has been given to school leadership in terms of training and development programmes, good salaries, incentives and resources, which has affected the quality of basic education (Asamoah Boadi & Tseer, 2021). Furthermore, if the performance of students at the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) continues to decline as reported by UNICEF, what will be the outcome of students to be produced at the senior high school level? Basic education serves as the foundation for all levels of education; if the foundations are weak, the performance of other levels of education will be negatively affected.

‘Basic education serves as the foundation for all levels of education; if the foundations are weak, the performance of other levels of education will be negatively affected.’

Moreover, results released by the National Teaching Council in Ghana indicated that out of 20,181 teachers who sat the 2023 Ghana Teacher Licensure Examination (GTLE), 10,625 passed (52.6 per cent) and 9,556 failed (47.4 per cent) (Arthur, 2023). Those who passed the licensure exam are posted by the Ghana Education Service (GES) to practise teaching in their assigned basic schools; those who failed are given another opportunity to take the licensure exam. Teachers who graduate from these training colleges are reluctant to offer their services in remote communities due to poor conditions of services, low salaries, and a lack of governmental support and materials that will enhance their productivity.

In December 2023, the government had to use GH¢20 million to settle capitation grant arrears for public basic schools across the country (Okine, 2023). The capitation grant was introduced to increase access to school by replacing payment of school fees. However, payment was in arrears between 2021 and 2022 (Longdon, 2023), which raises questions about the effectiveness and performance of public basic education in these years since there was no grant to finance most basic schools.

In October 2023, the Ministry of Education launched the National Educational Leadership Institute (NELI) to sharpen the skills of educational leaders and deliver a comprehensive leadership training for aspiring leaders across all levels of education. From my viewpoint, this initiative will equip educational leaders particularly in basic education to practise the right leadership model(s) that will be suitable for the school environment they operate in. To explore more on educational leadership and ensure quality basic education in Ghana, my doctoral research is exploring these two core questions:

  • What policy interventions and mitigation strategies could be applied to curb the issue of low performance among pupils?
  • How can basic education in Ghana be realistically improved with the available resources?

There is a proverb in the Ghanaian language which translates as, ‘when an animal dies, it begins to rot from its head’. This captures the sentiment that the educational leadership in Ghana is responsible for the challenges encountered by public basic schools – there should be an instant call for action to leaders and policymakers in Ghana to find ways to promote quality education at the basic level.

In conclusion, in order to help build a better Ghana it is imperative for the Ministry of Education and Ghana Education Service to focus on providing quality basic education, rather than quantity (access to) education. There is a need for educational leaders and stakeholders in Ghana to reconceptualise the need for equity and quality education at the basic level.


Arthur, A. (2023, December 20). Over 9,000 teachers fail 2023 licensure exams. Citi Newsroom.

Asamoah Boadi, E., & Tseer, T. (2021). The impact of school leadership on students academic performance in Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) in northern Ghana. International Journal of Latest Research in Humanities and Social Science, 4(1), 08–17.

Fusheini, A., Adam, A., Kuyole, E., Ibrahim-Tanko, R., & Bekoe, S. (2017). Funding Ghana’s ‘free’ senior high school with oil revenue: Sober reflection required. Briefing. Natural Resource Governance Institute.

Longdon, B. (2023, March 28). Basic school heads lament non-payment of capitation grant arrears 2yrs on. Citi Newsroom.

Mohammed, H. (2024, February 1). It’s better to learn under trees than not to be educated: Vincent Assafuah. Citi Newsroom.

Okine, N. (2023, December 5). Govt releases GH¢20m to settle capitation grant arears. Citi Newsroom.