16.08.2018 Feature Article

Free SHS Can Make Ghana Globally Competitive

Free SHS Can Make Ghana Globally Competitive
16.08.2018 LISTEN

In the July/August 2018 edition of the Foreign Affairs magazine one of the influential magazines in the world, World Bank’s President Jim Yong Kim makes some important remarks about Ghana. According to him investment in universal free primary education has yielded large returns for the country. It has particularly increased the literacy rate, and decreased poverty and inequality among those in the lower income bracket.

He says "Ghana’s success story is a testament to this relationship: throughout the 1990s and early years of this century, the country doubled its education spending and drastically improved its primary enrolment rates. As a result, the literacy rate went up by an astonishing 64 percentage points from the early 1990s to 2012, and the poverty rate fell from 61 percent to 13 percent” (Kim, 2018, p.94). In other words, if free primary education in the 1990s and early 2000s reduced poverty in Ghana from 61% to 13%, free SHS (with the increased enrolment and investment) will not only eradicate poverty but also bridge the knowledge gap facing the country.

In the same Foreign Affairs magazine, Richard C. Levin, former President of Yale University, has this to say about how investment in education in Asia has shifted the global balance of power in the region's favour.

He points out that "The rapid economic development of Asia since World War II -- starting with Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, then extending to Hong Kong and Singapore, and finally taking hold powerfully in India and mainland China -- has forever altered the global balance of power. These countries recognise the importance of an educated work force to economic growth, and they understand that investing in research makes their economies more innovative and competitive. Beginning in the 1960s, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan sought to provide their populations with greater access to postsecondary education, and they achieved impressive results" (Levin, 2010, p.63).

According to Prof Levin, "In the early stages of their countries' postwar development, Asian GOVERNMENTS understood that greater access to higher education would be a prerequisite to sustained economic growth. A literate, well-trained labour force helped transform Japan and South Korea over the course of the past half century, first from agricultural to manufacturing economies, then from economies focused on low-skilled manufacturing to those focused on high-skilled manufacturing. With substantial GOVERNMENT investment, the higher-education systems in both countries expanded rapidly. In Japan, the gross enrolment ratio -- the fraction of the university-age population that is actually enrolled in some type of postsecondary educational institution -- rose from nine percent in 1960 to 42 percent by the mid-1990s. In South Korea, the increase was even more dramatic, from five percent in 1960 to just over 50 percent in the mid-1990s" (Levin, 2010, p. 64).

He added that "Today, China and India have an even more ambitious agenda. Both seek to expand their higher-education systems, and since the late 1990s, China has done so dramatically. They are also aspiring to create a limited number of world-class universities. In China, the nine universities that receive the most supplemental government funding recently self-identified as the C9 -- China's Ivy League. In India, the Ministry of Human Resource Development recently announced its intention to build 14 new comprehensive universities of "world-class" stature. Other Asian powers are eager not to be left behind: Singapore is planning a new public university of technology and design, in addition to a new American-style liberal arts college affiliated with the National University...Such initiatives suggest that GOVERNMENTS in Asia understand that overhauling their higher-education systems is required to sustain economic growth in a postindustrial, knowledge-based global economy. They are making progress by investing in research, reforming traditional approaches to curricula and pedagogy, and beginning to attract outstanding faculty from abroad. Many challenges remain, but it is more likely than not that by midcentury the top Asian universities will stand among the best universities in the world" (Levin, 2010, pp. 63-64).

He concluded: “Having made tremendous progress in expanding access to higher education, the leading countries of Asia are now focused on an even more challenging goal: building universities that can compete with the finest in the world. The GOVERNMENTS of China, India, Singapore, and South Korea are explicitly seeking to elevate some of their universities to this exalted status because they recognise the important role that university-based scientific research has played in driving economic growth in the United States, western Europe, and Japan. And they understand that world-class universities are the ideal place to educate students for careers in science, industry, government, and civil society -- creating people who have the intellectual breadth and critical-thinking skills to solve problems, to innovate, and to lead" (Levin, 2010, p.65).

In 2015, Eric Hanushek of Stanford University, US and Ludger Woessmann of University of Munich, Germany studied the relationship between secondary education, basic skill and GDP of 76 higher and middle income countries including Ghana. They found out that of the 76 countries, Ghana had the lowest enrolment rate of secondary students (46 percent). Ghana also scored the lowest among the sampled countries in terms of literacy in mathematics, science and reading using the PISA (Programme of International Student Assessment) system. PISA assesses 15 year olds' competences in mathematics, science and reading. Ghana's PISA score was 291 points far below the 420 points required to judge a country as having reached Level 1 in mathematics, reading and science. They argued that if Ghana was able to achieve universal basic skills in the next 15 years, the GDP will increase 38 fold in 80 years.

"In a recent study of cognitive skills and inclusive development, we used data from 76 middle- and high-income countries to estimate the economic implications of raising the level of each country’s unskilled population to Level 1 in mathematics and science on the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)...The projected economic gain from ensuring that everyone has basic skills is remarkable for all countries, across all income levels. But unsurprisingly, countries with the lowest incomes, where current enrolment and achievement rates have the most room for growth, would gain the most. Ghana, for example, has the lowest enrolment rate in secondary schools (46 percent) among our sample and also the lowest achievement levels for those in school (291 PISA points). It is extraordinarily unlikely that Ghana could move quickly enough to meet the universal skills goal in 15 years; but if it did, our research demonstrates that the present value of added growth over the next 80 years would equal 38 times its current GDP" (Hanushek and Woessmann, 2015).

According to Sperling "investment in education -- particularly for girls -- in the world's poorest countries produces impressive health benefits and high economic returns. Education boosts family income, and female education in particular leads to smaller, healthier families by lowering infant and maternal mortality and improving child nutrition. In Africa, a child born to an uneducated mother faces a 20 percent chance of dying before the age of five, whereas the risk for a child whose mother has attended at least five years of school drops to 12 percent. In Brazil, illiterate women have, on average, six children each; literate mothers average between two and three. Indeed, a 1995 study of 72 countries found that "the expansion of female secondary education may be the single best lever for achieving substantial reductions in fertility." Recent research on aids prevention in the urban areas of Zambia suggested that teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 who had received at least a medium level of education had a lower incidence of the aids virus than did their less-educated counterparts. And schools provide an important vehicle for delivering vaccines, medicines, vitamins, and meals" (Sperling, 2001)

The current Akuffo-Addo education policy is likely to increase secondary school enrolment far from 46 percent in 2015. That is if Ghana is to join the global league of economic achievers, we must invest in all levels of education: primary, secondary and post-secondary. In the US, Europe and Asia investment in education has paid off handsomely and it will do so for Ghana if more attention is paid to education by government. Indeed, in the coming decades Ghana's existence and survival as a country will be determined not by how much natural resources we have, but by our human capital and how best we are able to put that capital into good use. President Akuffo-Addo should be commended for paying serious attention to secondary education.

Hanushek E. A. and Woessmann L. (2015) "Teach the World: Why the UN Sustainable Development Goals Should Focus on Education" Foreign Affairs, August, 20

Kim, J. Y. (2018) "The Human Capital Gap: Getting governments to invest in people" Foreign Affairs, Volume 97, Number 4, pp.92-101

Levin, R. C. (2010) "Top of the class: The Rise of Asia's Universities" Foreign Affairs, Volume 89, Number 3, pp. 63-75

Sperling, G. B. (2001) "Toward Universal Education: Making a Promise, and Keeping It" Foreign Affairs, Volume 80, Number 5, pp. 7-13

By Lord Adusei