General News Thu, 29 May 2003

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Education divide emerges in Ghana

Cynthia and Nii Tackie are two nine-year-olds in the Ghanaian capital, Accra.

Cynthia attends a private primary school, whose fees are high, while Nii Tackie attends a public school whose fees have been government approved to make education cheap.

Cynthia goes to school in a neat dress, with a school bag and a lunch box while Nii Tackie goes to school in beach sandals with money to buy food from the food vendors. He has no school bag.

Cynthia's father pays the high fees for a purpose -- to enable his daughter to progress smoothly into secondary education when the time comes. And he can use the routine admission of students into secondary schools as his guide.

When results for admission into secondary schools are released, private schools are always ahead, as students from that system perform better in examinations.

"I consider the high fees as investment in my daughter's education. Private schools provide a better foundation for children in this country," said Paul Asiedu, Cynthia's father, a banker.

Nii Tackie finds himself among 90 per cent of some two million children in public primary schools in the country.

So glaring are the disparities in the performance of the two systems that there is mounting public concern to find the causes and resolve them quickly.

There are worries that it may be leading to the foundation of a class system.

Now the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has funded a study into academic achievement and variables in the two systems to help resolve the problem.

"The results of the study show that the performance of private school pupils was higher than that of public school pupils in the English Language and Mathematics in both Primary 3 and Primary 6," the report concluded.

Nancy, a public school teacher, says that many pupils in public schools and their parents do not take education seriously. "The children are absent from school at will and parents do not care. Some of the children only wait for the bell to go to the market to sell," she added.

The study found that at Level 3, private school pupils had a mean score of 48 per cent in the English Language while their counterparts in the public schools had 34 per cent.

The mean score for mathematics at the same level was 56 per cent in the public systems and 41 per cent in the private.

But the irony is that all teachers in public schools are professionally trained and their service conditions are largely better than those in private schools.

The study found some reasons for the disparity in several factors. It noted that headteachers in private schools tended to engage in more frequent supervision of teachers' work than in the public schools.

More teachers in the public schools could not complete the English language and mathematics syllabi and were either absent from or late to school.

It also found that the teacher pupil ratio is larger in public schools than private schools. While teacher pupil ratio was 1:23 in the private school, it was 1:39 in the public school.

Significantly, more parents and guardians of pupils in private schools provided textbooks and stationary, school bags and dresses, in addition to homework assistance.

The Ghanaian constitution provides for free, compulsory and universal basic education for all children.

Source: CNN

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