Returns to secondary education: Unpacking the delivery of senior secondary schooling in Ghana

Evidence suggests that despite completion of secondary schooling, students in Ghana are not gaining basic skills important for their future success (Anamuah-Mensah, 2011). Furthermore, relatively little information about the quality of secondary school and its relationship to student outcomes currently exists. While policymakers and educators conjecture about the school-level factors that affect student learning, unfortunately, little research has focused on ways to improve school quality in developing countries, particularly at the secondary level (Banerjee et al, 2013; Glewwe et al., 2013; Kremer & Holla, 2009).

Our project intends to fill the gap in the literature by addressing the following research questions: What is the quality of secondary education delivery among under-resourced populations in Ghana, and what are its determinants? To this end, we will conduct school and classroom visits, as well as administer surveys and content knowledge tests to teachers, to build a detailed dataset on Senior High Schools in 6 of Ghana’s 10 provinces. The data collected through class-level, school-level and teacher-level surveys will help form a better landscape of the quality of secondary schooling in Ghana across two particular dimensions: i) teacher-level factors including teacher subject matter content knowledge, teacher effort, and teacher pedagogical practices and ii) school-level management.

A foundational claim in the general schooling literature is that teacher quality matters for student learning (Sanders & Rivers, 1996; Rockoff, 2004; Rivkin, Hanushek and Kain, 2005; Nye, Konstantopoulus & Hedges, 2004). As Banerjee et al. (2013) highlight, however, finding competent teachers, particularly at the post-primary level, is likely to be more challenging in countries where fewer individuals complete post-secondary, much less secondary education. To gain a better understanding of the state of teaching quality in Ghanaian schools, we plan to address the following questions: How well prepared are teachers to teach the required curriculum? What are the pedagogical and instructional practices employed by teachers and how do they relate to student learning outcomes?

A number of studies also point to the importance of school leaders for effective schooling, particularly within disadvantaged contexts (Brewer, 1993; Hallinger & Heck, 1998; Waters, Marzano & McNulty, 2003; Grissom & Loeb, 1998). While relatively little is known about the school management practices in Ghana, we conjecture that the competency of school administrators may be especially important for the success of schools lacking in resources and typically serving poorer and/or lower performing students. As part of our investigation, we plan to address the following questions: What management practices are utilized by school leadership and which practices are correlated with higher returns for students? How are school organization and accountability practices related to teacher and student attendance and student learning?

While policymakers currently must rely on anecdotal evidence to craft appropriate education policies, we believe this study will contribute meaningfully to policy makers’ efforts to improve the educational situation of disadvantaged students in Ghana. More broadly, the proposed project also presents an opportunity to explore potential school-level and teacher-level interventions for future evaluation. The challenges facing Ghanaian schools and students are not unique and are seen in across many other disadvantaged populations. We believe this project will help shed light on the issues that must be addressed in order for schooling to improve the situation of disadvantaged students worldwide.