Today, Ghana will be presenting a Voluntary National Review (VNR) of its progress towards achieving the SDGs.
However, this review is unlikely to critically assess the government’s numerous policies that actively undermine progress towards the SDGs. This blog illustrates how the government in Ghana, like many other governments around the world, has not yet done what it takes to sustainably finance SDG 4 and explains what education unions are doing to defend quality public education.
Upon coming into government in January 2017, President Nana Akufo-Addo outlined “Ghana Beyond Aid”, his strategy for self-funded and self-directed national development. Domestic investment in quality education is one of the key pillars of the strategy, and in September 2017, Ghana introduced free senior high school (SHS). At the 2018 replenishment forum for the Global Partnership for Education, Akufo-Addo emphatically shared his vision of all African countries being independent from aid. He stressed that this is vital to ensuring African nations are able to remain in control of their own destiny when donor policies change. Akufo-Addo advocated for the crucial mobilisation of domestic resources to fund education by eliminating illicit financial flows, tackling corruption and stopping mismanagement of resources. His speech was very well received at the forum. However, some questions arise upon examining Ghana’s education financing and policies more closely.
First, a quick look at Ghana’s education expenditure. Ghana is among the top education spenders in Africa. Yet since 2015, government expenditure on education as a percentage of both GDP and total government expenditure has decreased.
as % of GDP
as % of total government expenditure
Access, equity, quality and privatisation
In the first year under the free SHS policy, 90,000 more students entered SHS than in the previous year . Nevertheless, many challenges to access still remain. Since 2015, the overall numbers of out‑of‑school children and adolescents have grown to more than 700,000 out‑of‑school children and over 250,000 out‑of‑school adolescents in 2018 . In 2018, the net enrolment in primary education was 84% and 59.01% in secondary education. Access to education is therefore far from ideal, and quality has been further affected by growing pupil-teacher ratios.
Evidence shows that privatisation of education, through low-fee private schools and public‑private partnerships (PPPs) in particular, exacerbates inequality, does not support educational access for the poorest populations, and often results in poor quality of education. Yet Ghana’s current education sector plan (2018–30) refers to a new pilot PPP initiative as a “pillar of the reform agenda” . The implementation strategy calls for PPPs in the early childhood, primary, secondary and non‑formal education sectors.
Currently, the Ghanaian education system is highly privatised, especially in the early childhood and primary education sectors. Over 20% of early childhood and primary education students are enrolled in private schools, about one third of early childhood and primary schools in the country are private , and most growth in the number of schools built in recent years has been due to the expanding private sector. Ghana’s legislation encourages private involvement in education, and there are no strong regulations to appraise the quality of private education providers. There is a great risk that further privatisation of Ghana’s education systems could lead the government to abdicate its responsibility to ensure quality education for all, including those in hard‑to‑reach areas .
Ghana Partnership Schools (GPS) Project
One public-private partnership initiative, the Ghana Partnership Schools (GPS) Project, plans tohand over control of 100 kindergartens, primary schools and junior high schools in the Ashanti, Northern, Central and Greater Accra regions to private organisations, funded by loans and grants from the World Bank and the Global Partnership for Education. The pilot is set to run for three years beginning in September 2019, after which it will be expanded and institutionalised.
Absolute Return for Kids (Ark), a UK organisation that runs “academies” (privately operated, government-funded schools) in the UK and is now involved in “partnering and advising governments [on PPPs] across several nations”  as the Education Partnerships Group, is currently providing advice to the Ghanaian government on implementing the program . Previously, Ark advised the Liberian government on the controversial Partnership Schools for Liberia  project — a failed experiment with the aim of privatising Liberia’s primary education system. In 2017, Ark cosponsored a visit to the UK by a group of Ghanaian Ministry of Education officials to study PPP implementation . Ark’s PPP advice to Ghana is being funded by the IDP Foundation , which appears to view the PPP as a good stepping‑stone to more low-fee private schools in Ghana.
The proposed PPP programme in Ghana has been met by strong opposition from EI’s member organisations in Ghana, who point out that they have not been involved in the two-year planning process of the project. They have served notice that they will resist any attempt by the government to privatise, commercialise and commodify public education in the country .
The Education Outcomes Fund (EOF)
The EOF would like to partner with the Ghanaian government to facilitate the use of development impact bonds in the country’s education system. Investors would profit from the achievement of positive education outcomes by education service providers (both non-commercial and commercial) in Ghana, with returns paid for by taxpayers at home or in donor countries. At the time of writing, it still remains to be seen whether or not this will be operationalised. However, it is clear that engagement with the fund will not contribute to the government’s vision of self‑financing quality public education.
In August 2018, education unions and the civil society coalition for education in Ghana  released a statement denouncing the EOF. The statement expressed deep concern about the fund, noting that the fund’s focus on non-state actors “will contribute to commercialisation and commodification of education, legitimise profit-making in the provision of education and weaken efforts to strengthen and expand the provision of inclusive and equitable quality free education for all consistent with SDG 4”.
Educators call on governments to operationalise “Ghana beyond aid”
Ghanaian education unions call on their government to “wean itself from donor funding and its concomitant conditionalities” and to “operationalise the ‘Ghana Beyond Aid’ mantra by plugging the loopholes in tax mobilisation, eliminating harmful tax exemptions and prioritising its expenditure by investing in human capital development of the country through education”. As an alliance of unions in the education sector, educators are taking action to lobby the government to live up to its commitment to ensure that education reform is guided by national priorities.
In order for Ghana to be able to sustainably finance equitable, inclusive, and quality education for all, it must focus on funding and strengthening public systems through domestic resources, stop further privatisation of its education systems, and reject “innovative” funding models from abroad that normalise profit-making and the commercialisation of education.
In 2015, governments committed to achieve inclusive, equitable, quality education for all by 2030 (Sustainable Development Goal 4, SDG 4). Four years later, the world is severely off track to achieve the goal. This mini blog series illustrates some of the many obstacles to the achievement of SDG 4, from the point of view of teachers and education support personnel.
 Ghana Education Sector Plan 2018–2030. p. 32
 Ghana Education Sector Plan 2018–2030 p. 18
 Junemann, C. and Ball, O. 2019. In Sheep’s clothing: Philanthropy and the Privatisation of the “Democratic” State. Education International. p. 33
 See: https://www.unite4education.org/global-response/the-partnership-schools-for-liberia-a-critical-analysis/?utm_source=ActiveCampaign&utm_medium=email&utm_content=EI+Global+Response+Newsletter&utm_campaign=EI+Global+Response+Newsletter
 Junemann, C. and Ball, O. 2019. In Sheep’s clothing: Philanthropy and the privatisation of the ‘democratic’ state. Education International. p. 81
 See grant information here: http://www.idpfoundation.org/grantmaking/grant-recipients/ark-epg
 See: https://www.graphic.com.gh/news/general-news/ghananews-teacher-unions-raise-red-flag-over-govt-plans-to-privatise-public-education.html?_cldee=YW5nZWxvLmdhdnJpZWxhdG9zQGVpLWllLm9yZw%3d%3d&recipientid=contact-0ccea2bcb4a0e411b1c5005056ad0002-02db7ed032794b2782d0bc164890f013&esid=fe73b25c-1ac0-4d89-a7ec-56da5cf90bb9
 National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT), Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT), Teachers & Educational Workers Union of Ghana (TEWU)
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.