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Frontline with Kwaku Owusu Frimpong
Four years of Senior High School in Ghana- Why not three
By Professors J. S. Djangmah and Ivan Addae-Mensah
AT THE recent “National Forum on the Duration of the Senior High School Programme” we presented our views on why the current four years duration should be maintained. Our views were based on well-researched evidence. We also heard various views in favour of a change back to the former threeyear programme. Since then we have followed with keen interest subsequent discussions in the media and other avenues including the Internet. We have the impression that majority of those who have expressed views on this issue, including parents and students, are in favour of retaining the four year programme. Apart from a report in the press which stated that the forum failed to reach a consensus, Government has been silent on the matter. We, however, wish to raise our voices once more in support of the four years.

We have followed the progress of the senior secondary school programme since the days when we were respectively, chairman of the Universities Entrance Examination, and the Dean of the Faculty of Science, University of Ghana. We have persisted over the years to advocate a four years’ Senior Secondary School because we believe that the majority of JSS graduates who are from public schools are ill-prepared for senior high school education, and therefore need more time to acquire basic academic skills. Also for reasons of poorer Basic Education Certificate Examination Results (BECE) they enrol in the less endowed and newer schools which lack the experienced teachers and facilities to deliver quality education.

We wish to point out that the decision to extend the duration of the SHS to four years is backed by an Act of Parliament, the Education Act, which was passed into law in December 2008, barely seven months ago. In this paper we wish to present additional data which once again indicate that most of our senior high schools perform poorly in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE). We do not believe that the Ministry of Education has a magic wand to reverse this situation in the short term.

Most Senior High Schools produce Poor WASSCE Results
In our previous submissions, we have always presented solid data which show serious inequities in academic performance in our education system, both at the Junior and the Senior High School. We have presented data from WAEC which showed that only a small minority of students achieve high grades, that is A1, B2 or B3 or high credit (C4). The vast majority of students pass with weak grades (D7 & E8) or fail. For example in Core Mathematics, for the years 2006 to 2008, candidates with A1 to B3 passes numbered 9.4 to 10.9%, C4 to C6 numbered 15.9 to 20.4%, D7 and E8 numbered 27.8 to 33.6%. Those who failed numbered 33.9 to 44.8%.

Table 1 shows this statistics for Core English and Core Mathematics. Some top may have as many as 40% or more of candidates obtaining A and B grades in Core English and Core Mathematics.>

The large number of school leavers who write November/December WASSCE is evidence that they are determined to improve their grades to seek admission into tertiary institutions after they have failed to make it the first time. It is also evidence that parents are willing to continue to sponsor them so long as they are willing to study. It is therefore not quite true that in the face of such poor performance of the majority of candidates in the WASSCE parents will kick against extension of duration of the SHS if the aim is to improve upon performance because of the cost.

Table 1 shows that few students pass the WASSCE with high grades in the key core subjects, English Language and Mathematics.

Schools Ranked according to performance in the WASSCE

We report on new data which once again show the huge inequalities in academic performance within the Ghanaian secondary (or high) school system. We have used the proportion of school candidates who qualify for admission into tertiary institutions to rank our Senior High Schools.

In 1993 the Universities in preparation for admission of the first SSS graduates, fixed a minimum total aggregate of twenty-four (24) in six subjects, the three core subjects of English Language, Mathematics, and either Integrated Science or Social Studies, and passes in three relevant elective subjects. Other post-SSS tertiary institutions, such as the Polytechnics, nursing, teacher training colleges and business schools, also adopted the minimum admission requirement that the universities had set.

Our ranking places each school in the order of merit that is established by this process. We placed the schools into five groups (or quintiles) in this order of merit. The best performing schools belong to the top 20% of schools, while the worst performing schools belong to the bottom 20%. The size of the difference between the top performing schools and the others measures the size of the inequality between our schools. We have attached to this paper as an ranking of the top 20% of schools and details of their performance for the most recent WASSCE, 2006 to 2008.

Table 2 is a summary of how schools ranked according to the 2006 WASSCE. It shows the number of students who sat for the WASSCE, the number who qualified for tertiary education and the proportion of qualified students from each group of schools. The last column is the number of qualified students per rank as a percentage of the total number of qualified students for the year. This kind of ranking provides a good measure of the extent of the inequality within the senior secondary (high) school system. The top 20% of schools, 86 schools in all, presented 29,589 candidates for the May/June WASSCE in 2006. The number who qualified for tertiary education was 12,389 who represent 75.7% of the total number of qualified candidates, 15,375 qualifying. The other schools, 343 in all produced 24.3% of qualified candidates. The bottom 20% of schools had 167 qualifying out of the 19310 candidates who sat.


Table 3 is a summary of how schools ranked in the 2007 WASSCE. It shows the number of students who sat for the WASSCE, the number who qualified for tertiary education and the proportion of qualified students from each group of schools. The top 20% of schools, 88 schools in all, presented 29,758 candidates, out of this number 11,926 qualified for tertiary education representing 76% of the total number of candidates, 15,702 qualifying. The other schools, 352 in all produced 24 % of qualified candidates. The bottom 20% of schools had 149 or 0.9% qualifying out of the 15,702 candidates who sat.


As shown in Table 4, 505 schools presented 129,399 candidates for the 2008 May/June WASSCE, a total of 23,746 or 18.4% of them qualified for tertiary education. The total number of candidates who sat for the WASSCE from the top 20% of schools was 33,959. Out of this number 17,174 qualified for tertiary education. They make up 71.8 % of all the 23,746 students who qualified for tertiary education in 2008. When listed according to number of candidates, 125 of the 505 schools in 2008 had only 1, 2 or 3 candidates qualifying. The bottom 60% of schools, 303 schools in all presented 65,028 candidates for WASSCE, only 2,253 of them, that is 9.6% of the total number of qualified for tertiary education.


Four Years SHS provides More Opportunity
The above statistics show the huge inequality in our senior high school education system. As expected the high achieving students congregate in the best endowed schools. These are the students who do well in spite of the rushed nature of the three-year SHS. The poor performance of the majority of our schools has been the basis of the call for extending the SHS to four years. Now that we have the individual school results as reported here, we hope that Government will be gracious enough not to push through a policy which is not well supported by the available research evidence. Our report confirms the findings of Professor Addae-Mensah based on a study of admissions of Legon and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology for I998 to 2001 which said that just 50 of the senior high schools in Ghana produced 70 % or more of the students who enrolled in the most sought after professional courses such as medicine, engineering, administration (business) pharmacy and architecture.

To be Continued
 

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