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History Of Education In Ghana

The inital attempts to introduce formal education in Ghana were made by the many European merchants, especially the Danes, Dutch and English, who started it all with the education of their numerous mullato children, their offspring with native women, in the forts and castles, for employment as administrative assistants or soldiers. 

Some historians claim that the Portuguese started one such school at Elmina Castle around 1529 while the Dutch who evicted them from the castle are believed to have opened their own school in 1644, which ran for 200 years. Records indicate that the British began a school in nearby Cape Coast Castle, while the Danish did the same at Christiansborg Castle, Accra.

These schools produced some brilliant native scholars such as Anthony William Amo of Axim, Christian Protten of Accra and Phillip Quacoe of Cape Coast. These men continued their education in Europe, financed by the merchant companies, and served as role models for others upon their return home.

Also inextricably linked with the establishment of formal education in Ghana were the Christian missionaries who realized early that, in order to create an independent native church, they needed to have a staff of well educated local assistants.

In the 18th century, the Directors of the Danish Guinea Company invited “The United Brethren” mission from Moravia, Germany, to the Gold Coast, to teach in the castle schools. Five of these missionaries arrived at Christiansborg in 1768. Unfortunately, the first two batches of eleven men all died within a short period.

However the enthusiasm did not die among the Danish settlers with one of the Governors, Johann von Richelieu, credited with personally teaching the children.


By 1874 when the British Government assumed colonial authority of the Gold Coast colony, significant progress had been made in the educational sector and it was still expanding with the majority of the Basel and Wesleyan Mission schools scattered widely over the interior. Most of the teaching was done in the vernacular languages.

By 1881 there were 139 schools. Of these, one in Cape Coast and two in Accra were under direct government management. The Basel Mission had 47 schools, the Wesleyans 84, the Bremen Mission 4 and the Roman Catholic Church, one. However, it was observed that the system of education adopted by the various missions differed widely, and so in 1882, the Government drew the first plans to guide the development of education. The missions co-operated whole-heartedly with the new policy. The plan called for the establishment of a General Board of Education, and for the formation of local boards to study and report on existing conditions. The Board was also to ascertain that the conditions upon which grants were awarded were fulfilled and to grant certificates to teachers. To improve on the former, an updated ordinance was passed in 1887 which remained in force until 1925.

An Inspector of Schools was appointed, initially responsible for Gambia, Sierra Leone and Lagos till 1890, when the office of a full Director of Education for the Gold Coast was created. At this stage, total enrollment was 5,076, including 1,037 girls. In 1902 Ashanti and the Northern Territories were both annexed to the colony and the country’s favourable economic situation due to increasing revenue from cocoa, helped finance the dramatic improvements in the educational sector. The people themselves were appreciative of the value of education, and they contributed money and labour for its expansion.

In 1918, the Governor of the Gold Coast, Sir. Hugh Clifford, publicly deplored the ‘pitifully small sum’ of £38,000 spent on education and proposed as targets:

  • primary education for every African boy and girl,
  • a training college for teachers in every province
  • better salaries for teachers and
  • ultimately, a ‘Royal College’.

In 1920, the Phelps-Stokes Fund of America sent a mission of investigation into African education. One of the members of this mission was the great Ghanaian scholar Dr. James Kwegyir Aggrey, who at that time was teaching in America. The mission’s report made the British Government realize how great the need for education in the Gold Coast was. In the same year, the Gold Coast Government appointed a local committee to deliberate on the major requirements of education. The committee recommended that three new institutions should be built: a secondary school, a new Government training college for male teachers to replace the existing buildings of the college which had been founded in 1909, and a training college for female teachers.

The issue was taken a step further by Sir Gordon Guggisberg, who had become the new Governor of the Gold Coast in 1919. He demonstrated a keen interest in the educational sector and was convinced that the Gold Coast needed above everything, education of a first-rate quality. Guggisberg set up the ‘1922 Committee’, chaired by the Director of Education, Mr. J.D. Oman, to debate further on education in the Gold Coast. He suggested that the three separate institutions recommended by the 1920 Committee could not be afforded by the Government, and should therefore be combined into one comprehensive institution. The Committee recommended that the site chosen at Achimota, in Accra, should provide general secondary education, teacher training, and technical education for male students.

When it finally opened in 1927, the Prince of Wales College, which later became Achimota College and School, offered general secondary education as well as post secondary technical education and teacher training for both sexes. Its first Principal was Rev. Alek Fraser, a British missionary and a great educationist. Dr. Aggrey was appointed Assistant Vice-Principal. Today the former College is a secondary school and is still a prestigious establishment. The University College of the Gold Coast, which had its roots in Achimota College, and was established as an independent body in 1948, later moved to a separate campus in Legon and is known today as the University of Ghana.

Trade or industrial schools were one of Guggisberg’s deepest interests, four of which he built by the end of 1922, including the Accra Technical School. The Governor valued the “union between parent and teacher” and worked at improving the low pay of teachers and extending the length of teacher training, as a result of which pupil teaching was abolished. One of his most remarkable achievements was to bring the neglected Northern Territories into focus, with the opening of a separate Department of Education for the North and the establishment of a Trade School in Yendi in 1922. This school was later transferred to Tamale. Education policy continued to emphasize technical and agricultural education. From the Prince of Wales College, scholarships were awarded to suitable candidates to pursue further studies in British universities.

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The training of teachers was a Government priority and by 1933 there were a total of 449 teacher trainees. In 1937, the White Fathers’ Mission founded a two-year teacher training college at Navrongo. A significant development in the 1930s was the approval of some local languages, namely Twi, Fanti, Ewe and Ga, as examinable subjects for the Cambridge University School Certificate.

After 10 years of lower and upper primary education, the Education Department gave scholarships for brilliant but needy boys and girls at approved secondary schools. Domestic science including cookery, laundry, child welfare and needlework was taught to girls, while courses in commercial subjects such as shorthand, bookeeping and typewriting were introduced at Mfantsipim school in Cape Coast and soon gained ground in other schools.

Recognizing the impossibility of instituting free and compulsory education, the government absorbed the cost of tuition and subsidized the rest, but encouraged the payment of token school fees which enhanced the respect with which education was regarded. In the Northern Territories where the schools were almost entirely boarding institutions, payment of fees could be made in kind, for instance with livestock and foodstuffs.

The Second World War (1939-45) affected education as the European inspectors, principals and teachers were mobilized for military service. Consequently, the first African Deputy Director of Education, Mr. V.A. Tettey, was appointed. The total number of primary and secondary schools reached 3,000 in 1950 with an enrollment of 280,960 boys and girls. The number of people in school constituted 6.6% of the population of 4.2 million.

Other than Governor Gordon Guggisberg, there were several others who contributed to the development of education in the colonial era. Some of these ‘education pioneers’ were natives of the Gold Coast. Perhaps the best known of these was the above-mentioned Dr. James Kwegyir Aggrey from Anomabo in the Central Region, who is considered to be one of the greatest scholars ever produced by this country. In 1898, Dr. Aggrey went on scholarship to America where he studied and taught for 20 years. He confounded the racists of the time with his string of academic degrees including a B.A., an M.A. and a Ph.D. While teaching at Livingstone College, North Carolina, he was invited to join the afore-mentioned fact finding mission to Africa, to explore the possibilities of educational funding. During this visit he formed a strong friendship with Governor Guggisberg. On his return to the Gold Coast, Dr. Aggrey was appointed Assistant Vice-Principal of the Prince of Wales College. He campaigned vigourously for women’s education at a time when the idea was not popular, and held the belief that to educate a man was to educate an individual, while educating a woman had more far-reaching benefits to family and community. This led to an increase in the number of places offered to girls by the College.

Another native education pioneer was Josiah Spio-Garbrah, the grandfather former Minister for Education, Ekwow Spio-Garbrah. Josiah Spio-Garbrah was educated at the Wesleyan Mission School at Axim and at the Government Boys’ School, Cape Coast. In 1912 he was appointed Principal Teacher of the Government Boys’ School, Cape Coast. Besides his duties as Principal Teacher, Mr. Spio-Garbrah concerned himself mostly with collecting the backward pupils from the senior classes and assisting them with their studies, especially in mathematics, which was his forte. He was the only African to serve on the above-mentioned committee appointed in Accra in 1920 by Governor Guggisberg, to advise the Government on education. In 1922 he was promoted Headmaster and transferred to Accra where he again served on the Education Committee of 1922. While he was the Headmaster of the Accra Government Senior Boys’ School, he was promoted Inspector of Schools, the first native to hold this post. He eventually retired after 35 years of service with the Government.

Although the formal education system established by the British colonial government provided a solid foundation for education in Ghana, it was geared towards producing a small educated elite to run the colonial economy, while the rest of the population had little access to education. In 1952, The Nkrumah government affirmed the place of education as a major instrument of national development and introduced a policy of education for all.


Since Ghana‘s independence, successive governments have demonstrated their recognition of the importance of education to national development, by pursuing policies aimed at making education accessible to all and relevant to the social, industrial and technological development of the country.

Independent Ghana‘s first President, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, initiated the Education Act 1961, Act 87, aimed at achieving Free Universal Primary Education. The Act endorsed the two-tier system of education as instituted by the British in colonial times, namely primary and middle education, and secondary education. Three things of significance are worth highlighting:

First, the Act established Local Education Authorities within Local Authorities and entrusted them with the responsibility, among other things, to:

build, equip and maintain all public primary and middle schools in their areas; and

establish all such public primary, middle and special schools as are, in the opinion of the Minister, after consultation with the Minister responsible for Local Government, required in its area.

Thus the establishment of public basic schools henceforth became the responsiblity of the local authorities only. The second important feature of the 1961 Act was the fact that it made education compulsory. Section 2(1) states that:

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“Every child who has attained the school-going age as determined by the Minister shall attend a course of instruction as laid down by the Minister in a school recognised for the purpose by the Minister.”

A third equally important aspect of this Act was its provision for free education. Section 20(2) stipulated:

“No fee, other than the payment for the provision of essential books or stationery or materials required by pupils for use in practical work, shall be charged in respect of tuition at a public primary, middle or special school.”

Soon after coming into office in 1966, the Government of the National Liberation Council (NLC), appointed an Education Review Committee “to examine the problems arising from the Programme of National Research and make recommendations for improvement.”

The Review Committee’s proposals covered a wide range of issues concerning education from primary to university levels. Its recommendations on the structure of education were largely an endorsement of the policies already existing. The highlights were as follows:

The school-going age should be six years.

Elementary education should have a duration of ten years with a break at the end of the eighth year for selecting those suitable for secondary education.

After this selection, the remaining middle school pupils should complete their elementary education by attending for two years pre-vocational continuation classes where these are available; otherwise the pupils should continue the study of the ordinary school subjects for the two remaining years.

Two-year pre-vocational continuation classes patterned on the industrial and farming needs of the country should be established in two middle schools of each region to serve as a pilot scheme.

The secondary school courses should have a duration of five years, at the end of which suitable pupils may proceed to a two year sixth form course.

The first-degree course at the university should be of three years’ duration (four years or more for specialized courses).

The Committee also proposed for a long-term plan a six-year primary school course followed by four years of secondary school education, with two years of sixth form work leading to a three-year university degree. Within this long-term plan, pupils who could not enter secondary school after the primary school course would have to attend continuation classes for four years.

On the content of elementary education, the committee recommended the following subjects: a Ghanaian Language, English, Mathematics, History, Geography, Civics, Science, Music, Art and Craft, Physical Education, Religious Instruction and Housecraft.

Thus, by the end of the 1960s, the structure and content of education in Ghana largely remained a heritage of the pre-independence era: long and academic. The National Liberation Council experimented with the 8-year primary course at the end of which pupils who did not gain admission into secondary or equivalent level schools either attended pre-vocational continuation classes to predispose them to suitable occupations in industry and farming, or continued the study of the general subjects in school. Among the subjects studied were woodwork, masonry and agriculture.

Public desire for change reached a high point in the 1972-74 period with the development in 1974 of an elaborate programme for education from Kindergarten through Primary and Junior Secondary to Senior Secondary Schools. The proposals in the document “The New Structure and Content of Education for Ghana” which was the report of the Dzobo Committee, were discussed nationwide and subsequently approved by Government for implementation. Consequently, the Ghana Education Service was established in 1974, principally to ensure the effective implementation of the New Structure and Content of Education.

The 1974 reform of education introduced the Junior Secondary School concept. It stressed the educational importance of a curriculum which predisposed pupils to practical subjects and activities by which they would acquire occupational skills at school and, after a little further apprenticeship, become qualified for gainful self-employment. The implementation of this reform began on an experimental basis. New subjects were introduced for the first time. They included Technical Drawing, Tailoring, Dressmaking, Metalwork, Automobile Practice, Woodwork, Masonry and Catering.

However, due to the economic constraints that faced the country in the late 1970s, bureaucratic bottlenecks and sheer lack of interest and commitment from administrators, the new programme never went beyond the experimental stage. There was stagnation and near demise of the experimental JSS system. By 1983 the education system was in such a crisis that it became necessary for a serious attempt to be made to salvage it. Among the many problems of the system were lack of educational materials, deterioration of school structures, low enrolment levels, high drop-out rates, poor educational administration and management, drastic reductions in Government‘s educational financing and the lack of data and statistics on which to base any planning.


From the early seventies to the mid eighties, Ghana experienced a serious national economic decline which affected all social sectors. Along with other sectors, the education system was starved of both human and material resources. In the early eighties, Ghana embarked on a series of IMF structural adjustment programmes under which the government mounted reforms in all social sectors. The Education Sector Adjustment Credit (EdSAC) became operational with the help of development partners notably the World Bank, the Department for International Development (then the ODA) and grants from other friendly countries. This program aimed at arresting the decline of the education sector. Under EdSAC, a review of the Dzobo Report was undertaken by the Evans Anfrom Committee in 1986 and the resulting proposals implemented in 1987. Some of the principles which formed the basis of the reform were the importance of education for all, the need for education to be relevant to professional employment opportunities, and the importance of scientific and technological education to national development. The major considerations for the restructuring of pre-university education in 1987 thus included the need to increase resources to the sector, to vocationalize education by shifting emphasis from an academic orientation to a more practical, technical one, and to reduce the cost of education by shortening the statutory period of pre-university schooling. In brief, the education reform had the following objectives:

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To increase access to basic education;

To change the structure of pre-university education from 6:4:5:2 to 6:3:3 i.e. from 17 years to 12 years;

To make education cost-effective and achieve cost recovery, and be able to sustain the reform program after the adjustment period;

To improve the quality of education by making it more relevant to socio-economic conditions.

As a result of the reforms, the Junior Secondary School structure was put in place nationwide. This meant that the 6 years of primary school and 3 years of junior secondary school were consolidated into a uniform and continuous 9-year free and compulsory basic education. The length of the school year was increased from 32-35 weeks to 40 weeks to compensate for the reduction in the years spent at pre-university level. The reforms also brought about revisions in syllabuses and provision of educational resources ranging from infrastructure such as classroom blocks and libraries, to school supplies such as books and technical skills equipment. New Senior Secondary Schools were built to absorb the expected increases in enrolment. To improve the management of the education system, District Education Offices were upgraded with the appointment of Directors and Circuit Supervisors, and the supply of logistics such as vehicles, to enhance their management activities. Qualified teachers were appointed to head basic schools. The implementation of the 1987 education reforms was supported with some other interventions. One of them was the Primary Education Project (PREP) which was embarked upon in 1991 with a USAID grant to bring about improvement in Primary Education. Another was the Primary School Development Project, implemented from 1993 with financial assistance from the International Development Association (IDA). Despite the numerous interventions to improve education, achievement levels of school children, especially at the basic level, were low. The results of public schools in the criterion reference tests (CRTs) conducted from 1992 to 1997 in English and Mathematics indicated an extremely low level of achievement in these subjects. Indeed, it was evident that although the reforms had succeeded in resolving some of the problems like reducing the length of pre-tertiary education and expanding access to education, some of the problems still persisted. FCUBE PROGRAMThe current initiative in basic education is another bold attempt by the Government to address the major problems that persisted in the education system in spite of the earlier reforms. The package is called the Basic Education Sector Improvement Program (BESIP) or, more popularly, the Free, Compulsory, Universal, Basic Education (fCUBE) Program. The main goal of the BESIP/fCUBE Programme is to provide an opportunity for every child of school-going age in Ghana to receive good quality basic education.

The Programme is intended to reinforce the on-going educational reform program and achieve good quality basic education for the Ghanaian child. See the ‘Education Today/Policies’ section of this website for more information on fCUBE. Reforms in the Tertiary Education Sub-sectorThe tertiary education system in Ghana was originally modeled on the British system and was designed to educate an elite corps to gradually take up roles in the civil service played by expatriates. The first tertiary institution in Ghana was the University College of the Gold Coast, established in 1948 and later renamed the University of Ghana. By 1971, Ghana had three universities which, together with a number of research institutions and professional associations, represented the country’s tertiary education sector. Starting with under 100 students in the University College of the Gold Coast, the number of university students reached 9,000 in 1976 and remained at that level until the commencement of the Tertiary Education Reform Programme. The above are among the key finding of the University Rationalization Committee, which undertook a comprehensive review of post secondary education in the country and came out with detailed proposals for far-reaching reforms of the management, academic and governance structure, and funding of the sub-sector. The report of the Committee was finalized after comments had been received from a cross section of stakeholders in the sub-sector and submitted to Government in 1988. It formed the basis of the development of the tertiary education component of the Education Reform Programme as well as for a government White Paper entitled “Reforms to the Tertiary Education System”. The main objectives of the reforms were to restructure the manner in which tertiary education was perceived and managed in order to improve quality, efficiency, access, equity, relevance and sustainability. Specifically, the objectives included the following:

Re-definition of the structure of the tertiary education system, to comprise all post secondary pre-service training institutions under the general supervision, direction and control of the Ministry of Education;

Making tertiary education more cost-effective;

Increasing the capacity of the institutions for income generation and encouraging private sector participation in funding of tertiary institutions;

Increased access for qualified people, improved gender balance and provision of quality education;

Appropriate balance between science/technology and social sciences/humanities students in relation to national needs;

Improving the management of the tertiary institutions.

As a result of the reforms at the tertiary level, access to tertiary institutions has been increased, although the institutions are still unable to absorb all the students who qualify, due to inadequate resources. For this reason, distance education is being explored as a possible alternative. The sustainable funding of tertiary education also remains a problem. Various solutions have been proposed, such as cost-sharing involving Government, students and the private sector.

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