Fee-paying schools blight Ghana‘s rural communities
Thursday 4th May 2017
FELICITY COLLIER reports on the union fight against exploitative ‘pay-as-you-go’ education
A TEACHER’S union in Ghana is leading a campaign against the widespread privatisation of education in Africa.
Delegates to NASUWT’s annual conference in Manchester [in England] last month heard from David Ofori Acheampong, the general secretary of the Ghana National Association of Teachers about the worrying epidemic of fee-paying, profiteering “shack” schools.
Since 2009, these makeshift education factories have been set up throughout Ghana’s rural communities — by entrepreneurs.
This “pay-as-you-go” system of private schooling operates from people’s homes which, he says, the company Omega rents out.
There have been reports of similar schools across Africa which have been described as “squalid.”
In Kenya, 10 such schools were closed down for failing to meet basic educational standards.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates, along with Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg and eBay’s Pierre Omidyar run Bridge International Academies in Africa and India, which was condemned by global organisations Education International and Public Services International, as reported recently in the Star.
So troubled are teachers by the situation, they mobilised to urge the World Bank to stop funding the schools. Britain’s teaching trade unions NUT and NASUWT joined the Uganda National Teachers Union and Kenya National Union of Teachers to deliver a letter to World Bank President Dr Jim Yong Kim last week, calling for high quality public education to be a “primary responsibility of governments, not corporations and entrepreneurs.”
It added that the so-called “low fee” schooling was still unaffordable for most families.
Acheampong said that in Ghana, rural communities are being exploited for their lack of schools and that over the years, the government has not planned properly. The population has tripled, and there is not even enough space to build more schools.
He proclaims that Omega set itself up there without the government’s prior knowledge, offering “pay-as-you-go” schooling.
The idea is that if parents cannot afford school fees on any given day, children do not attend and they are not charged.
The schools run by Omega in Ghana work in secret. “When the union informed the Ghana Education Service,” Acheampong continues, “it had no knowledge of these schools.”
He pointed out that the company had been taking advantage of “the prestige of attending private schools and also where schools don’t exist.”
And while rural communities in Ghana with a population of 20,000 lack schools, the teachers employed by Omega are inexperienced and lack formal qualifications.
“These schools recruit anybody at all,” Acheampong says, which could be high school leavers with just four to six weeks’ training.
“The teachers are recruited from senior high schools students who are unable to make it into the universities. They have practically no training in teaching at all.”
Omega’s website is currently advertising for a Chief Operations Officer, which requires experience in “maintaining the highest operational efficiency and profitability,” which indicates much about its attitude.
Mr Acheampong says that the unions in Ghana work to “draw attention to the harmful effect of these schools on the education of pupils in the communities” — which, he says, has been welcomed by some parents.
The unions in Ghana regularly engage with the district assemblies and and MPs in areas where these schools operate, and encourage district assemblies to set up schools instead. It is gradually succeeding — numbers have dropped from 13,000 to 9,000.
He has also spoken to Ghana’s minister of education about how to regulate these schools. And there is the possibility of going to court to block Omega from starting up more schools, although negotiation with the district assemblies and the members of parliament is proving effective so far.
“We’re still carrying on with the campaign,” Acheampong says. “The real challenge is the absence of state schools in these communities to absorb these pupils should the schools be withdrawn.”
For NASUWT in Britain, the issue about privatisation of schools is the marrying of commercialisation.
Phil Kemp from its executive committee says: “We need to really oppose academisation and all the abuses.
“In 2015, there were 41 teachers [in Britain] earning more than the Prime Minister [£150,000] and it’s appalling.”
NASUWT said that the test for education is whether it promotes equality, transparency and value for money. It highlighted issues such as educational standards, class sizes and staff morale, as well as cost, pay and working conditions, and trade union recognition.
The union is calling for the effect of academisation to be investigated.