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History & Background

An Introduction: Ghana, formerly known as the Gold Coast, was the first African country to the south of the Sahara to gain political independence from colonial rule in 1957. This former British colony of 92,000 square miles (about 238,000 square kilometers) shares boundaries with three French-speaking nations: the Côte d'Ivoire to the west, Burkina Faso to the north, and Togo to the east. The Gulf of Guinea of the Atlantic Ocean is to the south of the country. Because much of the Precambrian rocks systems that composed most of the territories have been worn to almost a plain, the country is generally low in its physical relief. The major highlands of the country include the Kwahu Plateau, which lies in the middle section of the country. Several important rivers flow from the plateau. Located to the eastern sector of the country are the Akuampim-Togo Ranges. The Akuapim Range runs from the west of Accra and ends at the gorge at the Volta River, where the Akosombo Dam on the river has been constructed. The southern end of the Togo Range begins at the Volta Dam and runs along the country's border in a northeasterly direction.

Situated just above the equator, Ghana has a tropical climate of high temperatures and heavy rains. The vegetation in the northern third of the country and a small strip near the coast are classified as savanna, but a heavy forest covers the middle belt of the country. While timber and other forest products (including cocoa) are exported, the country was known as the British Gold Coast because of the county's gold supplies. Ghana continues to export gold in large quantities and it remains an importation foreign exchange earner.

The first post-independent census in 1960 recorded a population of 6.7 million inhabitants. The population grew in the next 10 years to 8.5 million, and in the last official count in 1984, some 12.3 million inhabitants were recorded. Since then, Ghana's population figures have been based on estimates—17.2 million for 1990. At an estimated growth rate of 3 percent for the period 1980 to 1998, the population for 1998 was calculated at 18.5 million. Based on an expected slower rate of growth of 2.2 percent, a population of 26.8 million has been estimated for the year 2015. Of the estimated population, 42 percent are thought to be below 14 years of age, 54 percent are between the ages of 15 and 64, and 4 percent are aged 65 and above. Of this youthful population, about 60 percent of the total number of students are enrolled in primary schools, 35 percent in secondary schools, and only about 5 percent are in the postsecondary institutions including teacher training institutions. In fact, even though the government invested only 5 percent of the money spent during the 1980's Economic Recovery Programs on education, the total national expenditure on education for the same period was as high as one quarter of the total national budget. This national commitment to education is reflected in Ghana's long-standing tradition of demonstrating a commitment to education.

Early History of Education—An Overview: The earliest history of formal, western-style education in Ghana is directly associated with the history of European activities on the Gold Coast. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive at the Guinea coast in 1471. Their intention to establish schools was expressed in imperial instructions that, in 1529, encouraged the Governor of the Portuguese Castle at Elmina to teach reading, writing, and the Catholic religion to the people. While there is no evidence to demonstrate their success, it is amply proven that Dutch, Danish, and English companies operated schools on the Gold Coast, and that instruction in reading, writing, and religious education took place within the castle walls.

The best known Castle Schools on the Gold Coast included the one operated by the Dutch at the former Portuguese fortress at Elmina, the British school at Cape Coast Castle, and the Danish school at Christiansborg, near Accra. In the late eighteenth century and throughout the nineteenth century, children of wealthy African merchants on the coast and relatives of some of the important local chiefs were instructed at castle schools. The historian C. K. Graham has however observed that the majority of students were mulatto children of the European castle staff and their African women.

While pupils received religious instruction as part of their basic training, the primary purpose for educating young people was to prepare them for employment in the European commercial enterprises on the coast. It was, therefore, not unusual that the schools received some funding from the company secretariats overseas. For example, in his history of the Royal African Company, K. G. Davies presented evidence of company sponsorship of education in 1694 and again in 1794 through 1795. But such funding was irregular and, therefore, contributions from other sources were critical to the survival of the school system. Monthly contributions from the salaries of the European men at the Cape Coast Castle created the "Mulatto Fund," from which some financial support for children was drawn. Also, some of the chaplains who served as teachers of the castle schools experimented with imposing fines on the European staff that missed Sunday religious services without a good excuse for doing so. The Rev. Thomas Thompson, who ministered at Cape Coast from 1752 through 1756, was reported to have depended on such revenue to support his school.

Though irregular, overseas beneficiaries also sponsored the education of some African children who traveled to European centers of learning to be schooled. In a 1788 letter to the Privy Council in London, Mayor John Tarleton of Liverpool talked about the 50 or so "odd West African children, chiefly from the Gold Coast and Sierra Leone, whom parents and British traders had sent over to Liverpool to be educated." As much as this was impressive, overseas training for African students was limited to the very few. On the other hand, the castle schools provided only basic education. Company support was limited, and often times the chaplain-turned-teacher had to resort to innovative means of fund-raising to support themselves and the schools.

In comparison to the years before, the nineteenth century witnessed a redoubled effort to improve education on the Gold Coast. The Company of Merchants that took over the activities of the Royal African Company in 1752 appointed Colonel George Torrane in 1805 as its new president of the Cape Coast Castle. While it is not clear if Torrane made any recommendation for the improvement of castle education on the Gold Coast, there is information that the Company of Merchants voted money to hire one Charles Williams as master of the Cape Coast School. Mr. Williams arrived on the Gold Coast in 1815 and reopened the company school at Cape Coast the following year. Schools were also opened at Anomabo, Accra, and Dixcove, and a total of 70 students were attending classes at the facilities by 1822.

The 1820s was a period of conflict between the British and the dominant Asante (Ashanti) kingdom to the hinterland. Between 1815 and 1820, all the major European establishments sent emissaries to the Asante capital of Kumase to negotiate increased commercial relations. However, disagreements between Asante officials and the British led to the war of 1823-1824, in which the newly appointed Governor of the Cape Coast, Castle Sir Charles MacCarthy was killed. Later in 1826, the joint forces of the British, the Danes, and their local allies fought the Asante army in the plains of Accra. While trade into the interior certainly suffered from the conflict, historians are not specific on the extent to which the political instability affected the state of education at the castles. In the 1831 treaty that renegotiated relations among the warring parties, however, two Asante royal youth—Owusu Ansa and Owusu Nkantabisa—were sent to Cape Coast as a sign of the kingdom's commitment to peace. The boys were schooled at the castle school and were later sent to England for a Christian education. It is not surprising that the Dutch, who had competed against the British from their post at Elmina, also sent Akwasi Boakye and Kwamina Poku (also from the Asante royal house) to the Netherlands in the mid-1830s to be educated. In fact, by 1841 some 110 students were reported to be attending English schools on the Gold Coast.

The effort to provide Christian education on the Gold Coast took a decisive turn with the arrival of Wesleyan and Basel missionaries in 1835. The first Wesleyan (Methodist) school was at the Cape Coast Castle. The Rev Thomas B. Freeman reported that nine Wesleyan mission schools had been opened by 1841—six for boys and three for girls. Despite the achievements on the coast, efforts to open schools in the Asante interior did not succeed. Even though Rev. Freeman returned the two royal youth to Kumase in 1841, the Europeans were prevented from opening schools in the territory. Apparently, some of the senior Kumase chiefs expressed fear that western-style education would negatively impact local values. Wesleyan efforts to conduct schools continued to be limited to the coast throughout the nineteenth century.

Unlike the Wesleyan, the Basel (Presbyterian) mission headed for the higher and healthier elevations of the Akuampim Ridge while keeping its headquarters at Christiansborg near Accra. By the 1850s, the Basel missionaries had boarding schools at Christiansborg and schools on the Akuapem Ridge, including one for girls at Aburi. At their school at Akropong (also on the ridge), the Basel missionaries trained teachers, used the schools as agency for the spread of Christianity, and published an elementary grammar book and dictionary in the local Akan language. To be sure, the popular linkage of western-style education to Christian conversion developed from these experiences.

The Administration of Education on the Gold Coast: 1840-1957: Government attempts to increase educational activities on the Gold Coast began with the signing of the Bond of 1844. This was a political, military agreement between the British and a number of coastal Fanti chiefs. In the agreement, the British were allowed to intervene in criminal cases, provide military protection for the region, and, above all, to collaborate with the chiefs to "mould the customs" of the coastal peoples along lines of the "general principles of English law." It was in accordance with the spirit of the bond that Governor Hill proposed his 1852 Ordinance. This recommended that a poll tax be imposed to finance the general improvement of the territories—including the provision of education that could lead to the establishment of a bettereducated class of African.

Following the consolidation of the coastal region as the British Gold Coast Colony, the administration became more aggressive in pursuit of its educational policy. This was precipitated by the British purchase of the Danish property at Christiansborg in 1850 and the Dutch Elmina Castle in 1872. To help redress problems faced by the mission schools—such as training local teachers and improving the quality of education—the administration made grants to both the Wesleyan and Basel missions in 1874. In the Educational Ordinance of 1882, government grants to denominational schools were made dependent on an assessment of the level of efficiency. The schools receiving grant-in-aid were defined as "government assisted schools," but their primary funding was to come from the missions themselves and from other private sources. There were also proposals for publicly funded government schools. Industrial schools were identified as important for the Gold Coast, and a Board of Education was recommended to monitor the school system. Rev. Sutter of the respected Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone was appointed to the position of Inspector of Schools in the Gold Coast Colony.

The administration's desire in the 1880s to provide funds in support of education was interesting, since at the same time it rejected calls to contribute to the construction of rail lines to the gold mines that made the Gold Coast Colony a worthy territory. The support for education must have received an indirect boost from the General Act of the Berlin Conference on Africa, in which education was described as an important European civilizing mission to Africa. Even more important was the fact that the conference gave international recognition to British colonies in Africa, including the Gold Coast. Like other Europeans that had consolidated parts of the African coast, aggressive expansion into the hinterlands was also defined as natural by the Neutrality Articles of the Berlin agreement. The government's renewed interest in education in the colony should therefore be evaluated in relation to the perceived benefits to be derived from the colony in the future. Thus, in an Education Ordinance of 1887, the government called for improvements in the school curriculum, teacher certification, and practical education for pupils. It also set the standards by which private schools might qualify for assistance. In F. Wright's 1905 essay on the "System of Education in the Gold Coast," a total of 132 mission schools were said to be in existence by 1901.

Improvements in Education: The First Half of the Twentieth Century: Despite the colonial efforts to assist and regulate schools, the provision of education in the Gold Coast was carried out primarily by Christian denominations. Mostly, the mission schools provided rudimentary teaching at the primary level. In fact, it was still traditional for students seeking higher education to travel to either Europe or the Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone. It is also significant to note that, because effective colonial authority could not be secured in the Asante interior until after 1904, the provision of education continued to be limited to the coastal areas of the colony and the Akuapem Ridge. Moreover, education for girls and practical training in the field of agriculture and in the crafts continued to be limited in scope.

The inadequacies inherent in the system were observed in the post-World War I appeal made by the Foreign Missions Conference of North America to the Phelps-Stokes Funds for a review of the state of education in Africa. The Phelps-Stokes Commission on Africa issued reports in 1922 and 1925 in which educators were criticized for inadequately catering to the social and economic needs of the continent. The commission called for instructions in the mechanical operations necessary for the improvement of the condition of the mass majority of the people. This included science education and character training.

Certainly, the commission saw the Tuskegee/Hampton program in America as more suitable for Africa than the program that was provided in the castle and mission schools. But the Phelps-Stokes report was not the only source of commentary on education in the colonies. In England, the Education Committee of the Conference of Missionary Societies in Great Britain and Ireland also submitted a memorandum on African education to the Secretary of State. In 1923, the Secretary of State for the Colonies responded with the appointment of an Advisory Committee to study and report on native education. Despite its advisory status, the committee made several major policy recommendations. Between 1925 and 1948, it issued four reports covering such topics as mass education, citizenship education, and guidelines for the overall development of education. Their list of recommendations included the following: greater government supervision of all educational institutions and the creation of local advisory committees, improved funding for education so as to attract the best caliber of people into the colonial education system, equal emphasis on religious and secular subjects, production and use of vernacular textbooks, technical education for natives, training of native teaching staff adequate in qualification and character needs of the territories, and education for girls. For all of the above to be coordinated, the appointment of an Inspector of Schools was deemed necessary.

On the Gold Coast, the appointment of Brigadier General Gordon Guggisberg as governor brought its own advantages. During his tenure from 1919 through 1927, Governor Guggisberg initiated several major developmental programs that included educational improvements as a critical ingredient in his construction of a modern Gold Coast. While the previous administration had seen the provision of elementary schools by the various Christian missions as adequate, Guggisberg was of the conviction that the current system could not sustain future developments. In fact, only a few months after his arrival, the governor presented a 10-year development plan for the Gold Coast. Among other things, funding was aggressively sought for postelementary education for boys and girls. Even though the administration proposed a technical college for Accra, the Prince of Wales College (now Achimota College) was the real trophy of the administration's educational program. This nondenominational school catered to students from kindergarten to the preuniversity level. Full teacher training and kindergarten programs opened at the school in January of 1928. The other programs came later, but by the outbreak of World War II, the college was offering a great variety of courses.

Historians have recognized Guggisberg's contributions as a critical government effort in constructing a firm foundation for the future manpower training of the people of the Gold Coast. But the Government College at Achimota was not the only important grammar school to be established before the country's independence in 1957. In fact, schools established by secular as well as the various Christian denominations included many prestigious institutions, such as Adisadel College, Aggrey Memorial College, Mfamtsipim School, Wesley Girls School, St. Augustine College, Prempeh College, Ghana National College, and several Presbyterian institutions in the Akuapem and Kwahu regions. The Catholic Church started missionary activities in the country's northern territories in 1910. Information from the "Gold Coast Report on Education for the Year 1951" indicated that a total of over 300,000 students were enrolled in schools. There were primary and middle schools, teacher colleges, and at least 60 secondary schools already in place, yet the numbers were still considered to be grossly inadequate for the needs of the country when it gained its independence in 1957.

Additional topics

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceGhana - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education