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Household choice of schools in rural Ghana: exploring the contribution and limits of low-fee private schools to Education for All

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posted on 2023-06-07, 16:13 authored by Luke Adorbila Akaguri
This thesis examines the factors that make the low-fee private school (LFPS) accessible to the poor. While the provision of education in developing countries has traditionally been regarded as the responsibility of the state, recent evidence on the growth of the LFPS in such contexts appears to challenge the government's role as the most viable option. The main argument of the thesis is that the poor have no real choice. The thesis also argues that fee-free public education only provides a partial solution to the financial barrier to access since there are factors other than direct costs that influence the way poor households respond to principles of supply and demand for education. The state's role in the provision of education is supported by the argument that it is a public good, and it must therefore remain the responsibility of the government to protect the poor and other vulnerable groups from denial of access. Nevertheless, private education provision is a growth enterprise in rural areas, one key reason for which is the perception that it provides a better quality of education than the state can offer. Given such expansion in an era of fee-free public education, some commentators have questioned whether those that send their children to an LFPS can really be described as poor, since school choice is clearly dependant on the ability to meet the costs. In order to understand how the cost and quality of education interact with school choice decisions, 536 households in three poor rural communities of Mfantseman District, Central Region, Ghana were surveyed. The data were used to examine the difference in cost between public and private provision, and to explore those factors associated with school choice and the related expenditure. In addition, to gain further insight into the implications of the survey's statistical outcomes, a number of participants with interests in both public and private schools were interviewed – including 38 household heads in the lowest income quintile, 6 head teachers, 14 teachers, 8 parents, 7 Parent Teacher Association (PTA) executives and 3 School Management Committee (SMC) executives with children in both school types. The findings reject the hypothesis that school choice in the communities under study was not affected by socio-economic factors, since the majority of households had no real option. In particular, the prohibitive cost of food at both types of school, but compulsoriness at LFPSs, had adverse consequences on the willingness of children to attend. However, a minority of poor households that did access LFPSs were able to do so due to school practices such as flexible fee schemes, teacher discipline and better interaction with parents, as well as through assistance obtained via social networks. In addition, the study also finds that private schools had a better track record in BECE examination than public schools in the communities under study. What is clear is that, this better BECE track record by LFPSs coupled with higher aspirations that some poor households have for their children fuelled interest in private schooling. The study concludes that the claim that the rural poor access LFPS in numbers has been exaggerated. This is because it is the relatively better-off households that enrol their children in private school, while a minority of the poor that access LFPSs are able to do so because of manipulative school practices and the nature of its interaction with parents. As a result, the study suggests that it would be in the interests of the poor if rural public schools were improved – including the provision of free school meals – given that greater state support to the private education sector would only benefit the relatively better off. Finally, fee-free public schooling facilitated by the capitation grant should ensure that schools are more accountable to the communities they serve – schools should be made to show how the grant was used to improve access and quality and together with the community set targets for improvement. Improving academic quality and teacher discipline would enable them to restore their image in rural communities and hence encourage demand for public education.


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