Ghana, a country of twenty million people, boasts a tradition of international education dating back to the 1730s, when the first Ghanaians returned home from Europe with university degrees and served as role models, spreading the concept of formal education. “Castle schools” were established by European merchants as early as 1529 in the forts built along the coast, while missionary schools were introduced by the mid-1700s. By 1881, there were 139 schools with enrollment of 5,000 students (twenty percent of them girls) in the Gold Coast colony, a figure that increased by over ten percent annually for the next half century and even more rapidly after that. Prior to independence from Britain in 1957, the country boasted over three thousand schools with an enrollment of some 300,000 students.
Education beyond the primary level took place either in Europe or at local seminaries and teacher training institutions until 1876 when the first secondary school, Mfantsipim, was founded at Cape Coast, heralding an era of burgeoning demand, rarely satisfied by British colonial officials, for higher education. The opening of Achimota School in 1927, a government institution considered radical in its day for its principles of racial harmony and gender equality, established the foundation for university education by offering not only secondary education but also technical and teacher training. From roots at Achimota grew the University College of the Gold Coast, established as a separate institution in 1948 and later becoming the University of Ghana at Legon, awarding its first degrees in 1962; the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology which was established in Kumasi in 1951, and other institutions.
When Ghana became the first African colony to gain independence in 1957, the government introduced the policy of education for all, proclaiming education as the key to national development. Although the structure of Ghanaian education was modeled on the British system, the concept of universal access and the enthusiasm of Ghanaians for education showed that the colonial masters had underestimated their subjects. The 1950s and 1960s can be considered the golden age of education in Ghana as schools were built so fast they were nicknamed “mushroom schools.”
By the 1970s and 1980s, economic decline and political instability began taking their toll on the education sector, offsetting the country's early lead in literacy and educational attainment. Mass education suffered the most, generating considerable concern about children coming out of school unable to read, write, or speak English. However, at the upper echelons, the high standard and world-class competitiveness of Ghanaian students remained strong.
The enrollment of Ghanaian students in the United States, beginning in the 1920s with Dr. James Kwegyir Aggrey at North Carolina Central University and continuing into the 1930s with Dr. Kwame Nkrumah at Lincoln University and the University of Pennsylvania, broadened with the introduction of government “Cocoa Board” scholarships in the early 1950s. Ghanaian enrollment in the United States is now 3,300, having tripled in the past decade. Only Kenya and Nigeria have more students in the United States.
In 1987, Ghana's Ministry of Education introduced a restructured educational system that gradually replaced the British-based O-Level and A-Level system. The transition was completed in June, 1996, when the last class took A-Level exams. The last O-Level exams were administered in June 1994, although remedial exams were offered through 1999. The first Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (SSSCE) was administered in 1993. In 2006, the SSSCE was replaced by the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), also awarded by the West African Examinations Council (WAEC)
The educational system is now a 6-3-3-4 structure, consisting of six years of primary school, three years of Junior Secondary School, three years of Senior Secondary School, and four years of university to the Bachelor's degree. Because this system is roughly parallel to that of the United States, admission of Ghanaians to American undergraduate and graduate programs is relatively smooth.
There are now over five hundred public senior secondary schools in Ghana, graduating 90,000 students a year and representing a huge expansion over the old system, which consisted of three hundred institutions graduating 20,000 students a year at O-Level and 7,000 at A-Level. In just eleven years since the introduction of the new senior secondary schools, the annual production of high school graduates has more than quadrupled. However, access to each successive level of education remains severely limited by lack of facilities: only about 30% of junior secondary school graduates are able to gain admission to senior secondary schools, and only about 35% of senior secondary school graduates are able to gain admission to universities and polytechnics, plus another 20% to diploma-level postsecondary education.
Private secondary schools play a very small role in Ghana, with only a handful of institutions offering international curricula such as the A-Levels, International Baccalaureate, and U.S. high school. Combined, they graduate fewer than 200 students a year.
Units of the Ministry of Education and Sports (MOES) responsible for education are:
- Ghana Education Service (GES), which administers pre-university education
- National Council on Tertiary Education (NCTE)
- National Accreditation Board (NAB)
- National Board for Professional and Technician Examinations (NABPTEX)
- The West African Examinations Council (WAEC), a consortium of five Anglophone West African Countries (Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Gambia, and Liberia) is responsible for developing, administering, and grading school-leaving examinations at the secondary
The old system of education was based on a 6-5-2-3 structure, consisting of six years of primary school, five years of secondary school to O-Levels, two further years of secondary school to A-Levels, and three years of university to the Bachelor's degree. There was also a post-primary "middle school" that students might attend for up to four years before entering secondary school. Under the old system, there was a clear distinction between "post-secondary" and "tertiary" education. Students who passed the requisite number of O-Level exams could be admitted to "post-secondary" institutions, such as teacher or nurses' training colleges, forestry school, surveyors' school, etc.; these institutions offer two- and three-year diplomas specific to their training area. Ghanaian O-Levels, representing eleven years of education, were never equivalent to U.S. high school and did not qualify students to enter university either in Ghana or the United States. Students who completed A-levels with the requisite grades had thirteen years of education and were eligible to enter "tertiary" education, i.e., universities, often qualifying for advanced placement in the American system.
With the advent of the new system, the distinction between post-secondary and tertiary education was abolished, although this was not made official until late 2004 when the National Council on Tertiary Education embraced all diploma- and degree-granting institutions under the tertiary label, thus opening the way for eligibility for transfer credit in the universities. Successful completion of the 12-year senior secondary school leads to admission to all higher education, in training colleges, polytechnics, and universities.
As of early 2005, there are seven public degree-granting universities in Ghana offering Bachelor's, Master's and Doctoral degrees, along with twelve private university colleges and six private theological colleges offering Bachelor's and Master's degree programs in affiliation with established/degree-granting universities for purposes of supervision and certification. There are also ten public polytechnics offering the British Higher National Diploma (HND), a three-year tertiary system in applied fields of study. Total enrollment in these university-level institutions now exceeds 100,000. The polytechnics also offer vocational, non-tertiary diploma programs. In addition, there are approximately forty teacher training colleges enrolling over 21,000 students, and fifteen nurses' training colleges enrolling some 5,000. The system is more flexible on paper than in practice, movement between institutions being tempered by demand far outstripping supply.
At the University of Ghana, 5% of undergraduates are non-Ghanaians, half of these being Americans on study abroad and exchange programs. At the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology (KNUST), 8% of students are foreign, the majority being Nigerians and other West Africans. Over 800 Americans come to Ghana on study abroad programs each year.
Private tertiary education is a recent but rapid development in Ghana, meticulously regulated by the National Accreditation Board. Over 5,000 undergraduates are now pursuing academic degrees in twelve private institutions. NAB also regulates private institutions that provide religious, tutorial, and computer education at the tertiary level.
English is the sole official language in Ghana, and the sole language of instruction throughout the educational system, although local languages predominate at the lower levels in rural schools. All textbooks and classwork are in English, and although students invariably speak two or more local languages, which are taught as academic subjects through junior secondary school, the only language they use for academic work is English.
Standardized tests are readily available: computer-based TOEFL, GRE and GMAT tests are offered daily in Accra, and paper-based SAT is offered in Accra and Kumasi on all six test dates. The ACT is not available in Ghana.
Admissions Notes and Recommendations:
All admission documents should be verified at source. Fraud is not uncommon in Ghanaian applications, with forged documentation most often found in transcripts and bank statements but also increasingly in national exam results and standardized test score reports. Fraud is more common among students who have been out of school for more than two years without going to university, and students who are now living outside of Ghana.
Admissions officers and credential evaluators who cannot obtain a response directly from the institution concerned should consider contacting the National Accreditation Board or an EducationUSA Advising Center.
Requirements for admission to higher education in Ghana:
- Completion of Senior Secondary School, with
- Passes in the six major subjects (English Language, Mathematics, Integrated Science, plus three electives), and
- Aggregate 24 (D average) or better on the Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (SSCE).
Ghana's Ministry of Education considers any SSS graduate with aggregate 24 (a 'D' average) or better to be a successful school-leaver, capable of doing university work and equivalent to an American high school graduate. Aggregate 24 is the minimum standard for all postsecondary education in both diploma and degree programs, professional and academic study.
Each student's aggregate is calculated by awarding one point for each A, two for each B, and so on down to five points for an E. The sum of the points awarded for the three best Elective subjects plus the points for the three main Core subjects (English Language, Mathematics, and Integrated Science) are added to calculate the aggregate. Thus a straight-A student would earn the best possible aggregate of 6, while a straight-E student would get aggregate 30. Any failing grades render the aggregate incalculable; such students are not eligible for university admission. Students who do not attain aggregate 24 often retake some or all of their exams the next year in order to improve their records. Remedial exams for ‘private candidates'(i.e., not affiliated with a secondary school) are held in October-November each year. It is common and acceptable for students to combine results from two or more SSCE sessions in order to qualify for university admission.
Students who do not attend Senior Secondary School and who do not take the SSCE are not high school graduates and not eligible for university admission in Ghana, and should not be considered for admission in the United States. Vocational/technical credentials including the General Business Certificate Examination (GBCE), Ghana Commercial Exams, Advanced Business Certificate Examination (ABCE), RSA, City & Guilds, and other technical exams are not equivalent to secondary school and do not lead to university admission.
A Ghanaian application is not complete without examination results; admissions decisions should never be based on transcripts alone, because these do not paint the complete picture and are easily forged. Never process an admissions decision until you have received and verified SSCE (or A-Level) results. Ghanaian applicants must submit photocopies of their "Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination Statement of Results" bearing an original signature and stamp from their Head of School. The Statement of Results is computer-generated and bears the name of the school, school number, name of candidate, index number (9 digits), the date of exam (month and year), the names of subjects taken, grades, and interpretation. You should not demand that students send you their original SSCE Statements of Results, because students are given only one copy, and duplicates are not issued. If you have any reason to doubt the authenticity of this document, confirm it through WAECDirect. A recently developed online system, instant and reliable, WAECDirect enables students to give educational institutions access to their official results here.
Request that the student send you a PIN number that they purchase for the equivalent of $3 (from any WAEC regional office or post office), go to the website, enter the PIN and the examination information (date and index number), and you will retrieve a printable copy of their WAEC results. WAECDirect works for all SSCE results in Ghana beginning in 1993.
Testing: All major standardized tests (SAT, GRE, GMAT, TOEFL) in Ghana require presentation of a passport or driver's license as identification, making identity theft rare although still possible especially with the non-computerized SAT. In general, students who take a standardized test in the course of the admissions process are considered more serious, more willing to apply themselves and rise to the occasion.
SAT registration on standby basis or by credit card is not permitted in Ghana, which means that students must register through an expensive and time-consuming process; only the well-organized early starters manage to take the SAT, and very few can afford to take it a second time.
The TOEFL can be waived for Ghanaians who adequately demonstrate English proficiency by your institution's standards. The TOEFL is recommended for students who either do not take or score below expectation on the SAT/GRE/GMAT, whose grade on the SSCE English Language exam is a C or lower, or who attended polytechnics or teacher training colleges after secondary school. Because Ghana is an English-speaking country, the minimum TOEFL score for Ghanaians should be 213 (550).
Students seeking transfer (or freshman) admission degree programs at Ghanaian universities can be evaluated in much the same way as students transferring from U.S. universities.
Ghanaian universities are developing transfer policies for the admission of HND graduates into Bachelor's degree programs. HND graduates who obtained first or second class honors can be admitted into level 200 (second year) or level 300 (third year), depending on the relevance of their HND to the university major.
Graduates of three-year teacher training colleges can be admitted into level 200 (second year) of Ghanaian universities.
Although some Ghanaian universities give transfer admission into level 200 or level 300 for students with professional qualifications, this is less likely in the academic-oriented American system. Examples of British-based professional qualifications include Institute of Chartered Accounting (ICA and ACCA), Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), Chartered Institute of Banking (CIB), etc.
Use caution in evaluating applicants transferring from non-degree programs and institutions in Ghana:
- Always require the TOEFL, with a minimum score of 213. Students scoring below this level have ignored the language in school, and will experience difficulty adjusting to the heavy reading and writing demands of the American university.
- Award transfer credit only if student passes placement tests administered after arrival on campus and/or performs well in first semester courses, with approval of professors; don't base transfer credit on syllabus/transcript review alone, and don't
finalize transfer credit decisions before the student arrives on campus.
- If credentials are old, transfer credit should be awarded sparingly, if at all.
Ghanaian Bachelor's degrees have always represented 16 years of study and therefore qualify graduates for direct entry into graduate school. The old A-Level system consisted of 6+5+2+3=16 (six years of primary plus five years to O-Level, plus two years to A-Level, plus three years to the Bachelor's degree), while the new SSCE system consists of 6+3+3+4=16 (six years of primary plus three years of junior secondary, plus three years of senior secondary, plus four years to the Bachelor's degree); both are equivalent to the US Bachelor's degree.
Admission to Master's degree programs in Ghana normally requires First Class or Second Class Upper Honours at the Bachelor's degree level. However, it is not uncommon to see Ghanaian graduates with Second Class Lower Honours admitted to graduate programs in the United States, especially professional/terminal master's programs.
Students with three-year diplomas, such as the HND, are not the equivalent of Bachelor's degree holders and should not be considered for graduate admission, but can be considered for transfer undergraduate admission.