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Ghanaian Education System

Jenny Chen's picture

One of the most intriguing aspects of Ghanian history that I learned is their intense grading system. I was incredibly surprised by how rigorously grades were incorporated into the Ghanaian education system starting from a young age. For example, Ghanian children would probably have pictures graded in kindergarten, and this continues into university where an entire class is based on the final exam. Then, when talking to the Liberian therapist, he mentioned how even the education system is much more rigorous that that of an American education. He described the American education as a “spoon feeding” system and while I was slightly taken aback by this statement, I started to realize what he meant when as I reflected on my own education.

Throughout my education in the US I have gotten much guidance from my teachers. I went to private school from 7th to 12th grade because my parents wanted me to be in a smaller setting where teachers were more available. However, even when I went to a middle sized public elementary school from kindergarten to grade 6 I was receiving a lot of attention from teachers, the only difference being that things were taught much more slowly in elementary school in order to give this individual attention to large groups of students. I am not saying that “guidance” is bad; in fact, it is one of the strengths in a good education. However, in many ways, education is also “handed” to us.

I only began to realize this when I went abroad to New Zealand for a semester. In New Zealand I had one class that had 750 students. The teacher lectured briefly, highlighting main ideas, and all of the other work was done independently by the individual. Our papers were graded by TA’s and if we needed help, we could go see the TA, but there were only 2 for the 750 of us, and their office hours were relatively inconvenient. Our final exam in the class was 50% of our final grade, and the other 50% of our grade came from two papers and an online midterm. There were no homework assignments or quizzes or any form of work where the professor “checked” in on us throughout the semester. No part of my grade was designated to participation (thought participation is hard in a lecture hall of 750 people because no one would be able to hear from across the room) and there were no opportunities to do re-writes or to go office hours to converse about a paper. I have given an example of one of my classes but my other classes (except for one) were also like this. They all had closer to only 50 people in the class but the grade distribution was exactly the same. While I enjoyed experiencing this type of education, I know that I would not have excelled as much had this been the only form of education I was exposed to my entire life. I very much thrived on the American system, where things were taught in a chronological order and there were weekly assignments allowing me to check in with the teacher reaffirming the knowledge I had learned.

On a slightly different note, I also realized from personal experience that while I did relatively well in high school I do not remember much of the things I learned. I would not be able to take an honors chemistry exam from 10th grade and do as well as I did back then, similar to an algebra 2 exam, or one about world history. I have learned an immense amount in college, but I have also lost a lot of high school. I wonder if this is because of our education system. Would we have information more memorized if every aspect of our lives were graded? Or would we retain more information if much of the information was gained through self-guided teaching and exploration?

I am really interested in seeing what the Ghanaian education system is like in practice. From learning about the history of their education I am able to see both strengths and flaws but I am unable to tell how it compares to the US education system. It seems that the US system is very based on standardized testing while the Ghanaian system is focused on grades. However, grades can be distributed more on a wide scale rather than standardized tests, which usually do not test ones knowledge but their ability to take tests.  


alesnick's picture

different ways of sorting and filtering?

I appreciate this exchange and agree that we need to know more in order to do robust comparison, especially as it is challenging to generalize about one national ed system, let alone two.

That said, I agree that the question of "spoon-feeding," and the cultural premises encoded in that term, is rich and worthy of unpacking.  I wonder if it tracks back in some ways to different cultural ideas about institutions -- how flexible they can or should be towards the individual -- and individuals -- how independently their achievement ought to be carried out and measured.  

HannahB's picture

Wanting to learn more about the Ghanaian education system

I agree that a comparison of the US and Ghanaian education systems will be very interesting to partake in; I personally think there is a lot to learn from the way education systems function in different parts of the world and what this, in turn, says about broader cultural values.

I think it is first interesting to think about this critique of America as "spoon feeding" education to our students. This phrase is so problematic and so complex, it is hard to fully map out. On the one hand, I think the comment is fair, on a cultural level I think we aspire to have everyone "make it through" our education system. We want everyone to graduate college, at least in theory, and thus there is an incentive to help kids succeed. My experiences as a student were similar to yours in that I had a lot of assistance, guidance and support. My impression from the books we have read in Pim's class and the supposedly grade-oriented stigma around the Ghanaian education system today is that their system, instead, might seek to weed out the masses and seperate out the brightest and most driven, rather than have everyone make it through together. Here then is where the paradox lies for me though. If we take the notion of the Ghanaian education system as challenging and quick to weed people out at face value, meaning as far as we know without any further research, then it would seem that culturally there are two starkly different outlooks on education. One attempts to get everyone through, the other attempts to cut people out. Thinking about the systems in this way though, particularly in terms of the way such a comparison allows us to look at the US, allows us to leave out some of the critical similarities. We both talked about how a lot of our educational career was made easy for us or at least very accessable. It is interesting though how the US system, despite promoting this desire to help everyone succeed, weeds children out in other ways--family support, school resources, teachers, time, class size, etc.  It seems to me that our country "spoon feeds" some while making the path to higher education markedly hard for others, perhaps the Ghanaian school system is just more honest and upfront about the process.

I had never really thought in detail about the difference between grades and standardized tests as markers of success/improvement either . At first thought, I thought the rigor and grade-central focus of Ghanaian schools sounded not ideal. It seems to me that a system that is so "numbers" or "letters" oriented was seeking to weed out the masses in an unfair way, taking away emphasis from more wholistic, creative learning. Yet your comment about standardized testing grounded me, reminding me that we too are extremely numbers oriented within our public education system and in fact standardized tests are at risk of being far less fair or accurate than a grade might be.

In movingon from this point, I would then love to learn more about how the grading system manifests itself in Ghana. It seems to me that our country is very focused on a false notion of "fairness." We want standaridized tests because the remove the subjective risk of grading based simply on a teacher's opinion. I would like to learn more about the grading system in Ghana, discovering what their tests look like, their papers. What are they actually graded on? Are the tests different class to class? Or are they national tests which look more similar to standardized tests? Overall, I am just curious how this intense focus on grades and success via numbers might actually look markedly similar to our American system or how it might differ and I do not feel I can fully explore those questions without first learning a lot more about the Ghanaian education system.