Low-Fee Private Schools in Sub-Saharan Africa: Teacher Retention and Working Conditions

 

This is the second in a series of blogs I’m writing about Low-Fee Private Schools around the world. The first blog, written last May, is here.

The phenomena of Westerners and Western based-organizations building schools in ‘third-world nations’ has been occurring for centuries. Various faith-based groups (e.g., Jesuits, Friends, Anglicans, Methodists) and colonial governments (e.g., France, the U.K., Germany, the Netherlands) founded private schools in non-Western nations beginning in the eighteenth century, with some still in existence today.  Many of those schools targeted locals to be converted to a particular faith, while others were schools serving expatriates and had relatively high tuition that was often not available to locals and, in some cases, host country nationals were not invited to enroll.

Sunrise: A low-fee private school

Today there is great diversity in the types of private schools found in these emerging nations.  In addition to single, independent private schools, there are a growing number of for-profit companies investing in chains of private schools (e.g., Bridge International Academies, Omega, APEC, SPARK) as well as various secular and faith-based international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) partnering with private schools in a variety of ways (e.g., Edify; Opportunity International, Room to Read).  Given that the MDGs were developed in 2000 with the goal of having all children in every nation complete a basic education by 2015, and, given that many government school systems in low and middle-income nations did not have the resources to serve the thousands of children who had not previously attended school, the emergence in the last twenty years of large numbers of private schools is not surprising.  It’s estimated that there are more than one million low-fee private schools (LFPSs) in low and middle-income nations (Economist, 2015).  While many are run by NGOs, the fastest growing group are individual low-fee private schools (Cordeiro & Brion, 2018). And now with the SDGs replacing the MDGs in 2016 the focus has moved from access to school to inclusion and equity.

Educator Preparation in Africa

Because the preparation for new or existing principals is limited in emerging nations, there is a dearth of literature on the topic (Bush, Kiggundu & Moorosi, 2011).  Numerous scholars recognize that principals of schools are not prepared well enough for the tasks they have to accomplish (Donlevy, 2009; see various works by Raj Mestry).  This lack of leadership preparation is even more evident in emerging nations (Swaffield, Jull, & Ampah-Mensah, 2013). Yet many scholars argue that school leaders play a crucial role in school improvement, teacher morale and retention, and student learning (Grissom & Harrington, 2010; Ingersoll, 2001).

Typical school schedule in a low fee private school in Uganda

Bruce Barnett’s April blog on this site, maintains that leadership preparation and professional development requirements can be thought of as a continuum from tightly to loosely regulated.   As an example, the US has a tightly regulated system, while countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and Sweden have moderately regulated systems where trainings are offered but not required. Barnett and other scholars (Lumby, Crow, & Pashiardis, 2008) state that countries such as most African and Central and some South American nations have loosely regulated systems in which preparation programs for aspiring school leaders are rare or non-existent and professional development offerings are infrequent

In sub-Saharan Africa in particular, there are many untrained principals who do not have the necessary skills, knowledge, or attitudes to manage their schools effectively and efficiently (Otunga, Serem, & Kindiki, 2008).  According to Bush and Oduro (2006) schools in Ghana are often ruled by authority, seniority and language and not by who may be competent for the challenging tasks at hand.

In addition to the lack of school leader development, there is great variability in low and middle- income countries with regard to teacher preparation and retention.  In some African nations such as Ethiopia, the majority of teachers in LFPSs hold teaching credentials and/or degrees; while in countries such as Burkina Faso, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ghana it is far more typical to encounter few teachers at the primary level who have any formal education beyond a high school diploma.

An acute teacher shortage exists in at least 74 low and middle-income countries. This results in millions of children being excluded from primary education and beyond.  Ghana is one of the sub-Saharan countries with an acute teacher shortage.  Thus, exploring what Ghanaian schools can do to support current teachers is key to Ghana achieving SDG 4.  Since approximately 25% of the schools across Ghana are private and it is estimated that up to 60% of the primary schools in Ghana’s capital region may be private (Cordeiro & Brion, 2018), understanding how private school leaders can increase teacher retention is a crucial part of developing education policy in Ghana.

Here I will briefly describe the results from four ethnographic case studies conducted in Ghana (Cordeiro & Brion, in process).  The section of the study reported here addresses the following research questions:  1) What are the challenges of Ghanaian teachers in low-fee private schools? 2) In what ways, if at all, do school leaders support teachers at their schools?

During the 2016-17 school year Corrine Brion and I conducted four case studies in the Greater Accra region. These schools serve children from nursery (age 3) until Junior High School (age 14).  We spent a total of 48 days in the four schools. There were six forms of data collection:  1) individual interviews with teachers and with school leaders; 2) focus group interviews with teachers; 3) a teacher survey; 4) classroom observations; 5) photographs and 6) documents. One focus group was held at each school with 5-7 teachers per group for a total of 25 teachers; additionally, three individual teacher interviews were held. We digitally recorded interviews with eight school leaders. A total of 67 teacher surveys were completed from all four schools with the response rates ranging from 80-95%. Using the Stallings Classroom Observation Instrument a total of nineteen classes were observed. We took dozens of photographs and collected documents such as teacher contracts, handbooks, etc.

Many sub-Saharan countries have handbooks for school leaders created by the Ministry of Education. Unfortunately, few school leaders have copies due to a lack of fiscal resources and printing of sufficient copies by the government.

We are in the process of writing the full paper but here are a few key findings. Teachers differed from school leaders in how they viewed the challenges they encountered. For example, teachers discussed three main challenges: 1) inadequacy or late payment of their salaries; 2) poor facilities; and, 3) few teaching resources.  For school leaders, proprietors hesitated to talk about late or inadequate salaries and they maintained that many parents were frequently late in paying tuition.  When probed as to what their financial plan was for the school, three of the four school owners did not have a plan beyond continuing current practices. The paper also discusses education policy implications with regard to Ghanaian private school teachers, as well as teacher preparation and development.

We hope to have our proposal for a conference session approved soon so in 2019 we can share the full paper. Stay tuned.

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