In Ghana, many parents choose Islamic schools to ensure that their children receive a religious as well as academic education. However, many of these schools lag behind their counterparts in the secular system.
EDC has recently prepared a report for USAID Ghana and the Ghanaian government as they look to improve Islamic education across the country. The report describes the diversity of Islamic schools in Ghana and offers recommendations for how to strengthen the Islamic education sector.
“We were commissioned to do a descriptive study to see what’s out there,” says EDC’s Helen Boyle. “We wanted to learn about the types of Islamic schools in Ghana, how they’re organized, what they teach, how they may relate to the public school system, and the quality of education. A lot of these schools are resource-lean operations, very community-based, and informal.”
In partnership with the Northern Ghana Network for Development, Boyle conducted a study using focus groups, questionnaires, interviews, and classroom observations in Islamic schools throughout the country. Parents, teachers, school directors, principals, and ministry of education officials all contributed to the survey results. Boyle then prepared a report describing the challenges faced by the schools, with recommendations on ways to strengthen them.
“Many of these schools started out with a curriculum that was purely religious and have now broadened their curriculum to include secular subjects like English, math, science, and social studies. As they’ve expanded, they’ve had to balance between their religious identity and subjects that provide broader educational and job opportunities, but they need help with this transition,” she says.
Recommendations include improving quality by providing teacher training, certification, and learning materials; improving infrastructure; and broadening the curriculum. The study also recommends that secondary schools be expanded and developed to increase opportunities for children who have completed primary school.
For many students in Ghana, stronger Islamic schools translate to greater access to education. Many Islamic schools are located in Ghana’s remotest areas, providing education for many who would otherwise need to travel long distances to class. Boyle stresses that for girls, the availability of Islamic over secular schooling is critical.
“For children of conservative parents who want to pursue Islamic education—especially parents who don’t want their daughters mixing with boys—if there isn’t an Islamic junior secondary school available, they may simply not continue in school,” she says.
A stronger Islamic education sector will also serve to correct historical educational inequity in Ghana. As much of the formal public schooling in Ghana was a result of the work of missionaries and of colonization, it was often associated with Christianity. Many of Ghana’s Muslims—out of concern that their children would be separated from their faith—chose not to enroll them in secular schools. Later, they realized their children were at an economic and political disadvantage without the necessary skills to succeed.
Says Boyle, “Stronger Islamic schools will benefit the many Muslims in Ghana. The people we talked to really felt that education was the way forward for Ghanaian Muslims: learning how to speak, read, and write in English; to function in the larger society; to do business; and to run for office. People were uniformly positive about the notion of integrating. They considered it the best of both worlds.”
Originally published on August 21, 2008