How quality secondary and higher education can improve national leadership: lessons from Ghana

25th March 2014

International leaders and experts have just gathered at the Global Education and Skills Forum to try to defuse the 'ticking time-bomb' of 57 million children not in primary school. But is this focus on the education crisis at primary level too narrow? Amir Jones reflects on new DLP research into education and developmental leadership in Ghana.

Our research team has had the privilege of interviewing 27 of Ghana's key developmental leaders about their education.

Selected from a shortlist of more than 100 outstanding leaders, our interviewees helped orchestrate major democratic, economic and media reforms in Ghana over the last three decades.

What they told us is that quality senior secondary and higher education are important – many we interviewed would say vital – in developing leaders with the skills, values and networks they need to effect change.

...education can be a truly transformative investment, capable of producing leaders who can build nations.

At DLP's Adrian Leftwich Memorial Conference I heard about Sarah Phillips's fascinating work in Somaliland and was struck by the similarity of our findings. In Ghana as in Somaliland, everywhere you go people keep stressing the importance of one secondary school on the history of the country's development. In Ghana's case it is Achimota, a school founded by Ghanaian and colonial Christian progressives who were given the resources and the mandate to prepare the best young minds in Ghana for leadership.

Achimota built on a tradition of quality secondary education by British missionaries dating back to the foundation of Mfantsipim in 1876. These elite boarding schools largely operated in the coastal corridor but drew students from all over the country, as meritocratically as you could expect in a nascent state. The children of the richest families boarded with children whose parents were illiterate.

"It was my first exposure to people who were really poor – a defining thing for me", we were told by journalist and former Minister of Information Elizabeth Ohene, a pupil at Achimota School in the 1960s.

...where they went to secondary school, rather than who their parents were, seems to have been a better predictor of whether or not they would become part of the developmental elite.

Of the 22 leaders we asked about their social background, there was a roughly even split between agricultural poor, working class, lower middle class, professional class and the wealthy. For the generation of leaders we studied, where they went to secondary school, rather than who their parents were, seems to have been a better predictor of whether or not they would become part of the developmental elite.

Bringing young people from different ethnic and social backgrounds from all over the country to live together seems to have been a deliberate policy to encourage integration and a sense of national identity – one of Nkrumah's key tasks when he created Ghana in 1957. And although Ghana has seen its fair share of problems since, tension between different ethnicities and regions has not been the dominant issue it has in so many other post-colonial states.

Schools like Achimota not only gave their students a quality academic education, but they also placed great emphasis on 'character training', in particular developing strong moral values around leadership and service. And they provided opportunities for students to develop interests in diverse activities such as sports, drama and journalism, enabled by the fact that these institutions were almost exclusively residential, as much of Ghanaian secondary education still is.

Although around 20 schools followed this model, it was Achimota that for a long time took the lion's share of the education budget and produced the most prominent leaders. Out of a list of 115 of the most important developmental leaders, 25% had studied at Achimota. Five of Ghana's 12 heads of state have been educated there, including current leader John Mahama Dramani. There was clearly a deliberate strategy to invest heavily in a cadre of developmentally-minded elites.

Budding young leaders also accessed quality higher education, either at the University of Ghana in Legon, or overseas. At the University of Ghana, our leaders tended to specialise in the humanities and social sciences, in particular law and economics.

They were involved in student activism, debating political issues with fellow students and lecturers. They also had access to extensive extra-curricular activities, and describe these as important opportunities to develop leadership and technical skills.

An overseas education gave some leaders access to the leading academics (again, mainly in Law and Economics), but perhaps more importantly, exposed them to different political issues and struggles, those of both their host country and of their fellow international students. Bringing this knowledge and experience back to Ghana, they often changed the course of their own country's development.

Education also laid the foundations of inclusive developmental networks. Investigation into the origin of relationships between our interviewees revealed that almost half were made at secondary school or university. What was particularly interesting to us was that these relationships crossed political divides, with many close relationships formed in education surviving the test of time despite huge professional differences.

The effects of all this investment in developmental education were decidedly mixed for a long time. From 1957 to 1992, Ghana alternated between short-lived democracies and military dictators, and many of the leaders we interviewed spent the 1970s and 1980s campaigning for democracy. Then, in the early 1990s, something remarkable happened. Under increasing domestic pressure, Jerry John Rawlings, Ghana's military ruler of 11 years, transitioned the country back to democratic governance and by 2001 Ghana had its first peaceful transition of power.

...recent graduates describe sitting outside overcrowded lecture halls, receiving lectures by Chinese whispers.

This consensus on the 'rules of the game' amongst Ghana's elites was hard won and, we believe, owed much to a shared experience of education at Legon and in Ghana's best secondary schools. Leaders interviewed across the political spectrum shared common values and notions of public good that they report coming largely from those formative years in secondary school.

Since the 1980s, in Ghana as in much of Africa, there has been a massive diversion of resources from the secondary and higher sub-sectors towards basic education. The effect of this can be seen in the deterioration of the publicly-funded secondary and higher institutions – recent graduates describe sitting outside overcrowded lecture halls, receiving lectures by Chinese whispers. Whilst many are still accessing quality education, it tends to be at private institutions or through privately-funded overseas study, undermining the meritocracy that Ghana's early educational leaders pursued.

Although the focus on basic education was justified in the interest of creating opportunity for all, it denies access to higher levels of quality education for the very people it claims to help. In trying to ensure Education for All, have we unintentionally stunted the emergence of future developmental leaders, particularly those coming from less privileged backgrounds?

As the world reflects on the experience of the Millennium Development Goals and sets out the development and global education agendas for the next 15 years, I hope our research in Ghana and Sarah's in Somaliland provides a timely reminder of why many of us are in this game: education can be a truly transformative investment, capable of producing leaders who can build nations.

Image: Student accommodation at the University of Ghana, Legon (Adam Cohn)

0 Comments

Leave a comment

The views expressed in Opinions posts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of DLP, the Australian Government or DLP's partner organisations.

Author

Amir Jones

Amir Jones

Amir Jones is a researcher of international education at CfBT Education Trust. His research interests are broad and include education for leadership and national development, language in education and the cost-effectiveness of educational investment.

Read more

Related items

The Medellin model: don't forget the political processes

Since my DLP paper on Medellín was published, the city has become a ‘model’ for development – offering a palette of policies to combat urban violence that can provide a blueprint for cities with similar problems. 

Opinion by Kate Maclean2nd November 2015

Education against the odds: the work of a women's coalition in Papua New Guinea

In October 2015 I met Anna, a softly spoken young woman who lives in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (PNG). We talked during the recess break at school and Anna told me about some of the challenges she faces trying to complete year ten, the final year of compulsory education in PNG. These include that she is beaten by her aunt and grandmother, they refuse her the bus money to get to school and that her aunt recently set fire to her text books. 

Opinion by Ceridwen Spark14th January 2016

Do anticorruption messages work? Findings so far and what they could mean for Papua New Guinea

How do anticorruption messages influence people’s views about corruption and about anticorruption efforts?

Opinion by Caryn Peiffer23rd March 2017

What is transformative leadership?

Structural obstacles to progressive change can only be challenged by sustained pressure from coalitions and social movements. (Guest post in University World News)

Opinion by Chris Roche15th April 2016

Corruption: is the right message getting through?

A couple of years ago, Cote d’Ivoire’s government erected striking black and orange billboards around Abidjan that carried messages like “It destroyed my region” and “It killed my son”

Opinion by Caryn Peiffer12th August 2015

Pacific power: new femininities and women's leadership in the Pacific

The educated, internationally connected women who are changing the way 'development' is done

Opinion by Ceridwen Spark24th June 2014

Don't give up on government

Can the World Bank's flagship World Development Report inspire a good governance revolution that delivers development gains?

Opinion by Dan Hymowitz3rd February 2017

What's in a name? Leadership as more than the 'big men' and 'big women' of history

A more nuanced understanding of good developmental leadership demands a shift away from the conventional focus on 'big' individuals.

Opinion by Heather Lyne de Ver11th February 2014

Forgotten South Sudan tangled in factionalism and failed politics

A toxic blend of complex historical identity politics and short-term elite politicking

Opinion by Jonathan Fisher4th September 2014

The seeds and roots of change

Leadership that drives genuine, lasting reform is rarely - if ever - about one individual. (Guest post in Governance for Development)

 

Opinion by Heather Lyne de Ver1st December 2014

Parliamentary strengthening: the IDC report

The need for parliamentary strengthening has never been more urgent, since parliaments - and the political parties that populate them - are the institutions people trust least. (Guest post for ODI's Shaping Policy for Development blog)

 

Opinion by Tam O'Neil9th February 2015

DLP political settlements workshop: reflections

Serendipity, perhaps. I joined the Political Settlements Research Programme at the beginning of June; my first formal engagement was on June 17, at the Political Settlements Workshop organised by the Developmental Leadership Program. It was quite an induction day.

Opinion by Astrid Jamar22nd July 2015

Welcome to DLP's blog

Welcome to DLP's new blog on politics, power, policy and developmental leadership

Opinion by Heather Marquette10th December 2013

Developmental leadership: putting inclusiveness first

Policymakers have long struggled with how to address the myriad challenges that plague fragile states. Some argue that building institutions is key. Others argue that other things matter more, such as establishing more legitimate processes to choose leaders, or improving the quality of political settlements. Still others look to human rights as the solution.

Opinion by Seth D. Kaplan24th September 2015

Political settlements: people and the landscapes of power

The problem with politics is that it involves people, and people do strange things. When development actors engage with power they often prefer to iron out the unpredictability of real politics in favour of the much neater lines of trends and social groups. We revere drivers of change studies because we can cope with the long-term, identity-based analysis of `deep’ politics. 

Opinion by Alan Whaites24th July 2015

The road to transparency in resource-rich Myanmar

Myanmar's resource management transparency process has joined government, business and civil society actors in collective action for the first time.  

Opinion by Taylor Brown1st April 2016

Our money, our projects: Demand-driven community development

Emerging lessons from the Central Land Council’s community development program to strengthen Aboriginal people’s participation in mainstream Australia.

Opinion by David Ross15th April 2016

Somaliland's route to peace

Have donors overlooked the role played in development by secondary education? Reflections on new research on peacebuilding in Somaliland. 

Opinion by Sarah Phillips12th December 2013

When the stars align to tackle inequality: reflections on the DLP annual conference

From the Occupy Movement to Thomas Piketty to current proposals for a new set of Sustainable Development Goals, inequality has emerged as one of the most intractable challenges of our time, and everyone, from activists to academics to policymakers, is talking about it. 

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal18th February 2015

Coalitions for inclusion in Indonesia: communities and government tackling discrimination together

Following up to Luke Arnold on coalitions for disability inclusion in Indonesia, Angie Bexley introduces broader work on the inclusion of six marginalised groups.

Opinion by Angie Bexley22nd August 2016

Where do inclusive institutions come from? Lessons from Asia

Societies with more inclusive institutions are more peaceful and more resilient, and tend to be better governed - but how do they get there?

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal27th February 2017

Is education a magic bullet for addressing corruption? Insights from Papua New Guinea

This post for Devpolicy unpacks the findings of a new Development Policy Centre / DLP paper 

Opinion by Grant Walton17th June 2015

From functional governance to sustainable peace: Making the space to reflect, learn and adapt

Learning how to balance the technically possible and politically feasible in volatile, conflict-affected contexts.

Opinion by Aditi Haté 22nd February 2017

Inequality – the politics behind the policies

Discussion starter for the #polinequality conference

Opinion by David Hudson11th February 2015

Is developmental patrimonialism a dead end?

The key role of leadership succession rules and effective institutions in sustaining the success of high-growth autocracies.

Opinion by Tim Kelsall27th September 2016

Shuffling the decks: quick fixes versus long-term stability

(First published as a guest post for the ODI's Development Progress blog)

Opinion by Suda Perera22nd January 2015

The International Budget Partnership: Reflecting on two decades of campaigning for fiscal governance reform

Focusing on budget accountability ‘ecosystems’ and their influence on budget decision-making and implementation.

Opinion by Brendan Halloran20th December 2016

What do we do on Monday? Political settlements in theory and practice

The political settlements framework can seem a distraction to some practitioners, many of whom have been thinking and working politically about development for a number of years. They find the term difficult to define with any precision and, in any case, quite unnecessary. In the real world, progress towards better understanding of and engagement with the political conditions which help and hinder development has been ticking along nicely, independently of the academic debates.

Opinion by Edward Laws15th July 2015

How quality secondary and higher education can improve national leadership: lessons from Ghana

New DLP research poses the question of whether the focus of the international development community on primary education is too narrow.

Opinion by Amir Jones25th March 2014

The challenge of realising Pacific democracies' development potential

Bringing to the fore some of the unique problems faced by the Pacific region.

Opinion by Julien Barbara8th July 2016

International donors - aiding or abetting?

In September 2012, lawyers representing an Ethiopian farmer announced that they planned to sue the UK government for its role in human rights violations in Ethiopia. The farmer, named in court papers as “Mr O”, alleged that the Ethiopian government’s “villagisation” programme had involved the forced resettlement of thousands of families including his own.

Opinion by Niheer Dasandi10th September 2015

Higher education in the post-2015 agenda: proof that it matters

Taking stock of recent research evidence that shows how higher education can feed into political stability and civil engagement.

Opinion by Susy Ndaruhutse11th September 2014

Two remarkable transitions: lessons from Oman and Somaliland

We tend to look through the political settlements lens only at places experiencing either conflict or deep poverty – or both. Yet we would know much more about how useful the lens is if we examined more successes with it. Areas of stability and calm, especially in regions where near neighbours seem to be struggling to resolve strife, might teach us something about how historical experiences do or don’t chime with contemporary donor practices.

Opinion by Sarah Phillips20th July 2015

Neither 'good guys' nor 'bad guys': Positive engagement with armed groups

The final post in our short series on 'Power, Politics and Positive Deviance', the theme of our 2016 Annual Conference at La Trobe University, Melbourne, on Monday (8 February).

Opinion by Suda Perera5th February 2016

Authoritarianism, democracy and development

What does the evidence say about whether giving aid to a high-achieving authoritarian regime makes good developmental sense? 

Opinion by Tim Kelsall27th November 2014

Education, development, and the problem with consensus

Why rethink the international consensus on 'quality basic education for development'?

Opinion by Michele Schweisfurth7th April 2014

Creative expression and women's empowerment in the Pacific

Art and creative expression have become an activist tool and alternative form of advocacy for young women in Fiji.

Through photography, theatre, dance and song, young women are finding new avenues for public expression. These innovative avenues for making their voices heard have great power in a context where women’s mobility and visibility is often constrained by socio-cultural norms.

Opinion by Tait Brimacombe19th March 2015

Inclusive political settlements: who and what gets included, and how?

DLP hosted a day-long high level introductory workshop on political settlements in June. This post is the first of a series inspired by the workshop and written by researchers, policymakers and practitioners. Here Alina Rocha Menocal discusses current research and thinking on the usefulness of a political settlements approach.

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal13th July 2015

From objects of care to controllers of lives: governance, development and disability inclusion

The next step on from a rights-based approach to disability inclusion is to hand over control to those who know best - people with disabilities.

Opinion by Luke Arnold25th May 2016

Indonesia and the political settlements trap

When your office is in Jakarta, you get a lot of time to day-dream in taxis while going from hotel to office and back again. I am just back from a couple of weeks working there and I marvelled at the traffic, the tech-savvy population and the profusion of swanky hotels. On one long journey I got to musing about the challenges facing Indonesia’s efforts to shift itself upwards in the World Bank’s country classification database.

Opinion by Graham Teskey17th July 2015

It's all about inclusion, but how?

Shifting the focus of development intervention from form to the actual practice and distribution of power. (Guest post for the World Bank Governance for Development blog)

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal6th April 2016

Medellin - more than a miracle

Bad news sells. And for news editors looking for horror stories to recycle, Colombia's second largest city used to be a reliable source.

Opinion by Cheryl Stonehouse4th March 2014

Anthropology and elites: 'Studying up', politically

The parallels between - and ethical dilemmas of - anthropology's focus on context and international development's ‘thinking and working politically’ concept. 

Opinion by Paul Robert Gilbert10th March 2016

Corruption: unpacking the black box of political will

New thinking on the reasons why individuals engage in corruption - including the pragmatic calculation that, right or wrong, corruption may be the only solution to pressing difficulties. 

Opinion by Heather Marquette12th January 2015

Using aid to strengthen Parliaments: fix the car, or worry about the driver?

Parliaments have always been treated as the poor cousins of democracy assistance efforts. (Guest post for From Poverty to Power)

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal24th November 2014