For Ghana’s young people, skills are the test of progress

Ghana has to invest in its most marginalised and disadvantaged youth to create a more equal society.

As many as 8 in 10 poor women between 17-22 years of age in northern Ghana had less than 4 years schooling [EPA]

Ghana, which aims to become a middle income country by 2020, continues to receive praise from the international media for its impressive progress. As a Ghanaian who analyses education, I wondered if this progress was offering better educational and work opportunities for disadvantaged youth. I took the opportunity of a recent trip to the country’s northern region to see for myself. 

After all, what better way to judge efforts to improve Ghanaians’ welfare than to look at whether its most vulnerable and disadvantaged youth are getting education that leads to decent jobs? Indeed, education, skills and jobs have become hot political topics in the run-up to the general election in December. 

I was also struck by another debate in Ghana – among young people asking how to ensure education that offers a gateway to a prosperous future. 

This debate is vital for the numerous poor youth, most of whom are young women living in northern Ghana, who have not benefitted from education – as many as 8 in 10 poor women in the age group of 17-22 years in northern Ghana had less than four years of education in 2008. 

undefinedRegional disparity in schooling of less than 4 years of those aged 17-22 between Greater Accra and northern Ghana [EFAGMR]

I travelled to northern Ghana to see first-hand how Camfed, an international NGO, was providing opportunities for disadvantaged young women to make a better transition from school to work. Camfed was providing financial literacy and business training, as well as seed money grants and innovation bursaries, to young women to kick-start their own businesses right after secondary school.  

I came face to face with Suowah, who spoke passionately about how her life and how her immediate family had been transformed as a result of training she had received to install solar panels in homes – a training that she wished formal secondary education had provided.

Suowah was earning a decent income from her work, and for her, it was an example of how education can be put to work, by linking it more closely to work opportunities in her environment.  

This encounter set me thinking – if Ghana’s development is to be judged successful, shouldn’t we be asking what it is doing for the disadvantaged rural youth up and down the country?

On my way back to Paris, I realised that the best way to judge education’s worth is to ask if it is giving young people a real chance to make a better future through decent work. 

Our responsibility to young people includes not only providing a decent formal education, but also offering work experience during school, and schemes for school leavers that offer assistance to find work or begin a small business.  

Ghana’s current progress does offer the promise of brighter, more prosperous future – but only if it invests in its most marginalised and disadvantaged youth to create a more equal society. 

Kwame Akyeampong is the senior policy analyst of the Education for All Global Monitoring Report published by UNESCO.