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Principals' strategies for improving students' academic achievement in rural Junior High Schools in GhanaErasmus K. Norviewu-Mortty
Edith Cowan University
The academic performance of students in public basic schools in rural Ghana during the past two decades has declined significantly. Government efforts to remedy the situation have not yielded any sustainable result. The Saboba District Junior High Schools are mostly affected. Generally, inadequate funding and resourcing are blamed for poor academic achievement of rural and low socio-economic schools. My observation during eight years of teaching in Saboba is that the academic achievement of some students remains high while that of others in the same locality stays low. The purpose of this paper and presentation is to report the outcome of preliminary analysis and interpretation of my research data. Literature on school effectiveness, school improvement and professional learning communities has helped to identify important issues concerning the enhancement of students' academic performance. Innovative leadership practices that promote effective teaching, learning and student achievement in a rural disadvantaged school setting are emerging as I analyse my case study data on four effective and less effective junior high schools at Saboba, Ghana. 100 participants comprising principals, teachers, students, parents and local community leaders and education officers took part in this research. Effective collegial and community focus leadership of the principal in recruiting local resources appears as the essential difference between high and low performing rural disadvantaged schools.
In view of the fact that the list of genuine socio-economic development priorities in these countries keep growing, one can imagine and posit that none of these developing countries would soon find the requisite funding and resourcing to equip effectively all their rural, low socio-economic schools. In the mean time, maybe something can be done to help improve teaching and learning and student academic achievement in those disadvantaged schools.
I personally worked as teacher of English Language and Religious and Moral Education for eight years (2000 to 2008) in the Saboba locality, a rural and deprived town and district in the Northern Region of Ghana where the prevalence of poor academic work by basic students in junior high schools is high. Personal observation in the Saboba District revealed that few deprived Junior High Schools have continuously improved the academic achievement of their students; and those schools were headed by principals who demonstrated effective leadership.
Consequently, one may ask what really explains the fact that students from some particular rural schools are doing well while others in the same deprived rural setting are not? What accounts for the difference between high achieving and low achieving rural disadvantaged Junior High Schools in Ghana, most specifically in the Saboba locality?
The argument of lack of funding and resourcing might no longer explain in totality, and in principle the fact that the academic achievement of some students remains high while that of others in similar setting stays low.
To what extent does the leadership of each rural school impact on high or low achievement of students? There seems to be a link between effective rural school leadership and higher student academic achievement and vice versa (Kadingdi, 2004). It is this link that I set out to examine.
What do successful principals of effective rural junior high schools know and do to create a positive learning environment for their students? What vision, attitudes, knowledge, beliefs about learning, actions, practices and skills of those principals lead to higher academic achievement of their students? Effective principalship in rural junior high schools of the Saboba District will therefore be the focus of this presentation.
Many governments have emphasised the role adequate funding and resourcing play in promoting educational excellence in schools. In fact, the Ghana Government is no exception to this as the following brief analysis of the various educational reforms undertaken will support. Some of these reforms emphasised "more funding and more resources", yet they have failed in improving student academic achievement in both rural and urban public schools as Ministers and other political leaders in Ghana have admitted.
To promote quality education and to resolve poor academic achievement of rural basic schools, the Ghana Government, through its Ministry of Education and the Ghana Education Service (GES) implemented a series of education reform schemes during the recent past two decades. Notable among these reforms were the 1987 education reform to improve access to basic and secondary education, and the introduction in 1996 of the policy of Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE) to address access to education and quality concerns in basic education (United Nations Economic and Social Council, 2007). Most of those reforms failed to highlight the specific role of the school principal, which was deemed to be crucial (Atta-Quayson, 2007; Peil, 1995; Scadding, 1989).
In spite of those educational reforms, Ghana's rural, low socioeconomic basic schools regularly fail to produce knowledgeable graduates, capable of pursuing further education (Akyeampong, 2007; Karikari-Ababio, 2003, p. 3; Nsowah, 2003). In fact, the Ghana Ministry of Education recognised the enormity of academic underperformance by basic school students.
Despite the numerous interventions to improve education, achievement levels of school children, especially at the basic level, were low. The results of public schools in the Criterion Reference Tests (CRTs) conducted from 1992 to 1997 in English and Mathematics indicated an extremely low level of achievement in these subjects. (Ministry of Education Science and Sports, 2007, p. 3)There is much evidence of the declining academic performance in rural disadvantaged junior high schools in Ghana.
Five Junior High Schools in the Twifo-Hemang-Lower-Denkyira District in the Central Region (of Ghana) scored zero percent in the 2008 Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE). (...) Mr Samuel Agyeibie-Kessie, the District Chief Executive, disclosed this at the assembly's general meeting at Twifo Praso on Friday. (Ghana News Agency, 2008)The zero per cent score in the quotation refers to the fact that no individual student from the schools mentioned had an aggregate score of 30 or lower in the six core and elective subjects at the Basic Education Certificate Examinations which designate the end of basic or middle schooling. This comment by a political head underscores the present low standards of rural junior high schools.
In Ghana as in the entire Anglophone West Africa, these examinations are organised and conducted by the regional Anglophone West African Examinations Council. A student needs to obtain an aggregate of 30 or less to be eligible to enter a senior high school or technical vocational high school.
Another example of poor achievement of basic schools is captured by a popular FM Radio network called JOY FM in Accra, Ghana in August 2008. According to Joy FM online news, the results of the 2007/2008 Basic School Certificate Examinations (BECE) were poor as almost 40 percent of the total number of candidates who sat the examinations failed (Myjoyonline-News, 2008) and most of those who failed came from disadvantaged rural Junior High Schools.
No one will doubt the importance of quality human resource base for the effective social and economic development of a nation (Atta-Quayson, 2007). Consequently, as the education reforms undertaken by the Ghana Government, which in general, recommended and to some extent, helped to deploy more funding and resourcing; failed to reduce the incidence of low academic performance of students, and most especially, those in the Saboba locality; this study opts in principle and theory; to explore exclusively principals' leadership strategies, rather than funding and resourcing, in investigating solutions to low academic achievement in disadvantaged rural schools. To what extent do principals' leadership strategies serve as a key component in promoting effective schooling in low socio-economic communities?
This was what led me to study both effective and less effective rural junior high schools (JHSs) in the Saboba District of Ghana in order to identify leadership skills and management practices that enhance rural school effectiveness and student academic achievement in spite of inadequate funding and resourcing. As a result, this study addressed specifically the following research question:
Which leadership skills and practices of principals of deprived rural schools in the Saboba District of Ghana seem to create an environment that fosters high standards of students' achievement?I divide the remainder of my paper into four sections, namely:
For the purpose of this research, I carried out an initial analysis of the results of Basic Education Certificate Examinations of students from all the junior high schools in Saboba and elsewhere in the District during the recent past five years; most specifically from 2005 to 2009. It was through this analysis that Aarie and Baarie were selected as high achieving schools while Caarie and Daarie were chosen as low achieving schools in the same locality and setting. None of the schools I studied knew whether or not its participation was based on the fact that it was a high or low performing school. They were made to understand that they were all contributing to finding effective means for improving student academic achievement.
In view of this, throughout the research I emphasised with the participants the effective means employed by their school in improving academic work. Consequently, all four schools were studied with the conviction that each was doing something positive to improve students' learning and academic achievement and I, the researcher was desirous of learning about those things, those efforts and strategies towards enhancing overall academic achievement.
One interesting discovery that was made in the course of the study is that most of the enduring school ethos and teaching and learning strategies that were helping the top achieving schools to continue to perform well were not only absent in the low performing schools but were identified by the latter as their top-wishes and dream.
A list of activities, strategies and attitudes that promoted an effective learning environment and student academic achievement, and set apart the top performing junior high schools from the low performing ones has been identified and summarised below.
PricewaterhouseCooper quoting Leithwood and his colleague reported that: "... as far as we are aware, there is not a single documented case of a school successfully turning around its pupil achievement directly in the absence of talented leadership" (p. 1).
Lezotte and Levine (1990), and Corcoran and Wilson (1989) arguing for school effectiveness declared that effective schools must have competent principal leadership and committed teaching staff with a concise instructional focus on fundamental skills. Furthermore according to them, effective schools expect high academic standards for all students in a positive and caring atmosphere, supported by teachers, support staff and local community. Goodlad (1984) stressed the overall educational progress of students through the promotion of students' academic, intellectual, vocational, socio-civic, cultural and personal development as key measures of effective schools.
Hopkins (1994) described school improvement as internal school "strategies for improving the school's capacity for providing quality education". (p. 75) By enhancing the teaching-learning process and the conditions which support it" (p. 75), these internal school strategies improve students' achievement he emphasised. Aarie and Baarie through the collaborative efforts of teachers, students and Parent Teacher Association succeed in creating a favourable learning atmosphere, motivating commitment of students and teachers and providing scarce resources in support of tailored teaching. This collaboration between school and parents is also instrumental in the acquisition of learning materials, organisation of extra tutorials, welfare support and social activities, which all contribute to effective teaching and learning and the high success rate of students at the BECE.
Further, the principal's community focus leadership which expresses respect for local customs and traditions, and his or her engagement with the community in school affairs and in recruiting local resources for improving teaching, learning and students' achievement echoes with the work of Watson, Partington, Gray and Mack (2006). These scholars demonstrated the positive influence of effective integration of good instructional leadership with community cultural values on the academic achievement of Aboriginal students in Mathematics.
These findings have proved that the crucial element in nurturing an effective learning environment that promotes higher student academic performance is the strategic leadership role of the principal and teachers more than adequate funding and resourcing alone. None of the schools studied has a decent library with appropriate space and furniture for students to sit and read. For example, some students can only borrow books to read during lunch break. Usually, they will sit under the shade of trees on the premises or on the classroom veranda to read and return the books before lessons resume after the break.
None of the schools studied has enough sets of books for students to borrow and send home to read; that would have been a luxury according to some teachers. No subsidised lunch or snack is provided in any of these schools. Students have to fend for their own lunch and snack, and since some parents cannot even afford regular lunch for their wards, some students go hungry sometimes. In spite of all these hurdles, these students are punctual in class; they study hard and are able to pass with good grades their final external examinations, the Basic Education Certificate Examinations.
The principal's local community-focussed leadership for recruiting resources and his or her ingenuous management of tailored teaching in an effective setting that enhances exam-confident students were the crucial tools that promoted an effective learning environment and better student academic achievement. Every activity in the high performing junior high schools was geared towards creating and sustaining a learning environment that enables students' effective academic preparation for their final examinations.
The development of a strategic list and explanation of those specific leadership strategies, which positively account for the effective teaching and learning atmosphere that helps rural and deprived Aarie and Baarie schools to sustain top academic performance despite funding and resourcing challenges is still in progress. It is being studied and perfected for the final thesis on this research.
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|Author: Erasmus K. Norviewu-Mortty BTh, MA, PGDE is completing a PhD at Edith Cowan University on Principals' strategies for improving students' academic achievement in rural junior high schools in Ghana. Proficient in French and English, he completed Bachelors and Masters in Practical Christian Theology and religious studies at Université de Montréal, Canada and a Postgraduate Diploma in Education at University of Cape Coast, Ghana. He taught for eight years English language, Religious and Moral Education at a rural Technical Senior High School in Saboba, Ghana and now serves as SOAR Ambassador at ECU Graduate Research School assisting Higher Degrees by Research candidates in research proposals. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please cite as: Norviewu-Mortty, E. K. (2010). Principals' strategies for improving students' academic achievement in rural Junior High Schools in Ghana. In Proceedings Western Australian Institute for Educational Research Forum 2010. http://www.waier.org.au/forums/2010/norviewu-mortty.html