It is evident in classrooms throughout the country that the demand for education at all levels exceeds the structures currently in place to serve Ghana's growing student population. Public school systems continue to struggle to meet the increasing demand. In recent years, the private sector has stepped in to help fill the gap and offer quality educational services to students from primary through tertiary levels.
Ghana has identified education as a high priority development area, and has made significant strides toward improving the educational system in the past few decades. In the mid 1980's, the government embarked on an ambitious education reform initiative, committing to increased funding in education and putting structures in place to accommodate students. Since 1987, government spending on educational services has increased by 700 percent. In 1996, the government committed to providing free, compulsory universal basic education to all. Today, access to education has improved significantly and school enrollment across all levels in Ghana totals around 2 million.
While government reform set the stage for large-scale development within the educational system, continued funding is necessary to maintain progress. With the government focusing largely on primary education, the need for private investment, especially in post-secondary education has increased. The government actively encourages private investment in post-secondary education, recognizing that it frees up tax money to fund public primary and secondary schools. For example, the government offers tax breaks on importing laboratory equipment and text books into the country.
One of the biggest challenges facing the educational services industry is a lack of qualified teachers. Research conducted by the University of Cape Coast identified that Ghana's school systems need another 16,000 teachers to keep up with growing student populations in the coming years. Post-secondary and technical training institutions are not currently turning out enough qualified teachers to keep up with the demand. The system is also not adequately compensating teachers in order to retain them. These two factors have converged to create a significant need for trained teachers in Ghana's public and private school systems.
Specialized international schools are in high demand in Ghana. Currently there are a number of such schools throughout the country, mostly catering to Ghana's expatriate communities. Among Ghana's international schools are American, British, French and Swiss schools which follow a specialized foreign examination curriculum. While expensive, these schools offer high quality educations and facilities, and are in high demand among Ghana's middle and upper class. Opportunities exist for additional foreign schools to cater to the growing demand.
Specialized management, technical and vocational institutions are also in high demand. These institutions represent an alternative to the many students completing secondary school who do not want to enter a four-year university. They offer many opportunities for students to gain specialized skills and be on the job market in as little as two years. Training institutions are popular in Ghana and have significantly increased the availability of a skilled and trainable labor force for local companies and organizations. In recent years there has been a surge of technical institutions emerging in response to the huge demand for information technology education and personnel. There are many opportunities for entry into this sector as well, either through establishing institutions or investing in already existing institutions.
While demand is strong for private educational services, there is also significant need to provide financing solutions to students and families. It is important for all families in Ghana to have affordable options for quality education and access to financing options when needed. Current financial options are few and difficult for the average family to access. Investment in this area is needed to make quality educational services available to the greater public.