Early care and education in Ghana

Morrison, Johnetta Wade

The present level of care and education offered to young children in Ghana is a direct consequence of many events from the nation’s past.

In 1957, Ghana was the first West African country to gain its independence from colonial rule. During the infancy period of the new republic, the government was proactive in recognizing the importance of the early years in the lives of Ghanaian children. In 1989, Ghana became the first country to ratify the United Nations’ Rights of the Child. Then, in 1998, the government passed The Children’s Act (Act 560), which strengthened existing laws on children’s rights, justice, and welfare.

Nearly half of Ghana’s 19.5 million citizens are younger than 15 (Ardayfio, 1999). The most recent census data reported that about 16.5 percent of the population is under the age of 6 (Statistical Service, 1987). Unfortunately, only about 12 percent of the nation’s very young children have access to early care and education; this lack of access is acute in rural areas.

In 1999, I spent four months in Accra (the capital), at the University of Ghana, on research leave. My research focus was on the history of early care and education in Ghana; I gathered survey data on early childhood teachers’ and parents’ beliefs about how children learn and develop. In order to garner key information on the present state of early care and education, I conducted extensive interviews with, and collected data from, child care officials and staff in both the public and private sectors.

All policies and directives regarding early care and education in Ghana emanate from Accra. Therefore, I was able to make contact with the majority of the individuals who influence early care and education in the country. The sense I gained from these discussions is that various early childhood personnel (government and non-government) are working arduously to improve the care and education experiences of children in Ghana. A look at the present state of early care and education in Ghana (known as the Gold Coast Colony until 1957) is best served by first gaining a sense of its history. The present level of care and education offered to young children in Ghana is a direct consequence of many events from the nation’s past.

A Historical Look at Earlv Care and Education

The long defunct Elmina Castle School, founded in 1745, is the first recorded education program for very young children in Ghana (Wise, 1956). Starting in 1823, a number of missions from abroad were established to convert the native population to Christianity. The colonial Ghanaian government, lacking money, ceded the responsibility of education to the missions. The missions readily accepted this task, believing that schools were the best means of spreading Christianity (McWilliam, 1959). The first mission, Basel Mission Society, was reported to have attached some kindergartens to their primary one classes (the Ghanaian equivalent to 1st grade in the United States) by 1843. The term “attached” refers to the inclusion of children within the group who are younger than the typical age for the identified class. Several missions followed the Basel Mission Society, and they reportedly attached some kindergartens and even a few nurseries (classes with children younger than 5 years old) to their primary one classes (Opong, 1993).

In the early part of the 20th century, G. H. Morrison (1920), as Director of Education in Ghana, objected to the inadequacy of education grants in the country, without which it proved difficult to staff schools with the best-trained teachers and adequate supplies. He also stressed the need for staff working with infants and kindergarten students to be trained in Froebelian methods.

The Gold Coast Colony Education Department Schedule of 1930 included a syllabus for infant classes as part of the primary schedule. Instruction was to be in the vernacular and kindergarten methods of instruction were to be used. The subjects of instruction listed included games and physical exercises, spoken English (vocabulary of 200-300 words), singing, and arithmetic.

Before the middle of the 20th century, caregiving for infants and toddlers was provided by family members. By the 1940s and 1950s, however, day nurseries were reported in Ghana (Acquah, 1958). The government provided grants to some of these nurseries. Voluntary associations ran the government-supported nurseries under the supervision of the Department of Social Welfare. Government also paid the salaries for teachers, attendants, and other staff. Privately run day nurseries, which enrolled children as young as 2, were established to offer working mothers a safe and healthy environment for the children. Records indicate that some mothers not in the workforce also used the day nurseries. All nurseries charged a fee; those that did not receive government grants (the majority) relied solely on such fees for support. The programs that received federal grants charged a nominal fee, which is still the case today. The accommodations and amenities of non-government-supported programs often did not meet the high standards required of governmentsupported facilities (Acquah, 1958). The programs at the nurseries primarily consisted of organized games, singing, stories, and alphabet and number activities.

In 1957, Ghana gained independence from Britain. Through the passage of the Education Act of 1961, the new Republic of Ghana made preschools the responsibility of the Ministry of Education. Any facility that offered an educational program for young children (with or without fees) was required to register with the Ministry. This Act also instituted free basic compulsory education for children beginning with primary 1 (age 6) and through to primary 6.

Registration and Supervision of Early Childhood Programs

In 1965, the Ministry of Education established the Nursery and Kindergarten Unit in the Ghana Education Service (GES) to develop preschool institutions, in addition to facilitating registration, control, and evaluation of nurseries and kindergartens (Antwi, 1992; Opong, 1993). The National Nursery Teachers’ Training Center and a model nursery and kindergarten opened in Accra in 1969. The Nursery and Kindergarten Unit trains staff for government nursery and kindergarten classes nationwide. The Training Center provides training for any early childhood personnel upon request (Afenya, 1999). Although training centers were to be established in each of the 10 regions of the country, only three have been incorporated to date, and only one remains fully functional.

While the government has continued to fund staff positions at the Nursery and Kindergarten Unit and the National Nursery Teachers’ Training Center, it has often been the case that little or no funding has been allotted for operations. Instead, personnel have secured funding from other sources, including UNICEF; Save the Children, USA; and the Bernard van Leer Foundation (Afenya, 1999).

The Department of Social Welfare (within the Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare) is responsible for supervising programs that provide children with custodial care-called creches and day care centers. A creche typically enrolls children from birth up to 3 years old. In 1970, the department established the National Day Care Training Center and a demonstration model day care center in Accra. The center provides training for day care staff. Like the National Training Center for GES, government funding (other than for staff salaries) has not been consistent. Given that the center does not charge fees for the training provided to day care caregivers (E. Amua-Sekji and M. Amadu, personal communication, October 27, 1999), alternate funding sources are necessary.

As a result of the Dzobo Report (Ministry of Education, 1974) on the state of education in the nation, the Ghana Commissioners of Education mandated the presence of kindergarten classes in primary schools. This move was the impetus for the establishment of nursery classes as well. From 1977 to 1989, many kindergartens were attached to primary one classes in a valiant, although ultimately futile, effort by the government to improve the educational lot of Ghanaian children. The financial strain of supporting cost-free basic education and tertiary education (university, teacher training, and professional) left the government with limited resources to focus on education before the age of 6. As a result, kindergarten teachers were often pulled into primary classes (Afenya, 1999).

In the late 1990s, a grassroots movement revived interest in providing out-of-home care for Ghana’s very young, since the Ghanaian government did not have the financial means to fully provide such care. Efforts came primarily from a number of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), principally the 31st December Women’s Movement and Plan International Ghana. These entities have set up child care centers throughout the nation. In addition to the efforts of NGOs, private early care facilities of all types were being opened as entrepreneurial ventures, particularly in urban areas.

Types of Preschool Programs

Four different types of facilities provide early care and education in Ghana: creche (for children 0-2 years old); day care (2-3 years old); nursery (3-4 years old); and kindergarten (4-6 years old). Day care centers and privately operated nurseries might serve children from birth to 6 (Afenya, 1999).

Any preschool designed to give regular instruction to children below the age of 6 is under the supervision of the Nursery and Kindergarten Unit of GES. In Ghana, nurseries and kindergartens are considered to be providing an educational (pre-academic) program; therefore, they are expected to register under GES (Antwi, 1999). The National Early Childhood Training Center has produced a curriculum guide for government-supported nursery and kindergarten programs. The guide is available to any preschool program, however. Registered programs are strongly encouraged to include activities related to music, movement, numbers, nature and the environment, health, English, and current events. Government-supported programs are expected to include these activities (Y. Tiwaa, personal communication, December 15, 1999).

Any facility providing custodial care to young children is required to register with the Department of Social Welfare. The Children’s Act of 1998, which outlined guidelines for day care centers, contained a clause in which centers in operation prior to the Act had to apply for a permit within six months of the Act’s enactment. District Assemblies issue bylaws and guidelines for the operation of day care centers within their districts, and the Department of Social Welfare inspects each center at least once every six months. The inspection report is submitted to the Social Services Subcommittee of a District Assembly. When a center does not meet specified standards, the owner has a stipulated amount of time in which to make improvements. If a center fails to meet the required standards, the permit is cancelled.

The department has established a curriculum guide available that emphasizes creative activities, cultural experiences, music, movement, story reading, and storytelling. Play, rather than academic work, is the hallmark of the children’s day (M. Sankara, personal communication, December 1, 1999). A number of government supervisors, directors, and supervisors of early care programs have expressed concern about teaching academic skills to 3- and 4-year-olds. One center director said that she feared the children would experience learner burnout as they continued their schooling; the Ghanaian schooling process is very arduous and competitive. She believed that very young children should be given time to develop the social, physical, and emotional skills needed for later school experiences (E. Ankrah, personal communication, November 18, 1999). Others agreed that teaching 3- and 4-year-olds to read and write was inappropriate.

Future Plans for Early Childhood Development

The most recent statistics available (Afenya, 1999) indicate that a little more than half a million Ghanaian children were enrolled in an early care and development program in 1995, with more than twice as many enrolled in public programs than in private ones. Many early childhood facilities throughout Ghana are in need of more trained teachers, materials and equipment, and space. In addition, programs exist that enroll children but are not registered with the supervision entities. The government does not have the staff or resources to identify such facilities (Afenya, 1999). A group of influential persons representing the various entities have been working diligently over the last decade to improve early care for children in Ghana (Opong, personal communication, September 19, 1999). They have identified several areas that will affect future quality and availability of early childhood programs.

This group believes that citizens, particularly parents, are likely to be more supportive of governmental efforts to improve early childhood education if they are made aware of the importance of a child’s early years. Personnel of the Ministry of Education (Nursery and Kindergarten Unit) and the Department of Social Welfare, in conjunction with other government entities, NGOs, associations, and agencies that serve children and their families, could be most helpful in making this information widespread. Such information may persuade parents having access to affordable out-of-home care to allow their girl children, who often care for younger siblings at the neglect of schooling, to attend school.

Since the late 1980s, the government has passed no legislation that increases its financial support for early care and education in the country. Early childhood development advocates would like Ghana’s Parliament to mandate a national policy on Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD). During the 1990s, the Ghana National Commission on Children, a government entity, worked with several national and international early childhood organizations and government departments to assess the status of early care and development and formulate a national policy. An immediate goal is to help programs move away from the traditional preschool model that only deals with custodial care and/or early education. The preschool program would become an integrated system of education that would also make community services (e.g., adequate food, health and nutrition services, protection) available to all children (B. Akuffo-Amoabeng, personal communication, October 26, 1999; Pagano, 1999). At this time, the Commission has taken the lead in preparing the ECCD document. In addition, the Commission is working to secure funding that will ensure a smooth transition when this national policy is ultimately approved by Parliament (B. AkuffoAmoabeng, personal communication, October 26,1999).

Another concern is the supervision of various early childhood development programs, which are currently under the auspices of different ministries and organizations (Opong, 1993). The Department of Social Welfare, for example, is responsible for registering and supervising creches and day care centers. The 31st December Women’s Movement also supervises (in addition to supervision from Social Welfare) its day care centers. GES registers and supervises nurseries and kindergartens. In addition, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development help promote early childhood development (Opong, 1993).

Many education professionals would like to see these groups collaborate (see Table 1), which would make for more efficient use of available resources. Such collaboration would necessitate input from the various District Assemblies (10 in all) and their communities, which would establish systems that meet the particular needs of their localities. Government agencies would work in concert with the multitude of child-related agencies, NGOs, service providers, and associations to establish District Assembly-implemented, community-based ECCD programs (B. Akuffo-Amoabeng, personal communication, October 26, 1999)

Concerns about the training of early childhood personnel still need to be addressed. The early childhood training centers of GES and the Department of Social Welfare do as much training as their budgets allow. GES has adopted the “train the trainer” method so that adequate training is widely available; still, not all early childhood personnel receive sufficient training. As a result of inadequate funding, more than 80 percent of the teachers and attendants in nurseries and kindergartens have received no training for the positions they fill (Opong, 1993).

The Institute for Caregivers, a very recent Ghanaian initiative, has provided training to early childhood personnel. Funding comes from CRA Limited, a Ghanabased business, and from the Danish government. It is hoped that within three years the Institute will be fully supported with Ghanaian funds and personnel. The sessions run for six weeks, on Saturdays only. Presently, training occurs only in Accra, but the Institute hopes to eventually make its training available in all regions of the country. Personnel from Denmark’s Jelling College serve as the senior management and trainers for the Institute (M. Dogoe, personal communication, December 21, 1999).

Some of the nation’s trainers (government entities, principally) are seeking to create a specialized area for early childhood within college and university teacher training courses (S. Opong, personal communication, November 6, 1999, and July 17, 2000). The majority of teachers in government-supported early childhood programs are trained as primary level teachers. Each program has at least one teacher (head teacher) who has received teacher training. Early childhood personnel receive training on methods and curriculum. Teachers in non-government-supported programs often have no formal education in teacher training; many have not had any early childhood inservice training, either (Afenya, 1999; Opong, 1993). The proprietors of these private facilities are frequently former primary school teachers. The guidelines outlined by GES for establishing an early childhood center require that either the proprietor be a certified teacher (the certificate would be in primary [elementary] education from a teachers training college or university), or one should be employed to head or manage the school. To help address these concerns, it is hoped that a specialization in early childhood education will be offered as well as the present Bachelor’s of Arts degree in primary education.


Collaboration among state and private programs, agencies, and organizations shows great promise for providing all Ghanaian children access to early care and development. The efforts of early childhood personnel to secure the ratification of a national Early Childhood Care and Development Policy demonstrate a commitment to young children’s holistic development. The next steps are to garner national support and funding for early care and development, to ensure that all children have a chance to reach their full potential.


Acquah, I. (1958). Accra survey. London: University of London Press, LTD.

Afenya, M. (1999). Brief on early childhood development in Ghana. Unpublished manuscript.

Antwi, M. (1992). Education, society and development in Ghana. Accra, Ghana: Unimax Publishers Limited.

Ardayfio, R. (September 9, 1999). A world of six billion implications for Ghana. Daily Graphic Newspaper, p. 9. Education Department. (1930). Education department sched

ules. Accra, Ghana: Government Printing Office. Hilliard, F. H. (1957). A short history of education in British West Africa. London: Thomas Nelson & Sons, Ltd.

McWilliam, H. 0. A. (1959). The development of education in Ghana. London: Longmans, Green & Co.

Ministry of Education. (1974). The new structure and content of education for Ghana. Accra, Ghana: Author. Morrison, G. W. (1920). A memoir on the state of education in

the Gold Coast Colony. Accra, Ghana: Government Press. Opong, S. (1993, November). Towards a first start for children. Paper presented at the meeting of the National Seminar of Early Childhood Development, Accra, Ghana, West Africa.

Pagano, A. (1999). Strategies to strengthen early childhood development programs in Ghana, West Africa. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 20, 121-124.

Statistical Service. (1987). 1984 population census of Ghana. Accra, Ghana: Author.

Wise, C. (1956). History of education in British West Africa. London: Longmans, Green and Company.

Johnetta Wade Morrison

Johnetta Wade Morrison is Associate Professor, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, University of Missouri, Columbia.

Copyright Association for Childhood Education Summer 2001

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved

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