Exploring Public and Private Education Costs in Ghana

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In 2005 the Ghana Education Service mandated fee-free provision of basic education in government schools regardless of socioeconomic status or location, through a system of capitation grants to the schools. Enrollment surged but the country still faces challenges of retention and completion. While government remains the main provider of education in Ghana, private schools are on the rise, for the poor as well as for the elite. A 2010 IFC-commissioned report estimated that low-cost private schools constitute 40% of all private schools in Ghana, or about 12% of all schools in the country.

But how affordable are these increasingly numerous private schools, and how are costs in both private and public institutions affecting household decisions about education?

To shed light these questions, Results for Development Institute, with support from the UBS Optimus Foundation, oversaw and analyzed a survey of household decision-making and expenditure on education in Kasoa, a peri-urban community just outside Accra.


Families perceive the quality of public schools to be lower than private institutions, and since extra fees exist for public and private schools alike, a significant majority are choosing a private education for their child. This reality points to the need for policy response: both public and private schools will have to make significant changes to increase access to quality education in developing countries.

To this end, R4D recommends:

  1. More effective monitoring and regulation of private schools, especially of learning outcomes
  2. Increased transparency about costs (including hidden fees) at both government and private schools
  3. Increased access to reliable information about both quality and cost in order to help parents make informed school enrollment decisions.
  4. Exploration of public-private partnerships in schools given the lower per-student costs in private schools.
  5. The creation of policies to promote greater equity, such as eliminating all “hidden” household costs in government schools so that basic education is free for all.
  6. More research should be done to determine whether the findings in Kasoa are representative for Ghana and should inform national policy.

Key Findings

The research consisted of two complementary and comprehensive surveys: a 1,000 household-level survey completed first and then a school-level survey of 30 government and private institutions, based primarily on the household-reported attendance. Study design and data collection were conducted in 2014 with the Ghana Center for Democratic Dialogue. Key findings include:

  1. School attendance in Kasoa is very high and mainly in private schools. 88% of all children go to school and 83% of all households have at least one child in private school. Parents in Kasoa value equally the education of girls and of boys.
  2. Private schools cost households about 54% more per student than government ones. The average total household cost per student per year in a government school is 793GH¢ and 1218GH¢ in a private one.
  3. Beyond tuition, the most common extra charges were for food, uniforms/sports clothes, textbooks, exam fees, mandatory extra classes and parent teacher associations. Food charges were more common and higher at private schools; extra class charges higher at government schools.
  4. Neither government nor private schools disclosed all their household charges in the school survey when its results are compared to information from the household survey but private schools did disclose a higher proportion of these charges.
  5. While this study has not explicitly calculated the total costs (household and public spending combined) per student per year, it must be the case that the private schools cost less per student overall, once large government spending through a capitation grant scheme is also factored in.
  6. Parents have very little information on which to base school choice, as little is available on either school outcomes or teacher quality; in general, however, parents assume that private schools are better than government ones.

To learn more, download the full study above, or view the executive summary at the link below.

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