Guidance and Information for Improved Education Decisions in Ghana
Although attending and completing a high-quality secondary school program can propel students towards greater success in the job market, many students do not enroll in secondary school. Further, some of those who do enroll either drop out or attend low-quality secondary schools, even when they qualify for higher-performing schools. Researchers in Ghana are evaluating whether a program informing students, teachers, and parents about the secondary school choice process helps students make more strategic decisions about which schools to attend and whether these choices lead to better educational outcomes for students.
While primary school completion rates have increased dramatically across Sub-Saharan Africa in recent years, secondary school enrollment remains low. Attending secondary school, however, can increase a student’s likelihood of succeeding in the job market, meaning that enrolling in and completing secondary school is critical for a student’s future. A key moment occurs when students transition from Junior High School (JHS or middle school) to Senior High School (SHS or secondary school): for many students, the decision to attend SHS, and which SHS to attend, is complicated. Schools vary in their quality, fees, and admissions standards, and the selection process for Senior High School can be complex and unclear.
Some students’ behavior suggests that they do not always make the optimal education decisions. In Ghana, for example, some students who could succeed academically in secondary school do not enroll. Those who do enroll may not be choosing the best option they can afford; some students enroll in low performing schools despite having access to higher-performing ones. Other students complete all three years of secondary school, but then fail the certification exam, effectively denying them a secondary school diploma. Researchers observing these puzzles want to identify how information on secondary school affects education outcomes.
Students leaving Ghanaian Junior High Schools (middle schools) have to decide which Senior High School (secondary school)—if any—they will attend. Together with their families, students often must make this complicated decision without having either access to or a complete understanding of all the facts about the school selection and admissions process.
Before entering secondary school, students submit a ranked list of up to four secondary schools that they would like to attend. The Computerized School Selection and Placement System (CSSPS) uses this ranking, together with their performance on the Basic Education Certification Exam (BECE) to place students in Senior High Schools. However, students must make their selection of schools with only very limited information on schools’ admission standards, academic performance, and fees.
This study is taking place in the Ashanti region of Ghana, where there are 1700 Junior High Schools and 140 Senior High Schools, varying greatly in their quality. Each year, about 80,000 students in the Ashanti Region take the BECE.
Researchers are conducting a randomized evaluation to test the impact of providing information about the secondary school application and admissions process to students, teachers, and parents on students’ educational outcomes. Nine hundred schools are participating in the project, each one randomly assigned to one of three groups (300 schools each). In the first group, students and teachers will receive information in the form of booklets and an in-school information session. The booklets will cover secondary schools’ fees, facilities, certification pass rates, and admission standards. The information session will cover secondary school admissions strategies, advice for dealing with restrictions on secondary school choice, how to interpret BECE scores, and other details regarding the school selection process.
In the second group of schools, students and teachers will receive the same information booklets and attend the same information sessions, but in this group, students’ parents will also be invited to a school-based workshop about the secondary school application process. The workshop will cover much of the same material that students and teachers will have heard at their information session.
The final group of schools will be a comparison group; students, teachers, and parents at schools in this group will not receive any new information.
Researchers will use a combination of survey and administrative data to evaluate whether access to information on school performance and the application process improves students’ welfare and academic outcomes. Researchers will also measure the impact of the information program on students’ likelihood of attending secondary school, the quality of secondary schools they attend, their likelihood of taking the certification exam and their performance on that test, and whether or not they go on to enter university. Since simply surveying people on a given topic can sometimes change behavior, researchers only administered the in-depth initial survey to a random half of all participants.
Finally, researchers will compare students in the second group, whose parents had access to the parents’ information session, to students in the first group, whose parents were not offered this workshop. This will help researchers evaluate the additional benefit, if any, of directly informing parents.
Project ongoing, results forthcoming.
Ajayi, Kehinde F., Willa H. Friedman, and Adrienne M. Lucas. 2017. "The Importance of Information Targeting for School Choice." American Economic Review: Papers & Proceedings 107(5): 638–643.