I was lucky to have a solid basic education in my hometown of Gbledi-Gbogame in rural Ghana. My effective basic education enabled me to enter high school with a scholarship, and then access invaluable opportunities in higher education and employment. It also contributed to a proficiency in English and French, that allowed me to obtain undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Francophone Université de Montréal in Canada and in the Anglophone University of Cape Coast in Ghana.
Unfortunately today, most pupils and students in rural schools in Ghana are denied similar opportunities, because the standard of academic performance of rural basic schools keeps falling. Generally, this is explained by lack of funding and infrastructure. Despite this, during my eight years of teaching in the Saboba District, I observed that some schools were doing well, while others in the same locality with the same level of funding and infrastructure continued to perform poorly. So, if the low academic achievements of rural students can no longer be explained by poor infrastructure and funding alone, what can explain it?
This question prompted my decision in 2008 to commence a research PhD in Educational leadership (administration) at Edith Cowan University in Australia. I am now investigating the strategies that school principals in high-performing, rural, low socio-economic schools use to enhance students’ academic achievement.
In 2009 and 2010, I returned to Ghana’s Saboba district, where I spent five months in four different junior high schools, observing and studying such strategies in both high-performing and low-performing rural schools. I held 18 focus group meetings with a total of 92 participants, including teachers, students, parents and local stakeholders in education as well as eight interviews with principals and education officials.
It is now becoming clearer to me, that in the absence of adequate educational infrastructure and funding, a principal’s authentic commitment and hard work of effectively leading the school community towards improving students’ performance becomes the only thing that matters. “Through debates, quizzes and mock exams.... our teachers have helped us to learn more...” remarked one rural student.
Being both a PhD candidate and a SOAR Ambassador, I continue to sharpen my research skills through my assistance to fellow research students.