Ghana---The Basic Education Certificate Examinations (BECE) is the qualifying examination that stands between final year junior high school students and their senior high school education. Out of the nearly 400,000 candidates that take the examination annually, those who earn successful results are given the opportunity to attend their dream senior high schools. This opens more doors for further education at the tertiary level.
On my way to work on Wednesday I heard on a morning radio show that just a little over 50 percent of candidates that sat for this year qualified to enter senior secondary school. Out of the 395,649 candidates that took the examination, just 198,642 made the aggregate mark of 30 required to gain admission into senior high schools or technical institutes. Thus, there are 197,007 candidates, representing 49.8% of the total, that have to find alternative means of training themselves.
Education laws in Ghana stipulate that six years of primary school and three years of junior high school must be completed before anyone can sit for the BECE. Candidates for the BECE are tested in four core subjects: English, Mathematics, Social Studies, General Science, and five other subjects. The subjects are graded on a scale of 1 to 9, with the former being the best possible score. To obtain an aggregate score of 30, one must achieve a score of 5 on all four core subjects and 5 on one’s best two additional subjects.
The fates of the almost 200,000 students who didn’t make the pass mark lies in the balance: even the other 200,000 who did make the pass grade won’t all be able to gain admission into the senior secondary schools, which are estimated to have an entering capacity of just 70,000. The remaining students have to find their way into the less-fancied private institutions, which are generally seen to be under-resourced and less prestigious. Despite the availability of private schools, several tens of thousands of students will inevitably drop out (due to financial and other factors) after the BECE leaving them to have resort to petty trading, street hawking, and other low-income jobs.
Apparently, the 50% passing rate is nothing new in the BECE and is actually a slight improvement over previous years. Several reasons have been attributed to the poor performance in the examinations: poor teaching, lack of infrastructure, and insufficient input from parents.
Other people see the chronic mass failure of BECE candidates as a national security issue. With armed robbery and cyber crime rates soaring in the country, it is not far-fetched to say that the massive drop-out rate in Ghana contributes to these crimes. Street hawking is getting worse in the major cities, as more and more unqualified (education-wise) people resort to it as a source of livelihood; efforts to raid the hawkers off the streets have all proved futile since many of the hawkers have no other sources of livelihood. One does not need glasses to see that to severe social problems plaguing the country today won’t subside until the maladies of the basic education system in the country are treated.