May 1, 2016

Three Ghanaian Girls Top West Africa's WASSCE

At its most recent annual conference, in March 2016, the West African Examinations Council, WAEC, presented its International Three Ghanaian girls top West Africas WASSCE examExcellence awards to three Ghanaian girls, Jessica Ayeley Quaye (1st position), Ruth Ewura-Ama Awadzi (2nd position) and Danielle Amo-Mensah (3rd position), the best three candidates in the most recent (2015) WASSCE exam. The WASSCE is the most important exam of the Council, an international school leaving test taken by all five member countries of WAEC (Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Gambia) that enables successful candidates to secure places at tertiary institutions. Remarkably, the three top candidates all came from a single school in Ghana, the Wesley Girls High School. The school, a strict Christian institution founded in 1836, is regarded as one of the best in Ghana, a country with something of a tradition of high quality, well endowed boarding schools at the senior secondary level. At WeyGeyHey, as it is fondly called by alumni, girls follow a strict routine, rising at 5 a.m. and following a tightly regimented timetable up to lights-out at 9 p.m. Hair is kept short and unplaited, mobile phones are not allowed and visitors, even family, are discouraged.

Just as remarkable as Wesley Girls' achievement in 2015, Ghanaian candidates have topped the WASSCE for the last four years despite far higher numbers of candidates from Nigeria. Since 1984, when WAEC introduced its International Excellence awards for the best three WASSCE candidates, Ghana and Nigeria have dominated the list
Jessica Quayle, WAEC International Excellence Award Winneof winners. In the eighties and early nineties the odd Sierra Leonean and Gambian graced the annual awards, but since 1995 neither country has appeared on the list (download a complete list of winners since 1984 here). Almost as remarkable is the degree of gender parity Ghana and Nigeria have

managed to achieve, reflected here in the appearance of the three ex-Wesley High School girls on the podium, all of whom are doing Science, traditionally favoured by boys. The available data (WAEC is notoriously reticent about sharing statistics on its examinations) suggests that Nigeria, with large, conservative Muslim and traditional populations, and Ghana are sending significantly higher percentages of girls to take the WASSCE than the other WAEC countries. In the 2015 WASSCE, of Ghana's 268,812 candidates, 139,868 were male and 128,944 were female. In Sierra Leone the dropout rate for girls from the primary school leaving stage to the WASSCE appears from available data to be very high.

In the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects, critical for national development, Nigeria and Ghana again appear to be pulling away from their West African neighbours, many of whose students prefer to take the 'soft' courses in business studies and arts.
Reports indicate that of Ghana's 112 students who recorded 8 A1s in the 2015 WASSCE, 98 were Science students.

It's unclear why Ghana has so dominated the list of WASSCE winners in recent years when pitted against its much larger neighbour, Nigeria, which enters approximately six times as many candidates. Whereas Ghana recorded 112 students who scored 8 A1s in the 2015 WASSCE, Nigeria recorded just 34. Other data appears to indicate that when broader measures of examination performance are analyzed, Nigeria appears to do slightly better than Ghana. The differences between performance of the very best candidates in each country and performance across the entire national spectrum may have to do with the way education is funded in the two countries. In Ghana the government, although placing a high (and possibly increasing) premium on education generally, which regularly commands 25% of the national budget, appears to fund quite generously a select group of long-established premier schools. In Nigeria on the other hand, the policy appears to have been to establish new government secondary schools all over the country. The exact differences would be an interesting subject for further study.