The African Futures Project & Resource Inequality and the Quest for Socioeconomic Mobility: The Ghanaian Case

Seminar in Critical Development Studies co-hosted by Cornell Global Development and the Graduate Field of Development Studies


Every Ghanaian government administration over the past four decades has made substantial investments with the aim of reducing educational inequality experienced between the wealthiest and poorest students. One of the key policy changes towards this effort was the abolishment of senior high school fees, starting with the 2017-18 school year. Under the new free secondary education structure, the Ghanian government pays for all fees associated with public senior and vocational high schools, including room and board, textbooks, and most activities fees. This paper seeks to evaluate whether such policies have resulted in demonstrable improvements in reducing education inequality experienced by students in public senior high schools in Ghana. I use primary data from 2,034 surveys and 565 in-depth semi-structured interviews collected from eighteen senior high schools across Ghana during the 2020-2021 academic year. Results demonstrate that clear differences remain between the most selective and least selective schools, most notably in terms of mentoring and teaching, academic resources within the school itself, and social and knowledge networks of individual students. Prominent differences between regions and ethnic groups were also present. Gender, however, was not a significance predictor of educational inequality, as female students appear to have closed the outcome gap between male students.

About the speaker:

Tristan Ivory is an Assistant Professor in the Department of International and Comparative Labor in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University. He received his PhD in 2015 from the Department of Sociology at Stanford University. His research is principally concerned with sub-Saharan African geographic, social, and economic mobility. As a 2020–21 Global Public Voices fellow, he is collaborating with Guilherme Kenjy Chihaya Da Silva. His first research project examined sub-Saharan African migrants in Japan. More recently, he has begun a multiyear, multi-sited longitudinal interview project that will track sub-Saharan middle-class high-school and college students as they begin professional careers in order to assess whether there is a substantial correlation between international migration and better economic and social outcomes. He is also engaged in a long-term collaborative research project with colleagues in Sweden and Japan that addresses issues of foreign-born women’s labor force participation in Japan, Sweden, and the United States.

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