Term Paper: Ghana Blunch and Verner (Determinants

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[. . .] These are some of the issues brought up by this study of functional literacy in Ghana by Blunch and Verner, who analyzed literacy patterns in the nation and found a number of important, if to a large measure predictable patterns.

The two researchers found that the most important demographic factors correlated with literacy are age, gender, the educational background of one's family (in particular one's father), personal and family income and the distance to the nearest school.

This last is something that citizens of the First World might not automatically remember to consider because schools are so close to nearly every citizen in a nation like the United States.

However, in poorer nations, schools are more widely spaced, especially in rural areas. For poor families, the distance between their home and a school may be the deciding factor in whether or not a child receives an education. This seems to be especially true - Blunch and Verner find - if the child is a girl, for whom education and in particular literacy seem to be less culturally valued - and if the educational background of the parents is low.

It should be noted that we see at least something of this same psychological stance in the developed world: One of the best predictors of whether a child will attend college in the United States is whether that child's parents also attended college. Those with an education tend to understand both the value and the simple pleasures of that education while those without a high degree of formal education are inclined to believe that if they have been able to make their way in the world without it then their children will also be able to succeed without education.

It is important to understand that this is not simply some artifact of the Third World but rather something that seems to be universal to human psychology. The way in which one might remedy a problem that only obtains in a developing nation is rather different from the ways in which one goes about trying to "fix" something that is at least a tendency throughout the human population.

This article has two especially important findings. The first of these is that - beyond a certain point (as noted in the findings of the article critiqued in the first case study) age is negatively correlated with literacy.

The researchers stress that literacy can be defined in a number of ways. This idea is explored in this explanation:

All definitions presented earlier assume that, to be considered "literate," a person has to be able to cope with some reading and/or writing tasks. Yet, what level or type of reading and writing skills are needed?

Existing definitions of literacy differ in several ways. For example, some imply that literacy is static or absolute; once you are able to sign your name, or finish a certain grade level, you are considered "literate." Other definitions (which are now accepted by most educators and organizations) view literacy as dynamic or relative; they assume literacy should be defined only within a certain context of functioning, which may change from one country/culture to another, or over time. Some definitions also include as part of literacy other mental skills, such as numeracy and problem solving.

The bottom line is that literacy is not a simple concept with a single, accepted meaning.

Although Blunch and Verner tend to use the UNESCO definition of literacy as a baseline, they are more inclined to use a situationally and culturally-based definition as suggested by the above brief examination of the issue.

Using such an appropriately broad and flexible definition of literacy, the two found the above-noted negative correlation between age and literacy In other words, while the average adult is more likely to be literate than the average infant (of course) the average 20-year-old is not likely to be more literate than the average 16-year-old.

This suggests to the researchers that individuals do not continue their education beyond a certain basic point because there is not sufficient economic pay-off for them to do so (coupled with the difficulty of continuing an education, especially in rural areas). However, the two rightly argue that it cannot simply be the fact that it is difficult to get an education that prevents Ghanaians from furthering their exposure to formal learning.

Education is difficult for many people to acquire. But people are also engaged in furthering their education all over the world because they find themselves without the skills (without more education) to support themselves and their families.

This is the first important finding of this research.

The second important finding is that basic literacy is in fact required to enter into the job market in Ghana for most people. This means that most people do in fact acquire at least a functional level of literacy. It should be noted that literacy and economic development levels are of course related to each other; however, this relationship (as the researchers suggest may well be the case in Ghana) may not be a dynamic one.

What this means in the case of Ghana is that most people require a basic level of literacy to get jobs. As is true of most populations, the people of Ghana have a relatively accurate idea of just how much education they need to be employable, and they acquire this level of education and then, with the requisite skills, enter the job market.

Once they are in the job market, they tend not to continue their education nor, it is suggested in the statistics gathered in this report, do their employers or the government offer incentives to get people to continue their education beyond the minimum that they need to get into the job market to begin with.

This must be seen as a problematic pattern both on the personal and on the national level. Those jobs that require basic literacy are certainly vital to a nation - farming, for example, requires knowledge and experience but not an exceptionally high degree of literacy. However, many of the jobs necessary to help improve the overall standard of living in a nation (including public-health workers, engineers, teachers, lawyers, and researchers) require a much higher degree of education.

If Ghanaians drop out of the educational system as soon as they have sufficient skills to acquire the jobs that require the lowest levels of education and do not return later to increase their education, then individuals will find themselves employed for life in relatively low-paying jobs that will not generate the wealth that families need to educate future generations, buy land or equipment, etc.

Moreover, the nation as a whole will be unable to develop certain kinds of industries and endeavors - such as genetic research or a space program - without highly skilled workers. Without the development of such high-tech sectors of the economy, workers will continue to have available to them only low-paying, low-skilled work, so they will continue to seek out only the most basic levels of education, which will further limit the economic progress of the nation, which will further limit the incentives for any individual to seek out education - exacerbating a cycle that benefits neither individuals nor the nation as a whole.

The best way to break this cycle, the researchers suggest, is to make it easier to attend schools, thus breaking this cycle at the beginning and to target educational programs at those most in need of them - the rural female poor.

Case Study Three: Betts' "Returns to Quality"

Julian Betts' study for the World Bank on how much education pays off in a purely economic sense, like the two studies by Blunch and Verner already assessed, help us to examine in a rigorous, analytical way the ways in which education is connected to both personal and national development. All three of these studies help us to go beyond the fuzzy if appealing "All education is good" standard that we might be inclined to apply to a deeper and more critical understanding of the ways in which particular modes of education can and do (or do not) benefit particular parts of the population.

Betts frames his overall question like this:

The strong and positive link between years of schooling and earnings of students once they enter the labor market is by now one of the best established facts in labor economics. A recent review of research by Psacharopolous (1994) establishes that an additional year of schooling has larger effects on earnings for workers in developing countries, and that within developing countries the returns to education decline with the level of schooling. In light of the observed returns to an extra year of schooling, the imposition of compulsory school attendance laws in both developed and developing countries during the last 100 years and the associated expenditures are widely viewed as an excellent public investment.

This is a valid, indeed even an essential question for… [END OF PREVIEW]

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