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4 The culture of the home: Society, community and gender relations

4.1 Background and context
4.2 The Culture of the home: Voices of experience

".. .it has become increasingly obvious that if they [development activities] are to be effective, they must be designed and implemented within a framework of understanding how the basic socio-economic unit - the family -functions among the poor".

Sue Ellen M. Charlton
Women in Third World Development,
Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado, 1984.

"It seems then, that it is not just the market-place, but also custom and culture which are important determinants".

Christopher Colclough
"Under-enrolment and Low quality in African Primary schooling: towards a Gender-sensitive solution".
IDS Working Paper 7, University of Sussex, 1994.

4.1 Background and context

In the second section we argued that it was possible to view culture in two ways: it is both about what people think and do (that is individually and collectively) and the means we devise to describe and evaluate those beliefs and actions.

To make any sense of the cultural context of Ghana or we would suggest any national society it is necessary to gain some understanding of, "the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterise a society or social group.. .value systems, traditions and beliefs".

This of course is easier said than done. Given that our focus, as educators is the child (though many in Ghana would suggest it was the teacher) it is perhaps appropriate to focus attention on the primary cultural group to which the child belongs: the family and then to the wider community within which that family resides. Another way of putting it might be to ask the question: how are children brought up in Laribanga, Northern Ghana or Winneba in the Central Region?

In Ghana, and in many so-called developing countries, a key to understanding traditional society is kinship (Nukunya, G.K. 1992). In this sense no child is 'born free' and then able to make his or her own way. Kinship - or more elaborately the ties of social relationship derived from consanguinity, marriage and adoption - mean that from the moment of birth a child enters a human society, he or she is governed not only by specific rules and patterns of behaviours but by sets of reciprocal duties, obligations and responsibilities. Kinship relations govern, for example, where the couple will live after marriage, how property will be transmitted, who succeeds whom and even the particular nature of the newly-born child.

The Ashanti people, perhaps the most well-known outside Ghana - believe that Man is both a biological and spiritual being, being formed from the blood of the mother and the spirit of the father. This belief lies at the core of Ashanti social organisation and as with many traditional African societies, initiates two sets of bonds, a mother-child bond and a father-child bond, which in deriving from their conception of procreation determine two subsequent sets of groupings and relationships.

Though gender might well be viewed as a somewhat politically correct bandwagon making the rounds of development fora at present; in the making of a child's relationship to its community it is a fundamental aspect of identity. Whether you are born a girl or a boy is not insignificant therefore in Ghanaian, and we would suggest most societies.

Writing about a child born and growing up in a Western or European environment is relatively straightforward - we can assume an entry into a nuclear family with attendant grandmothers, uncles, aunts and cousins and so on. Familial relationships in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, though, tend to be more complex with not only the extended family system operating in most areas but the character of that family being determined by either patrilineal or matrilineal descent systems.

The two case studies featured in this study reflect the prevalence of the two descent systems in Ghana: Winneba in the South is home to a largely Akan ethnic group and is therefore matrilineal. Tamale and Laribanga in the North comprise Gonja and Dagomba peoples in the town with Kamaras making up the ethnic population of Laribanga. All are patrilineal, though, like elsewhere, with urbanisation there has been a tendency for families to become more nuclear and for descent systems to break down.

The operation of these two systems means that in Winneba a child will have more to do with her mother's people; in Laribanga, she would be seen as closer to her father's, finding herself in a society where succession and inheritance pass from father to son and often even to her father's brothers sons rather than to her. Growing up in a matrilineal descent group means, though, that she will not belong to the same descent group as her father and may find her maternal uncle and his wife playing a more significant role in her life than her father. It has been suggested (Nukunya, op. cit.) that such situations greatly limit the father's role in terms of authority and discipline. As we shall see when looking at the schooling of girls, whether living in a patrilineal or matrilineal society, can determine the amount of responsibility a father assumes for the support of his daughter's education.

The importance of the extended family cannot be underestimated in the raising of children. Residential patterns within matrilineal societies mean that often parents do not live with their children and so many of the parental functions are performed by uncles and aunts. It has to be said, too, that many younger children are brought up by older siblings and it is not an uncommon sight in many villages to see nine and ten year old girls carrying younger sisters on their back on route to school and kindergarten.

In Tamale in the North of the country, home of Gonja and Dagomba people, it is also a recognised tradition that children spend a significant amount of time as foster children to various relatives. The practice of fostering, widespread throughout Ghana, means that for many Ghanaians their position in life is attributable not to their parents but to relations, a situation that can, as we shall see later, be fraught with uncertainty.

In Growing Up in Dagbon (1973), the Kingdom of Dagbon being the ancestral home of the Dagomba and containing the large town of Tamale, Christine Oppong paints a vivid picture of a child's life in this dusty Savannah country, echoing in many ways Margaret Mead's classic Growing up in New Guinea. It is instructive to note that of the seventy five pages of Oppong's book, seven are devoted to fostering and adoption.

She found in her sample of villages 35% of the boys and 17% of the girls were living with parent's siblings. It seems that the giving of the child to a relative depends very much on the profession and estate of the parents. It also depends on the culture to which the child belongs. Oppong and Abu's (1987) Seven roles of women: impact of education, migration and employment on Ghanaian mothers (ILO, Geneva) contrasts the practice of fostering children between the Ga, who come from Accra, and the Dagomba of the North.

Figure G - Mean longest periods spent separated from Children under 12 years

[a] (N= 54)

Age Group



Young (18-24 years)










Middle (25 - 34 years)










Older (35 - 50 years)










Entire Population



Note: The difference between the ethnic groups is statistically significant for the non-migrants but not for the migrants.

[a] In years and excluding boarding school.

Source: Oppong and Abu op. cit. p 82

As the authors say, "It is among the Dagomba in Tamale, for whom fostering continues to be a culturally sanctioned practice". As their research shows, "it is also more common among separated, divorced and polygynously married women who are less likely to disapprove of the practice" (p 81).

Figure H - Who School Children Stay with

Staying With



Fathers and mother






Father's father



Father's mother



Father's brother



Father's sister






Mother's father



Mother's mother



Mother's brother



Mother's sister












Source: Oppong and Abu op. cit. p 81

(Based on questioning 690 school children, 40 per cent, of the total at primary and middle schools, in April 1963. As there was little difference in residential patterns according to sex or age, the results have been combined).

Communities such as the Dagomba, put forward a number of reasons for fostering, particularly young girls (in fact in Dagomba culture the first daughter of a woman can be claimed by the husband's sister, sanctioned by the papapuulan ritual performed during the pregnancy). Four reasons seem to be widespread across the country: first, the social, in that it knits the family together, second, the educational, in that a more experienced mature relative is deemed better able to raise and train a child than often inexperienced parents, thirdly, the economic - by fostering children wealth is spread throughout the family (i.e. children being viewed as an economic asset rather than a burden) and lastly, the view that an in-coming child will not only help with the myriad of tasks to be performed daily around the compound but will provide company, affection and status for relatives especially those aged or childless (Oppong, 1973 op. cit. p 48). And, as we said earlier, for a working mother a young niece or nephew can act in loco parentis in the raising of his or her younger cousins.

All this might just be of anthropological interest if it were not for the fact that the coming of an encouragement of universal primary education has created a tension for many families.

Nationally the picture is similar with just over 21 % of children living with neither parent but with a relative.

Figure I - Percent of School Age Children Co-Residing with Parents by Age and Sex Household Data


Both Parents

Mother Only

Father Only

Neither Parent

6 - 11











12 - 17
















Source: 1987/88 Ghana Living Standards Survey op. cit.

A closer examination of the data reveals that of the 21% living with relatives, 45% are headed by a grandparent, 17% headed by an aunt or uncle, 21% by other relatives and 6% by older siblings.

Growing disparities in wealth and income between North and South, urban and rural, professional and non-professional homes means that existing cultural practices such as fostering are now being adapted, and some would say exploited, in the present economic climate. We shall return to this subject in our later sections dealing with the interface between culture and economic life and culture and the school.

Lawrence Stenhouse suggested that culture is not just what is but what it does; in other words how a community functions in its day to day existence.

The International Year of the Child (1979) and 1990 World Summit for Children drew attention to a more child-focused view of development. Interestingly Ghana was the first country to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, producing shortly after, a national programme of action, entitled The Child Cannot Wait (1992). Much of that programme and subsequent studies (e.g. Grieco, M. et al 1994) have given prominence to the question of child labour and its effect on school enrolment and performance.

For the past few years the Ghana Statistical Service has been conducting surveys into the living standards of its citizens. These surveys, of which there have been three to date, provide a useful, "snapshot picture of the living conditions of Ghanaian households at a key stage in the country's development process" (GLSS 3, 1995).

Such data, which is broad and largely of a quantitative kind, provides an extremely useful backdrop to the kind of in-depth case study work reported on in this report. Looking at the section headed 'Housekeeping activities' a number of interesting, if predictable, statistics emerge:

Figure J - Estimated total hours per day spent on housekeeping activities, by age and sex

Million hours per day


Fetching Wood

Fetching Water

Other Housekeeping

















3.1 -
























































Source: GLSS 3 Ghana Statistics Service, Accra, 1995

When we look at the same activities from a local perspective - in this case 'Coastal', 'Forest' and 'Savannah', we see a slightly different picture:

Figure K1 - Percentage of households engaged in different housekeeping activities in the last seven days, and average length of time household members spend per week on those activities, by locality












Fetching Wood

% of households









Average hours per week









Fetching Water

% of households









Average hours per week









Other Housekeeping activities

% of households









Average hours per week









All Housekeeping Activities

Average hours per week









Sample Size









National Estimate of total hours spent per week on all activities (Million hours)









Source: GLSS 3 Ghana Statistical Service, Accra, 1995

Contrasting our two case study sites - Winneba (Coastal) with Tamale and Laribanga (Savannah) we can see that a girl born in the North will spend ten hours more per week collecting wood, thirteen more hours fetching water, and seven hours more on general housekeeping duties.

If the average Ghanaian spends approximately 53 hours a week on housekeeping activities, and it is estimated that about one third of those activities are carried out by children under the age of 15, we can deduce that something like between 17 and 18 hours per week are spent by children on work within the home. However, as with all statistical surveys, we must be cautious of painting a too general picture. As we shall see when listening to individual life histories of women and girls, individual life journeys reveal a remarkable number of variations in what is described above.

So far we have suggested that the type of family structure a child enters i.e. matrilineal or patrilineal, the relationship between parents and relatives within the extended family and the work expected of a child within the home very much determines the cultural context of the child's life. A further factor: the cultural view of education will also not only play a significant part in the shaping of an individual's identity but will also have an impact on the subsequent Western-style schooling the child may attend.

There is a saying in Ashanti. 'Wo ba saw asa-bone a, se no se, "wo a saw nye fe", na nse no se "okra, tete gu mu"'. (When your child dances badly, tell him, saying, "your dancing is not good" and do not say to him "(Little) soul, just dance as you want to") (Rattray R. S., 1923). At home a child is expected to be respectful, charming and smiling when in the company of elders, ready to go without hesitation on the errands of adults, etc. (Sarpong, 1974). Indigenous education in Ghana puts great store on character training (Odamitten, S.K., 1995). Bishop Peter Sarpong writing in his 'Ghana in Retrospect - some aspects of Ghanaian Culture' - (op. cit.) lists six main aspects of the Ghanaian value system: godliness, respect, honour, hospitality, gratitude and a sense of national pride. Anyone who has lived in the country for any length of time will attest to the pervading influence of these values. A young child will be expected to acquire these traits of character through the setting of good examples by relatives, pet talks, wise sayings and proverbs. Obedience and humility towards elders is also regarded as a cornerstone in a young child's upbringing. In terms of content a boy or girl would learn about social and political relations within their ethnic group, the meaning and origins of cultural festivals and practice e.g. naming ceremonies, and skills useful in later life, which for boys would be fishing or farming and for girls housewifery and domestic skills related to cooking and child raising.

For the Western educator it is not so much what is taught informally within the home that is important but how that child is instructed. S.K. Odamitten (op. cit.) describes the way children learn thus:

"The method of oral instruction is used to direct the ignorant as to how to go about doing things for the first time successfully... the child is expected to listen carefully and ask only questions that call for clarification... a child who answers back or asks questions is hushed down and called a bad boy or girl. As a child or young person, he is to listen to his elders who are experienced and who know better", (p 28)

Reward and punishment play an integral part in the socialisation of the young child. Professor Odamitten goes as far to suggest that, "old ladies keep long finger nails for the exclusive purpose of scratching or pinching the errant child!" (ibid.)

The relationship between adult and child is one based on authority and respect. The adult is expected to keep his distance from the child, "keep away from childish things" (Odamitten op. cit.) and to set personal standards of behaviour in accordance with prevailing social norms. Communal rather than individual identity is to be developed coupled with the belief that, "in the indigenous Ghanaian society women have definite and specific roles to play" (ibid.).

Charles Abban writing recently in West Africa magazine (Developing Education 31/10 - 6/11, 1994) sums up the strengths and weaknesses of indigenous education practised in Ghana. For him its strengths lay in its emphasis upon relevance: all that was passed on from elder to child was of relevance to the particular culture; secondly it was less expensive than the "Western style system and thirdly it encouraged memorisation and retention of what was taught.

The weaknesses he suggests included an over emphasis upon religious values and what he calls 'unscientific thinking, the predominance of rote - learning without any literacy or numeracy, and the giving of, "instructions and ideas from the elders without questions'", something he believes has stifled the creativity of the child. In order to successfully develop the formal, Western-style education system in Ghana and elsewhere it is necessary, we would argue, for us to have a better understanding of how the child is expected to grow up in the home and in the community. Asking a young, inexperienced teacher to adopt a more child-centred approach which puts more emphasis upon play and creativity than the acquisition of knowledge is fine in theory but likely to be difficult to implement given the traditions that shape both teacher and child who have no experience of such an approach. We shall return to this question when discussing the culture of schooling in section six.

It would be wrong to suggest that cultural life in Ghana is static - a timeless phenomenon uninfluenced by change either from within cultural communities or brought from outside.

Professor G. K. Nukunya's inaugural lecture upon taking up the chair of sociology at the University of Ghana, Legon in February, 1991 was on the subject of: "Tradition and Change: the case of the family". Towards the end of his lecture he suggests that a number of major changes have affected such things as the size of domestic groups, the authority structures within such groups, relationships between kin groups and the prevalence of extended rather than nuclear family structures. Of the ten major changes he lists: it is worth giving some attention to three: the role of women in the domestic set up, the restructuring of the authority system within the family, and changing attitudes towards children; for these factors help explain much of what follows when we listen to the experiences of women teachers and girl pupils and to providing the cultural framework within which educational development operates.

Major Changes in the Ghanaian Home

1. Women as focal points in domestic life.
2. Restructuring of the authority system within the family.
3. Attitudes towards children and their treatment.
4. The move towards a more nuclear-style family.
5. Increasing conflict amongst in-laws.
6. Care of parents in their old age.
7. Reduction in the rate of polygamy.
8. Age of marriage.
9. Increasing rate of divorce.
10. Inter-ethnic and inter-racial marriages.

Source: Nukunya, G. K., 1992.

His first point concerns the increasing role, or perhaps the better word is burden, put upon the shoulders of women in domestic life. We have already mentioned the fact that women and girls already carry a disproportionate share of domestic duties, what Nukunya suggests is that, "while mothers generally hold tenaciously to their children like limpets even when the position becomes hopeless, men always seek safety in flight with the onset of the slightest trouble" (op. cit. p 20). This observation, which may have more resonance with the matrilineal Akan cultural groups where women traditionally take more responsibility for childbearing, is echoed by the Ghana Living Standards Survey which shows that increasing urbanisation has led to an increase in the number of female-headed households (the overall annual population growth being given at 2.6% with 3.2% growth rates for urban areas and 2.2% for rural areas; 30% of households in rural areas being headed by women with the figure rising to 42% in Accra and 36% in other urban areas - interestingly a survey conducted by Ardayfio-Schandorf suggests that of the 304 women interviewed 51.6% were heads of households, a much higher figure than that given in the national census (1984, 31.9%) or that given in the GLSS. Source: Ardayfio-Schandorf, ed. 1994 (op. cit.).

She, like Nukunya, suggests increased urbanisation is a cause but adds that increasing out-migration of educated men from rural to urban parts in search of work and farmers migrating to other rural areas in order to undertake cash crop farming has resulted in a situation where more women - and we would suggest younger female offspring too -are being left behind with the children to assume the responsibility for expenditure, income and important decision-making (Ardayfio-Schandorf, op. cit). Such a situation has important implications for sending and supporting children, particularly girls, in school.

Professor Nukunya's second change related to the restructuring of the authority system within the family. Referring to Margaret Mead's study of the Generation Gap (1977 p 17) in which she suggested that the socialisation process can be divided into three types: post-figurative - in which children learn from their parents and elders; co-figurative - in which children learn from their peers; and pre-figurative - in which the roles associated with post-figurative are completely reversed i.e. in which parents learn from their children, he suggests that change from the first type of relationship to a second and more dramatically to the third has serious consequences for the maintenance of traditional authority and discipline. This situation has been brought about by the rapid spread of Western-style schooling, which has seen the emergence of a generation of literate children returning to homes in which a majority of elder relatives may well be both illiterate and innumerate. As we shall see when examining children's experiences of school much misunderstanding and hostility can arise when school pupils act as 'go-betweens' in the school-community relationship.

The relationship between a parent's level of education and his or her child's is an interesting one. Peil (1995) in her study of a suburb of Accra reports that in spite of the problems suggested above parents are still willing to provide their children with a higher level of education than they themselves enjoyed. She also reveals that parents regard academic studies as more valuable than vocational even if they themselves successfully experienced the latter and occur at a time now when the former type of schooling does not necessarily lead to employment.

Nukunya's third point relates to changing attitudes towards children and their treatment. He argues that Western-style schooling has undermined and reduced the economic value of children resulting in a state of affairs in which it is no longer prestigious to have a large number of children. He suggests that, though parents still love children as in the past, schooling has placed an economic burden upon parents. This issue is one that runs constantly through the experiences of women teachers remembering their childhood and present-day youngsters reflecting on their struggle to remain in school.

The lot of the African child is not an easy one: born and brought up in a complex environment framed by gender and descent the young boy or girl will be nurtured by many relatives and friends. He or she will be expected to support the family compound by collecting wood, drawing water and 'brushing' and cleaning the environment where he or she lives. The child will also be caring for other younger children and will through an informal type of indigenous education be taught the traditional values of godliness, respect for authority and hierarchy, and an understanding that knowledge is to be gratefully received but not questioned.

The young child will be growing up in a world characterised too by change and uncertainty, with many of the traditional cultural benchmarks threatened by such forces of urbanisation, family break-up and the power of Western schooling itself.

4.2 The Culture of the home: Voices of experience

4.2.1 Life within the family: Growing up in Ghana
4.2.2 Experiences of gender relations within the family
4.2.3 Traditional views of the value of schooling and support given to children
4.2.4 Religious and 'cultural' issues in relation to family life
4.2.5 The changing family: Domestic break up and the impact of western-style schooling

The cultural factors described so far are echoed in the testaments of the women teachers and girls in and out of school. An analysis of the interviews conducted reveals the following major areas of importance to them: life within the family, their experiences of gender, particularly whilst growing up, attitudes towards schooling, more general religious and cultural issues, and major changes occurring in family life and the negative impact of authority patterns within the family.

4.2.1 Life within the family: Growing up in Ghana

Camara Laye's evocative autobiographical novel of growing up in a small West African village - The African Child - paints a nostalgic picture of a young boy nurtured in the bosom of extended family and close knit traditional community.

Talking with women teachers and girls of school-going age in Ghana reveals a much changed picture: poverty, early death of relatives, economic hardship and the struggle of the child not only to survive but to make something of life.

GB, a young teacher from Winneba, speaks for many when she describes her family life, and the death of her mother when she was twelve years old.

GB: "My father was working at the housing corporation and my mother was trading in foodstuffs so for our food it was no problem but it was after her death when we stayed with our auntie, she maltreated us and that was what made our lives tougher and tougher. All the same we lived... alone and came to Winneba.

After my mother's death my Auntie went for my sisters. She brought four of us and my father's wife took care of the other three. They were at Accra. Life was difficult...

The difficulty was that my dad wasn't around. He left for Nigeria (this would be in the early 1980's) and used to come at two or three year intervals. At the time the food we ate was a problem. We starved sometimes. Because of the hardships I couldn't do well in my G.C.E. 'O' level examinations ".

HE, another Winneba teacher, recalls life fostered by an elder sister who played the traditional role of 'auntie'. CM, a teacher from Pomadze village, near Winneba, when asked about pupils dropping out of her class remembered.

CM: "There was one boy who was dropping out but I didn't like the idea so I informed the headmaster and found out that the boy was living with an auntie -the mother is away from here in Abidjan and the auntie is also not willing to pay the school fees - he stays home sometimes and goes to the junction sometimes to sell".

The economic burden of fostering a young child created an additional difficulty for the youngster . H B, a headteacher from Esseukyr:

HB: "Some parents give their children to their relatives who stay. And if they are not able to bring some money to support their people, the child's stay becomes a burden to the person in the community. For a short time the child may stop coming to school because he or she would have to go to where the mother is or where the father is".

As we shall see later the breaking down of the traditional family and the increasing tendency of fostering, particularly in the South has had an impact on the quantity and quality of a child's school experiences.

Fostering within the extended family is not solely practised for economic reasons. The Moshe people of Ghana's northern region hold the view, expressed in the South too, that it is "good" for the child to be separated from her natural parents:

Did you go to stay with any of your aunts?

ZA: No, my mother didn't like that though my aunt would have liked it. She wanted me to stay with her but my mother wept till I was brought back to her.

Do you remember staying with your Aunt?

ZA: Yes, for a few days.

Do the Moshies send their children to other relations?

ZA: Yes, they do.

I am wondering if that wouldn't make it difficult for girls to go to school?

ZA: The reasons for sending children out is to get the girls well trained for the future. There is a belief that children trained by their mothers are usually spoilt.

Do the aunts usually want the girls to do more work instead of going to school?

ZA: Yes. They do more work than school. The unfortunate thing is that neither of your parents can complain.

Why can't the father complain?

ZA: It is a social compromise to keep the relationship going and not hurt his sister.

Listening to these accounts of growing up in an aunt's house summons up an image of Cinderella. ZA, the drop out from Tamale comes straight to the point:

ZA: "I used to go to school regularly till I got to form one (the old middle school first year, now JSS). Where I used to absent myself from school. I used to go about twice a week. I was staying with my uncle's wife. So when all the children and she is leaving for work, she tells me to stop school and take care of the house. My aunt told my uncle to let me stop going to school and take care of the children in the house. So I stopped when I was inform one middle school".

If for many living with an aunt was not a happy experience, for a few it was better. RA and JB, both teachers from Winneba have fond memories of their aunts:

RA: "I stayed with my Aunt and I was very happy with them because they didn't make me feel like an outsider... I grew up in a happy atmosphere".

JB: "I had a literate aunt, Professor Jackson's mother who came and told my mother that I shouldn't go into fishing and that she should send me to school".

Many young teachers recall being cared for by their grandparents. AD of Winneba:

AD: "My grandfather was a 'half-half i.e. he learnt from the Mass Education Programme and was able to read and write. So he normally taught us anything he felt like teaching. He would ask us what we learnt at school. We would tell him our opinion and he would also give us some work especially maths and reading... we were about nine but my real mother did not get money in the initial stages since my grandmother was trading so she was the sole caretaker of myself and my siblings".

Mr M-R, an elder of Esseukyr, a poor rural community outside Winneba believes that inadequate fostering is a major issue in his village.

M-R: "Most of them live elsewhere and leave their children with their grandparents to take care of them. They hardly return to remit fees for school or find out what is happening. Without money the grandparents also can do nothing".

But whether fostered or brought up by parents, children in Ghana are never lonely: many young teachers came from large families and many recounted tales of infant mortality and sickness within the family.

GB: "Well a boy was before the twins. He got to the age of five and died. Later after the twins she gave birth to triplets who were all boys but fell sick and died. Later the babies died after a month".

DM, a teacher from Winneba is one of ten children, her mother losing four. While a young pupil of Pomadze school she described her family.

DM: " We are thirteen in number. My daddy is married to four women ".

A M-T: "Mother had nine children but the ninth one went with her. Five of us survived but four died".

If families are large they are also the places where the child works, with girls often caring for the needs of brothers and younger siblings. AI, a drop-out from Laribanga spent most of her time as a seven year old.

AI: "Fetching water, cleaning dishes and cooking, and roasting gari".

All the teachers and children interviewed talked of sweeping the compound before and after school, fetching water and washing cooking utensils. EA, a parent from Gyahadze points out the important reciprocal relationship between parent and child.

EA: "She will by all means look after her siblings. We, the parents, will expect her to reciprocate the love we had for her by looking after the young siblings, to come to the same level as she".

A child is, therefore, not simply an individual growing up as one of many. He or she, depending on age and where placed in the line of siblings will be expected to work and to take early responsibility for younger brothers and sisters. We would suggest that recognition of these relationships by development agencies could make aid more effective.

A child is also expected to acquire acceptable social values. RA, a teacher from Winneba describes her father.

RA: "Apart from educating me to take my studies seriously he always advised me to love all those who came my way. In other words he advised me to be social, loving and obedient".

Talking with women teachers, who have by definition been successful at school, and with drop-outs who have not, it is possible to see the emergence of a wealthier class of family who in supporting each other prosper. SF, a teacher from Winneba:

SF: "My mummy learnt hairdressing and she didn't like it so settled for business. My daddy is an agent for a company in Nottingham. They supply machines ".

Another teacher from the same town, LA, describes her three brothers:

LA: "The first born is at the Institute of languages, the second is an extension officer at Winneba here and the third is at the University College of Education, Winneba ".

In contrast, MA, a drop-out from Pomadze just up the road but more rural and poorer, has no-one in the immediate family benefitting from schooling:

MA: "My elder sister sells cooked rice at the market, the second and third are farmers and I'm the last...

None of them went to school. I was the first. Anyway the third one went up to class three and dropped out".

The widening gap between rich and poor, as we shall see in the next section, is creating a situation where fostering is likely to be the only solution to parents attempting to make a living and at the same time educate a large number of young children.

A major purpose of our research was to see whether living and being schooled in the largely Islamic North was significantly different to the Christian, matrilineal south. We also wanted to see whether the urban-rural divide was important.

A perception amongst many teachers interviewed was that support for schooling was generally stronger in the South and more so in urban than rural settings. Villages were also viewed as places where town-dwellers could acquire girls to help in the home. JB, headteacher, Gyahadze:

JB: "Sometimes people go to the villages to look for girls to be maids and promise to allow them to continue [school] but don't' when they take them away".

The gender divide in terms of clearly defined roles was also seen as a rural, more Northern phenomena. SA, a parent from Tamale, believes:

SA: "Those of us in towns help our wives more and are more responsible".

Talking with children in both Winneba in the South and Laribanga in the North brought out the different levels of career choice and subsequent levels of economic property.

Whereas almost all the pupils' parents in the Northern village were farmers, focus group discussions among class five children in Winneba revealed parents who were traders, accountants, a pensioned soldier, a postal worker, and two who were farmers. If the towns of Tamale and Winneba were relatively richer economically they were not necessarily more attractive places to live. SF, a young teacher at the District council school, described her first impressions of the coastal town where she was about to begin her teaching career:

Children's career choices at a Winneba school

Whereas almost all the pupils' parents in the Northern village were farmers, focus group discussions among class five children in Winneba revealed parents who were traders, accountants, a pensioned soldier, a postal worker, and two who were farmers. If the towns of Tamale and Winneba were relatively richer economically they were not necessarily more attractive places to live. SF, a young teacher at the District council school, described her first impressions of the coastal town where she was about to begin her teaching career:

SF: "I realised that the environment was too dirty especially the market: especially during the rainy season it is terrible - you see lots of flies and filled gutters with 'spirogyras' in them... and the way they treat the food items, they don't cover them".

4.2.2 Experiences of gender relations within the family

Three issues emerged as significant when women and girls (and sometimes men) talked about the place of females in the home and community, namely traditional and still widely-held attitudes concerning what girls and women could and could not do, the expectations of girls vis-à-vis those of boys; and the importance for girls of successful women as role models.

Traditional attitudes towards gender are perhaps well summed up by an elder of Winneba, RB, who is talking here about different attitudes to bringing up girls and boys:

RB: ". ..when mothers are attached more to the female children they try to have special love for these children and eventually whenever a daughter goes wrong, instead of the mother to stamp out any bad habit in that particular child, she will condone with the problem. This also contributes to the daughter being proud of things whereas a boy may be very serious in going to school though a girl may feel reluctant because she feels the mother is behind her. So the women contribute to the drop-out of girls especially in the primary stage.

If you look at society you see they are willing to do everything for that child, so it enters her head that she can take the chance of doing anything. When a teacher wants to chastise her for doing a wrong it becomes difficult for the girl to accept the wrong-doing. As for boys people think every boy is bad but to some extent we are not pampered by our mothers so we try to continue with our education as far as our efforts can carry us...if a child doesn't go to school a father contributes by inquiring why a particular child didn't go to school but in most cases in the Ghanaian society, when the child does anything wrong we try to attribute it to the mother. This is because of the feeling that the mother cares for the children while the father cares for the whole household".

There is therefore a view that, to quote a parent in Gydadze:

"girls are not like boys".

And accordingly should be treated differently. Interestingly the belief that girls are intrinsically good - "sugar and spice and all things nice", is echoed by another teacher, CM, who talks here about why parents prefer daughters to go trading:

CM: "Well trading itself goes with the girls and the parents also think that the boys could misuse the money after doing their selling but the girls wouldn't. They will bring everything home".

If obedience and trustworthiness are important then so is the view that a girl, pampered by her mother, is easily "spoiled".

This view seems stronger amongst northern, Muslim people interviewed. SA of Tamale:

SA: "Some of the girls are hardworking especially in the early stages but later the young men spoil them ".

A particularly contentious issue at present in Ghana is the problem of schoolgirl pregnancy. The issue also reveals a lot about traditional and changing attitudes to women. In Ghana's Daily Mirror, June 22nd a feature article on the subject asked a cross-section of opinion leaders: "Pregnant schoolgirls: what should we do with them?"

Suggestions ranged from 'rehabilitating' the girls by providing vocational schooling for them once they had left school to have the child to taking a stronger line with the men responsible for impregnating the girl.

Listening to a number of respondents there is still a belief that if a girl or woman improves her appearance she is increasing her likelihood of being involved in immoral acts.

The headteacher of Gyahadze school, JB described one girl of thirteen or fourteen years.

JB: "Her parent has left her alone here. She was given a new pair of shoes and a bag and she looked very attractive going to school. She became pregnant because her neat appearance attracted men to her".

As we shall see in the next chapter it is poverty however rather than riches that leads many girls into early pregnancy.

When discussing the education of girls it is revealing to discover the cultural expectations of what a girl or woman can or cannot do.

Many of the women teachers, when talking about career choices after completing secondary school reveal low societal expectations. For AA, a Northern headteacher, such attitudes were common in her early life:

AA: "At school all I can remember is that I used to compete with boys in class and used to be beaten for this".

Later she found further obstacles in her path:

AA: "I have always loved being a teacher and I was to go for further studies relating to my profession at Winneba but my husband wasn't in favour of that".

When asked if she will continue to try and further her studies (she is now in her early 50's) she said, somewhat sadly:

AA: "I will love to further my studies if I get the chance. The problem is that my husband never gives me a chance but I think I can now go since I don't give birth anymore".

One woman who defied her husband paid a high price. CM, now teaching at a small primary school outside Winneba described her husband's reaction to her decision to train as a teacher:

CM: "Before I went to the training college he didn't like the idea. He would rather I traded but I insisted on going, so when I came he had married another woman and left me and the children ".

A common expectation amongst parents is for successful girls to enter the teacher training college and for boys to try for the senior secondary school (and then University).

RA a teacher remembers:

RA: "When I wanted to enter secondary school a relative of mine came to give very bad advice that it wasn't good for girls to go into secondary school and that in case I got pregnant, I may have to stop ".

MA, another Winneba teacher, shows the resourcefulness of many a female teacher interviewed:

MA: "Right from the word go, especially after leaving middle school teaching was the profession I was interested in so when my uncle said I should go to commercial school I couldn't refuse. But inwardly I didn't have the interest so I left secretly".

She in fact entered teachers' training college and is now a successful and resourceful primary school teacher.

The importance to girls and young women of successful women as role models emerged as the third issue of importance when discussing gender relations within the family.

DV a Laribanga teacher, clearly remembers a visit to Accra when aged nine or ten:

DV: "When my dad was admitted at Accra hospital I went to visit him and saw ladies well dressed with badges. So I told my dad that I will also like to be like those ladies. He told me then I would need to study hard and go high. I promised to study hard".

The vagaries of African politics then intervenes:

DV: "However, I couldn't go to secondary school or up to university level because Dad was with Kwame Nkrumah's government, and when the coup d'état came he went outside the country so my stepmother had to take care of us and I was advised to write entrance exam for training college, which I did".

A number of primary school girls in focus group discussions talked of wanting to be 'a lady': to be able to drive a car, dress well, and as one said:

"a lady is a girl who has attended school up to a good stage and is doing government not farming" (Catholic girls school, Winneba class six focus group).

MA of Winneba puts it well when she relates an incident from her childhood:

MA: "What motivated me most were two girls (older than us) in the same village and who were attending school at Beyin - about five miles away from our village where there was no school. I liked the way they dressed up, carrying their books, and going up and down each day and the way they behaved in the community. There was a local newspaper (printed in the local language, Nzema) called "Kakyevole" which carried some short stories and when we were together those girls would read the stories to us. I then had the interest that one day I would also be able to read to my younger brothers and sisters".

4.2.3 Traditional views of the value of schooling and support given to children

Chief: "I think this is the work of God. Girls who are serious make it. The lazy end by getting 'spoilt' by young men". (Chief of village of Laribanga)

CA: "My uncle didn't see the good in educating a female, he preferred to get me married". (CA, teacher from Tamale)

Two opinions that reflect core values, particularly in the north of Ghana. Time and again we were told by administrators and senior teachers that many traditional people in the rural north did not really value sending girls to school. It would be wrong, however, to suggest that there are not countervailing forces - a number of teachers talked of a particular relative or respected friend who interceded on their behalf and persuaded a parent or uncle to change his mind and support their schooling.

PK, of Tamale believed her immediate relatives considered schooling for her of no use:

PK: "One of my uncles even came to ask my father to withdraw me because it was no use but my father encouraged me. He kept telling me to work hard and not disappoint him ".

DA, a headteacher of Winneba reveals another attitude when asked whether schooling helps a young woman gain a good marriage:

DA: "In some areas it helps them, in certain areas it doesn't because some men do not like to have one who are at par with them. If I want to marry I must marry somebody who is a little below me (for instance) if I am a graduate I may not like to marry a graduate because at times she may not take you to be head of the house".

The Chief of Choggu in Tamale suggested a change in attitudes:

Chief: "We didn't encourage female education. Women and females were never thought of as people who would ever be leaders or decision-makers. They were regarded as people of lesser abilities but now we have seen that women too could be of help to their communities through everyone now tries to send everyone to school irrespective of sex".

He, like the young teachers mentioned earlier, noted the importance of women now being seen to play roles traditionally reserved for men.

In the constructing of the life history interviews a point was made to try and encourage interviewees to talk about support they did or did not receive at important times of their life such as primary schooling and at key decision-making moments, such as when deciding a future after the period of compulsory schooling.

Reviewing the testimonies from both case studies, North and South, the key factor appears to be paternal support, particularly during the early years at school. For almost every child spoken to, support from the mother or an aunt was taken as read, it was the support or withholding of assistance from the father that appeared to be a crucial factor.

The interview with G, a teacher in Laribanga (the only female teacher in the village) was typical:

Would you say your father and mother supported you when you were in school?

G: Yes, my mother did a lot but my father didn't do anything.

Do you think your mother sacrificed to get you in school? What are the things your mother did for you when you were in school?

G: She paid my school fees, sewed my school uniforms and provided my needs.

When paternal support was offered it was clearly remembered:

TY: "My father was particular about our education and as an incentive, we had tea and eggs ". (TY, teacher, Choggu)

JA, a drop out from Tamale, believes lack of paternal support was largely to blame for her own misfortune:

JA: "One of our brothers has even stopped going to school because our father's attitude towards education ".

The use of the word 'even' also says a great deal about the position of daughters within the family.

Unlike JA, many if not all of the successful women teachers give credit to the support shown to them by one or both parents, a large number singling out the important role of the mother in paying fees, providing uniforms, and generally encouraging them. Targeting aid towards the mother or aunt within the family may well be a productive way to support girls through school.

Not all fathers were cast in a poor light. SA from Tamale, whose daughter became pregnant, speaking in Gonja with a local researcher, had the following interchange:

"The Gonjas say that if you deliver a snake as your child you don't throw the snake away. You tie it around your neck. I think we should rather be more patient with them [girls in school] and help them. What do you say about this instead of leaving them to their fate?"

SA: "I was really sad that she got pregnant. I have always had it in mind to do as much as I could to help her even if it means selling some of my properties. I intended buying her a sewing machine if she was not academically good, but she really disappointed. Now I am worried about the younger ones. I will continue to advise them. I suffered in life but the children do not appreciate what I am doing and that is why they say their mother is more supportive. That looks true because traditionally, the man finds the grain and the woman is in charge of processing it into edible food".

The strength of support offered by a mother is often related to the lack of educational opportunities experienced by her. A number of women teachers echoed the words of VC, a teacher from Essuekyr:

VC: "My mother didn't attend school but she was serious that all her children should have education ".

Lack of support from either parent is most noticeable, not surprisingly, from those who have dropped out of school. Many of the girls now selling oranges or iced water at road junctions talked of the death or sickness of a parent, divorce and subsequent fostering, often by grandparents and the lack of support given by relatives towards their schooling.

AH, one of four drop-out girls interviewed in Laribanga presented the stark facts of her situation and many like her:

Did you really not like school?

AH: No.

Were your school fees being paid?

AH: No.

Did you get any help from your parents?

AH: No.

4.2.4 Religious and 'cultural' issues in relation to family life

Conducting the two case studies in two parts of the country known for their distinctive religious and ethnic character made it possible to assess to some extent the impact of religious and so-called 'cultural' life on the growing up of the Ghanaian school child.

Two major issues emerged: first that many thought that it is the cultural rather than specifically religious factors that determine parents' support of education in the North and secondly, the issue of early marriage, particularly in the North, was cited by many as important in considering ways to improve the lot of the girl child.

The question of culture or religion is an interesting one, a number of respondents suggesting that practices such as early marriage of young women and a hesitation to send girls to school are cultural rather than specifically Islamic factors.

AA, a young female teacher from Tamale suggested that many who oppose female education do so for religious reasons but that:

AA: "People misinterpret religion. They say that if a girl is educated she won't get a husband".

Another teacher, a headteacher from Tamale, ZA, told us that because most Muslims in Tamale are converts to Islam there is little support for denying girls an education. The suggestion is that it is traditional rural cultural values that are standing in the way of promoting female education. A number of times during conversations with male elders in the rural village of Laribanga we were told that a woman was more respected when married and that Western-style education 'spoilt' a young girl. It is interesting too, that in the case of Laribanga, the district education authorities have not responded to the community's request for an Arabic teacher to be posted to the school. Listening to the legitimate request of community leaders for such provision is one way of signalling to parents the cultural relevance of Western-style school to their families.

The question of early marriage is a serious albeit complex issue. AA, a headteacher from Tamale told us that:

AA: "It's a belief among the societies in the north of Ghana that a girl should marry as a virgin and so they tend to feel that if you pursue education for too long you will lose your virginity on the way ".

Another headteacher from the same part of Tamale, IB, added:

IB: "Despite modernity, there is less attention for girls in school. Many Moslems still want to get their daughters married early. I remember in 1976 when I was in Sakasaka Junior Secondary school, two girls were removed from my class -form 2 - and forcibly wedded. I tried to explain to the parents but it didn't help".

Girls themselves are only too aware of the issue. Three Junior Secondary school girls from Laribanga:

Are they forced or do they marry willingly?
They are forced.
Who forces them?
Their fathers and mothers. (JSS Focus Group, Laribanga)

An elder man from Tamale expressed what we are sure is a widely held belief:

Elder: "It depends very much on the girls. Most of them are found following men and paying little attention to school. In that case it is better the girl marries instead of letting her spoil the more ".

As we shall see when looking at the late age many girls are going through school, a dilemma does arise when a parent is supporting a sixteen or seventeen year old girl through the last few years of the nine-year basic education cycle. Amongst other things it raises the question of how much compulsory schooling a girl or perhaps at that age, young woman should receive when - a) the schooling is still so poor and b) she and her parents might well be better served by her pursuing more appropriate social and economic activities.

Before leaving the questions of socio-cultural and religious factors it may be worth saying something about specific initiation ceremonies and rites that are still practised in Ghana.

Though only raised during three of the eighty-nine interviews (and interestingly not mentioned at all during the pupil focus group interviews) there is some evidence to suggest that forcible marriage of pubescent girls to fetish priests is still to be found.

Two teachers - VN and DA from Winneba - made reference to teenage girls becoming "possessed" by spirits and removed from school and given up for training as a priestess. A refuge for girls who have runaway from "trokosi" priests has also been established outside Accra and it would appear that some parents eager for money, are willing to "sell" a daughter to such a priest.

4.2.5 The changing family: Domestic break up and the impact of western-style schooling

For many visiting Ghana it is a surprise to learn of the difficulties facing many families in a country renowned for its rapid socio-economic change. Though statistics, particularly the valuable Ghana Living Standards Survey, provide an idea of the stresses and strains facing many people in this part of the world, facts and figures are brought to life when listening to young women teachers and groups of school girls relate the difficulties they have experienced.

A nine year old girl, MN, now dropped out of school in Winneba recounted what had happened to her since her parents divorced two years previously:

MN: "He has divorced my mother and married another".

Mother and daughter are now unhappily living together though MN suffered badly on one occasion:

MN: "Please, I have not offended her. She even went for the police who took me away and beat me up ".

...I stand under the mango tree over there and return after she has stopped quarrelling".

If parents divorce and children are fostered by aunts or grandparents many end up:

"Transferring unofficially from one school to another, so in effect hey have stopped going to a particular school". (F.G. p 6 girls, Winneba)

The late payment of fees often results from a child travelling to and from the guardian's home to where a parent resides:

"Some girls are good but their parents toss them up and down between them, then when she [the girl] needs money the mother tells her to go to the beach to look for fish so they can cook with it..." (F.G. p 6 girls, Winneba)

MA, a thirteen year old drop out was located selling oranges at a busy road junction outside Pomadze - Asebu where she lived with her ailing grandparents. At Easter in her fifth year, she had been asked for C800 (about 40p at that time) to pay for an examination fee. Unable to pay she had removed herself from school and had taken up selling fruit to support herself and her grandparents. She had lost track of her divorced parents and regrettably had become pregnant by a local apprentice who had deserted her. Crying and upset she told us:

MA: "Yes I blame my father and my mother for being in this situation. I am sad because I am drop out and going through all these problems at such a tender age"*

* MA gave birth to a healthy baby boy seven months later.

A young girl had been forced out of school for less than the cost of a bottle of beer. Returning to Accra to consider her situation and others like her it was brought home to us how many children can so easily find themselves at risk and in danger of succumbing to circumstances not of their choosing.

Professor G. K. Nukunya suggested that a major effect of Western-style schooling has been an undermining of traditional authority structures within the extended family.

An elder from Laribanga put it this way:

Elder: "A taste of schooling makes them rebels. If she gets to a higher class and especially if she is a bit grown she refuses to farm and will prefer loitering about especially if it is not her wish to leave school because her schooling cannot be catered for".

The question of 'disrespect' and 'stubbornness' was raised a number of times by headteachers and parents.

MM, the headteacher of Laribanga considered:

MM: "most people think the children of today feel they are intelligent and want to go their own way"'.

A number of girls in conversation spoke of their peers refusing to eat traditional food prepared by relatives, others being:

"stubborn and disobedient so when thy talk about their needs to parents they refuse to give them their requests ". (Focus group, P6 Class Winneba)

Another girl sums up the problem well:

"Some parents feel that wisdom is acquired from school, so when the girls are insolent at home the parents tell them to stop schooling because they cannot pay money only for the girl to be insolent to them". (Focus group, P6 Class Winneba)

Though most parents spoken with appeared happy with the progress being made by their children at school, it is apparent that a tension does exist between the culture of Western-style schooling and the traditional values of the home and village community.

Educating a girl to acquire a second language, the ability to add and subtract, the ability to make decisions and to think for herself and to aspire to a career rather than solely early marriage and the raising of children has implications for the development of the education system, particularly if parents are still being asked to make an economic sacrifice to sustain a child in school.

The greatest tension that exists however is economic - keeping a child in nine years of schooling let alone more is an economic burden that is difficult to bear. Poverty is however, far from being a God-given state beyond the control of those who determine national affairs.

To gain a fuller understanding of why it is difficult to improve the quality of primary education for a vast majority of children in developing countries such as Ghana it is necessary to examine the relationship between culture and economics and its impact on education and development.