In recent years, there have been dramatic improvements in access to basic education in Savelugu-Nanton, Ghana, particularly at primary level. Nonetheless, enrolment remains comparatively low, partly for well understood reasons of educational supply, affordability of schooling and household livelihoods. Cultural factors are also important and notable among these are the Dagomba practices of child fostering. Fosterage is an important cultural institution which serves to strengthen kinship solidarity among a range of other functions including meeting needs for child labour. Its effects on education are ambiguous. This study examines fostering as a possible contributor to the low levels of educational access and progress in the district using secondary data and interviews with key informants and fostercarers. It finds that the reasons given for fosterage are similar to those cited by scholars in the 1970s, excepting its apparently reduced role in the indigenous education system. A high cultural value is placed on the role of fosterage in promoting kinship solidarity and kinship obligations and rites are considered the primary motives for fostering. At the same time, attitudes towards schooling are largely positive and indirect costs are found to be the principal barrier to enrolment. The effects of fosterage on schooling depend somewhat on the circumstances of the sending and receiving homes, the reason for fostering children between them and the extent to which the two homes cooperate to provide for access to education.
Nonetheless, fostered children do typically experience lower levels of access to meaningful education. This is partly because they tend to live in areas and attend schools where meaningful access is lower, but the individual ‘Cinderella effect’ of fosterage is found to be palpable, especially for girls, so that being fostered, even to a more economically advantaged households does not typically benefit the foster child educationally and on balance is associated with a worsening of their educational access. Fostered children on average enrol in school less often, drop out more often and achieve less in school, especially when compared to biological children in the same home rather than to children in homes which host no foster children.
The increased availability and importance of public schooling has, arguably, emphasised some of the negative effects of fosterage, perhaps most significantly because of a potential conflict between the ‘reciprocal’ nature of the fosterage relationship and the requirements of schooling, especially the costs.
Rolleston, C. Fosterage and Access to Schooling in Savelugu-Nanton, Ghana. In: CREATE Pathways to Access Series, Research Monograph Number 59. (2011) 1-66. ISBN 0-901881-71-6