Issues in Educational Research, 3(1), 1993, 47-55.

Comparative analysis of the traditional and the integrated curricula in Ghanaian secondary schools

Ruby S. Avotri
School of Education
Murdoch University

In past decades there has been much debate about the inadequacy of traditional British education for Ghanaian society. As a result, a new educational system based on the integrated curriculum and the inquiry approach to teaching and learning was introduced in 1987. It also emphasised the development of affective objectives. It was anticipated that students in the new curriculum would have more positive attitudes to society and the environment. This paper reports on the analysis of data collected from secondary school students who had been educated through either the traditional or the new curriculum. It describes the differences observed between the two groups and examines the possible reasons for the findings.


A major purpose of education, according to Dewey (1916), is to socialise the child into society. This socialisation process transmits cultural values by teaching children to conform to the norms, values and practices of society. Socialisation can take place through formal or informal education. The type and direction of the socialisation process, however, depends on the philosophy, political structures and culture of the society. Although several social institutions, such as the home, the church, and the mass media, engage in this socialisation process at various levels, formal systematic education is provided only by the school system.

Formal education was introduced into Ghana in the 16th century by the European merchants, followed by the Christian missionaries (Ghana Information Services Department, 1974). The education system, ideas and practices were similar to traditional British education. Learning was defined by the teaching and mastery of specific subjects. The aim of education was to train clerks for administration and for commercial activities and to christianise the people (McWilliam, 1967). Formal education, therefore, inculcated in children foreign ideologies, culture and values, while traditional informal education in Ghana was denigrated as being primitive and evil.

Functionalists regard social institutions and practices in terms of their contribution to the development and survival of the society. Schools, therefore, are seen as an integral, functioning part of the society, essential mechanisms vital to the continuation and survival of the society as a whole. Formal education, they emphasise, is therefore a transition process of structural alteration in the direction of modernity (Feinberg and Soltis, 1985). It is supposed to transform a society from "preliterate to contemporary nationhood" (Lesourd, 1986, p.108) by changing "older, dysfunctional habits, attitudes and loyalties to newer, more functional ones" (Fienberg and Soltis, 1985, p.17)

However, the sort of transformation that took place in Ghana could not help the country revolutionise and modernise the economy to meet the demands of the growing society, because the education system did not emphasise the teaching of life skills in the curriculum. Ghana, an agricultural country exporting raw materials and importing most of her manufactured goods, was still in the process of developing her socio-economic base after centuries of colonisation. Ghana therefore needed skilled and semi-skilled intermediate level manpower in particular for the industrial sector. The education system did not enhance socio-economic development. Rather, it trained people only for white collar jobs, people who were strong "devotees of formal schooling that had a strong academic emphasis" (Lesourd, 1986, p.108). It trained people who could not be employed, while there were jobs for which no one was being trained (Ministry of Education, 1990). The traditional British education was therefore found to be ineffective and inadequate to the needs and aspirations of Ghanaian society.

Educational Reform in Ghana

When Ghana attained self-rule in 1951, a Five-Year Development Plan aimed at developing the socio-economic base of the country was initiated. Ghanaian educational goals were redefined and an Accelerated Development Plan of Education, which made primary education free and compulsory to all Ghanaian children, was initiated (McWilliam, 1967). However, it made no significant changes to the curriculum inherited from the British colonialists. Subsequent attempts made to improve or change the education system and make it meaningful to Ghanaian society, such as the Continuation Schools Programme, similarly failed - partly due to poor planning and implementation.

A new system of education, which shifted from the British subject-centred curriculum to an integrated curriculum, was introduced, first on an experimental basis in 1976 and nationwide in 1987. The old one is being gradually phased out. The new system emphasised an inquiry approach to teaching and learning. It also emphasised the attainment of affective objectives, and the development of vocational and creative skills, as well as the attainment of cognitive objectives. Subjects such as social studies, cultural studies, life skills and vocational subjects were introduced. It was anticipated that social studies, for example, would facilitate the development of more positive attitudes towards society and the environment among students (Ghana Education Service, 1987).

Objectives of the study

The aim of this paper is to report the preliminary findings of a study which set out to find out the extent to which the objectives of the new curriculum were being realised. Specifically, the study was intended to find out how effective the new social studies curriculum and inquiry teaching and learning had been in developing positive attitudes to society and the environment in students educated in the integrated curriculum, as compared to those in the old curriculum during the period of overlap. Bloom (1976), among others, asserts that the quality of instruction and a student's learning history largely determine variations in learning outcomes. If this hypothesis is valid, one also would expect that students studying social studies in the new integrated curriculum through inquiry learning would have more positive attitudes to society and the environment than students in the old, traditional curriculum where separate social science subjects are taught. Also, those in the fourth year of secondary school would be expected to have more positive attitudes than the students in their second year. Essentially, it was anticipated that the results of the study would provide insight into the extent to which the above objectives are being realised.


Sampling. The target population was students in secondary schools in Ghana who study social studies or social science subjects. These students were studying either the traditional (old) or the integrated (new) curriculum. Two groups of students were randomly sampled for the study. Group 1 was made up of Form 2 and Form 4 students studying the old curriculum, while Group 2 comprised Form 2 and Form 4 students studying the new curriculum. However, the Form 4 students in the new programme had already completed three years of Junior Secondary Education in new schools and had commenced three years of Senior Secondary Education studying the new curriculum in old schools. The sample studied comprised 1170 students, of whom 695 were studying the old curriculum and 475 the new curriculum (Table 1).

Procedure. The students were administered a questionnaire designed to seek their attitudes to society and the environment. The questionnaire included 32 Likert scale items of which 19 focused on attitudes to society and 13 on attitudes to the environment. The response options were 'Strongly Disagree', 'Disagree', 'Agree' and 'Strongly Agree' (scored 1, 2, 3 and 4 respectively). The variance in the responses was analysed to determine differences among the groups with respect to total scores, and the two sub-scales of 'society' and 'environment'. For each section of the questionnaire, the means for groups differing in the curriculum studied, gender, parents' occupation, and year level were compared. A critical value of alpha = 0.05 was adopted for significance in all statistical tests conducted.

Table 1: Distribution of sampled students by regions and forms

Old curriculum New curriculum
Regions Form 2 Form 4 JSS 2 SSS 1 Total
Greater Accra
Volta Region
Eastern Region
Central Region

NB: Data collected May - July 1991



Initial results, shown in Table 2, clearly indicate differences in attitudes between both the curriculum and the form level groups. Contrary to expectation, students in the old curriculum had more positive attitudes to society and the environment (Table 3). Furthermore, the results showed significant differences between students' attitudes and the number of years spent in secondary education. Further analyses of variance were run to determine the interaction between the dependent variables, parents' occupation and gender. In all cases the results showed that students from high family occupation and girls generally had most positive attitudes to society and the environment.

Table 2: Means and standard deviations of attitude scores of students
in the old and new curricula by forms and gender

Total Society Environment
Old Curric (Form 2)
Old Curric (Form 4)
New Curric (Form 2)
New Curric (Form 4)

Table 3: Source of variance for analysis of attitude scale scores for total,
and sub-scales society and environment

Total Society Environment
Source df F p F p F p
Curriculum by Form
Curriculum by Gender
Form by Gender
Curriculum by form by Gender



In summary

  1. Students in the old curriculum generally had more positive attitudes to society and the environment.
  2. There was a significant difference between the number of years spent in secondary education and students' attitudes in each group.
  3. Girls in both groups generally had more positive attitudes than boys.
  4. Students from high family occupation background generally had most positive attitudes.

Discussion of results

It was anticipated that the new integrated curriculum, particularly in social studies, would help students to develop more positive attitudes to society and the environment. The results, however, showed that this was not so as students in the old curriculum had a higher mean score than those in the new curriculum. This does not, however, mean that the integrated curriculum should be completely condemned. To investigate this view, I did further analysis of the variance by comparing the mean scores between the year levels (2nd and 4th forms) in each group. This showed a significant improvement in attitudes with the increase in secondary school education. In both groups students in form four had higher mean scores than did students in their second year of secondary education. However, the differences in the means were greater between the second and fourth year students in the new curriculum than those in the old curriculum. This is an indication that the new curriculum was effective in improving attitudes within the new group, even though the difference was not significant when compared with the old curriculum. It could be possible that some of the students in the new curriculum might not have gone through the six year primary programme that was supposed to prepare them for the new programme at the junior secondary level and had gone through the old curriculum instead. A change in their attitudes might, therefore, take longer than previously anticipated. Each curriculum is unique. The effectiveness at this stage could, therefore, be better judged if I had limited the comparison to classes within the same group.

Although the new curriculum was experimented upon in selected schools for at least ten years before its introduction nationwide in 1987, I must emphasise that the programme is still in its transition period and might be experiencing of attitudes, other than the type, content or pedagogic techniques of the curriculum.

Educational reforms, according to Yoloye, are policies and programmes that aim at a major and nation-wide change and new developments in one or more aspects of an educational system (cited in Durojaiye, 1981). There is a need to evaluate the existing system so that effective changes can be made. This idea was supported by Bishop who suggested that a reform programme should first of all make a realistic appraisal and analysis of the existing situation, identifying what changes are needed, the available resources and how changes could be implemented, before any major changes are embarked upon. He stressed that, to alter 'what is' you must know 'what is' (Bishop, 1985). Evidence showed that previous educational changes in Ghana (like the Continuation Schools Programme), failed because they were not based on any research of the old systems, partly due to economic constraints. However, most often decisions related to education in Ghana have been based upon political considerations, as well as personal interest and influence. "Behind most reforms", according to a Ministry of Education Report, "were prestigious committees or nameless incumbents in positions of influence, each securely guarding his name and reputation" (Ministry of Education, 1990). The decision to introduce the new system in Ghana also was not based on any research findings. The new programme was introduced nationwide when the committee set up to evaluate the success of the experimental schools and advise the government was still in its planning stage. The committee's report was submitted three years later.

The new programme, therefore, is faced with serious teething and implementation problems related to educational materials and teaching. In my informal discussions with both students and teachers, I discovered that there was an unavailability of books and other educational resource materials and equipment. The practical aspect of the social studies curriculum, for example, was being neglected in most schools because of a lack of transportation and funding for practicals or fieldwork. These and other problems should be the focus of further studies.

Anecdotal evidence also suggested that teachers were not properly trained for the new curriculum. Most of the teachers had been trained in the old British system but now had to teach concepts which they understood poorly. This relates to the integrated curriculum and the inquiry concept. For example, my discussions with some of the teachers revealed that most were confused about the replacement of the separate social science subjects with social studies, and advocated a change back to the old system.


These results are a clear indication that the new educational programme in Ghana is not presently achieving its desired goals. Educational reforms generally take place at three levels, namely, curriculum design, implementation and monitoring. It is apparent that the amount of money and resources spent on developing and improving an educational system do not automatically guarantee its effectiveness or success (Bloom, 1976). A policy could fail because of lapses at any of the three levels. In this study, however, the improvement of attitudes with an increase in the number of years spent in school is an encouraging indication that the programme could succeed. In view of the importance attached to it, and the amount of money and resources already invested in its planning and implementation in Ghana, there is a need to review the programme and to take remedial measures early, so as to make it more effective and viable.


Bishop, George, (1985), Curriculum development, A Textbook for students. Macmillan Publishers Ltd, London.

Blege, Walter, (1986), Teaching for Development. Sedco Publishing Limited, Accra, Ghana.

Bloom, Benjamin, (1976), Human Characteristics and School Learning, McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York.

Dewey, John, (1916), Democracy and Education, The Free Press, New York.

Durojaiye, M. 0. (ed) (1970), Socio-economic background and school population: a survey of the background of children in three types of schools in the Western State of Nigeria. Psychological Guidance of the School Child, 1970, p .16-32.

Feinberg, Walter and Soltis, F. Jonas, (1985), School and Society, Teachers College Press, New York.

Ghana Education Service, Curriculum Research and Development Division, (1987) Social Studies syllabus for Junior Secondary Schools, Accra.

Ghana Information Services, (1974), Ghana Today No. 8: The Development of Education in Ghana.. The Ghana Publishing Corporation, Accra- Tema.

Lesourd, J. Sandra, (1986), Socio-cultural Influences on Learning. The Social Studies. Vol. 77, No. 3. 1986.

McWilliam, H.O. A, (1967), The Development of Education in Ghana: An Outline. Longmans Green and Co Ltd. London.

Ministry of Education, (1972), Report of the Education Advisory Committee on the Proposed New Structure and Content of Education for Ghana. Accra.

Ministry of Education, (1990), An Evaluation of Junior Secondary Schools Established in Ghana Between 1976 and 1981 (A Report). Ministry of Education, (Curriculum Research and Development Division), Accra, Ghana.

Author: Ruby Avotri is from Ghana, West Africa. She holds a BA and Dip Ed from the University of Cape Coast, Ghana, and an MEd from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. She taught geography and economics in High and Senior High schools in Ghana, Nigeria and Cuba. She worked as a research and development officer at the Curriculum Research and Development Division of the Ghana Education Service, and as the Programme Officer at the Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana. She is currently writing up her PhD thesis in the School of Education, Murdoch University on the topic Relationships between students' perception of the classroom environment and their cognitive and affective outcomes in Ghanaian secondary schools.

Please cite as: Avotri, R. S. (1993). Comparative analysis of the traditional and the integrated curricula in Ghanaian secondary schools. Issues In Educational Research, 3(1), 47-55.

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