Enhancing Apprenticeship Training in Ghana Through Distance Learning

Francis Donkor, Department of Technology Education, University of Education, Winneba

In Ghana hundreds of thousands of young people are engaged as apprentices in the private or informal sector. However, virtually all apprentices and masters lack formal vocational or technical training. Other challenges they face include: lack of access to current technological information and upgrading; lack of knowledge about environmental issues; and lack of entrepreneurial skills to manage their shops. Government has now decided to partner the private sector to promote apprenticeship. Additionally, Government has launched the President’s Special Initiative on Distance Learning (PSI-DL) and the Ghana ICT for Accelerated Development (ICT4AD) Policy. The PSI-DL has been extended to basic and second cycle levels and will soon cover TVET within formal and informal sectors. Under the ICT4AD Policy, computers and Internet access are being provided to basic and second cycle schools, and Community Information Centres are being established in all constituencies. This paper proposes a model of apprenticeship that could address the aforementioned challenges. Built on the three moves/policies of the Government, the model envisages apprenticeship training to take place at workshops (on-site) and through DL (off-site). The off-site mode will employ mainly radio and television broadcasts, audio-tapes and video-cassettes. However, On-line delivery could target the few literates amongst them.


In Ghana, hundreds of thousands of young people are engaged as traditional apprentices in the informal or private sector. The latest labour force data show that in 2000, informal apprenticeship sector contributed over 70% of self-employed among the total labour force of over 7 million and there were 207,047 economically active people (15 years and older) in apprenticeship training (Ghana Statistical Service 2005). Over three-quarters (76.8%) of the apprentices were aged 15 - 29 years; 18,006 (57%) were males and 89,041 (43%) were females. The males were mainly in auto-mechanics, carpentry, tailoring and driving while the females were primarily in dressmaking, hairdressing and catering.

Modalities regarding apprenticeship in the informal sector vary. Entry requirements, if any exist, are generally low and not restricted by age, ethnicity or proof of literacy (ILO 1988). Depending on the trade, the master and the apprentice, apprenticeship may take from months to years. Working hours of apprentices are usually long, typically six days a week with weekly working hours ranging from 50 to 60. Some apprentices pay for their training while others forego income for the work they do. In some instances, they receive free board and lodging or some pocket money or occasional bonus. In some rare cases, apprentices are permitted to sell what they produce in their spare time with the materials and the equipment they find in the workshop (ILO 1988).

Abban and Quarshie (1993) have noted that apprenticeship training progresses in phases. According to them, most apprentices start with an introductory phase during which the novice is taught and made to do menial jobs such as cleaning the workshop or running errands. The next phase consists of getting to know all tools of the trade and, as appropriate, the materials, the ingredients and the spare parts. Meanwhile, the apprentice is expected to observe and learn about the work. The master occasionally demonstrates a particular operation or directs an apprentice whose trials usually end in an error. Gradually the apprentice is introduced to more complex tasks and given increased responsibility such as supervising other apprentices, dealing directly with customers, and from time to time, looking after the shop in the absence of the master (Abban & Quarshie 1993). Thus, skills, knowledge and attitudes are transmitted through observation, imitation and on-the-job experience.


Apprentices and their masters face some challenges that the present conventional apprenticeship system does not address. Virtually all apprentices and masters lack any formal vocational or technical training. Out of the 207,047 apprentices in training in 2000, only 10,878 (5.3%) have had formal vocational or technical training (Ghana Statistical Service 2005). The apprentices and their masters also lack access to current technological information and upgrading. They lack knowledge about environmental issues and entrepreneurial skills to manage their shops.

With the present system of apprenticeship, masters teach their apprentices the way that they were taught and there has been little infusion of new technology and new designs (Ng'ethe & Ndua 1992). Thus, masters mostly pass on their skills and knowledge to apprentices, but rarely create new knowledge. There are no formal instructions. This limits the theoretical base of apprentices and impacts negatively on productivity.


Apprenticeship, as offered in the formal and informal industry, is mainly by private initiative, although some state institutions offer limited apprenticeship schemes (Education Reform Review Committee 2002). A characteristic of apprentice training in Ghana is the lack of uniformity in training content, duration and certification. These weaknesses in the training system need to be addressed. However, since apprenticeship is mainly private initiative, the Education Review Committee has recommended the formulation of government policy regarding registration of apprenticeship providers and standardization of content, duration of training programmes and certification, in collaboration with industry, identifiable trade associations and training providers.

In the White Paper Report on Education Reform Review, the Government has now decided to partner the private sector in a more systematic way to promote apprenticeship programmes including assuming full responsibility for the first year of the apprenticeship programme (Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports 2004). Additionally, Government has decided to:

  • constitute a National Apprentice Training Board, among other things, to oversee and regulate apprentice training and handle issues concerning registration, content, duration and certification;

  • formalize community-based apprentice training schemes in all Districts to cater for the youth (Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports 2004, p. 26).


The Government of Ghana has recognized that the key to a sustained economic development lies within information technology. Thus, in June, 2003, the Government launched the Ghana ICT for Accelerated Development (ICT4AD) Policy. The Policy outlines the road map for the development of Ghana's information society and economy. Among other things, the Policy seeks to modernize and expand Ghana's information and communications infrastructure services to improve universal access as well as quality of service (The Republic of Ghana 2003). The Policy has as one of its priority focus areas the deployment and spread of ICTs in the community. Thus, the Government is to establish Community Information Centres (CICs) in all the 230 constituencies in Ghana. It is envisaged that “CICs will provide access to: Internet-enabled computers, software based on the local information needs, Fax machines, Printers, Copiers, Telephones, Televisions and Radios” (Ministry of Communications 2004, p.1). In addition there will be an adjoining library with books and daily newspapers and magazines. As at June, 2006, 63 CICs have been established. With the establishment of the CICs countrywide, it is expected that people will have access to ICT particularly in the deprived rural areas.

The Ghana ICT4AD Policy also acknowledges the need for ICT training and education in schools, colleges and universities. Accordingly, computers and Internet access are to be provided to all junior and senior secondary schools. In line with Government's commitment to a comprehensive programme of rapid development, utilization and exploitation of ICT within the educational system, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Government of Ghana and Microsoft was signed in March, 2004. The MOU relates to capacity building and the supply of application software to senior secondary schools, teacher training colleges and teacher training universities through the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports at US$4 each. The Government has also begun supplying computers to junior and senior secondary schools.

In March, 2003, African Heads of State adopted the NEPAD e-schools Initiative as a priority continental undertaking aimed at ensuring that the youth of Africa graduating from African schools are equipped with skills that will enable them participate effectively in the global information society. Among others, the NEPAD e-schools Initiative seeks “to provide ICT skills and knowledge to primary and secondary school students that will enable them to function in emerging Information Society and Knowledge Economy” (NEPAD Undated, p.1). The Initiative, also seeks to provide teachers with ICT skills to enable them use ICT as tools to enhance teaching and learning. The Initiative is to be implemented in phases of between 15 and 20 countries in each phase over a ten-year period from project inception. Ghana is one of the 20 countries that constitute the first phase. The Initiative will develop the over 600,000 schools on the continent into NEPAD e-schools. These schools are expected to be provided with the necessary infrastructure and ICT equipment, have teachers that are appropriately trained and have access to appropriate applications and digital content (NEPAD Undated).

A critical initial step in the continental implementation of the NEPAD e-schools Initiative is the NEPAD e-schools Demonstration Project (NEPAD Undated). The Demonstration Project is intended to provide a continental learning mechanism, based on real-life experiences of implementing ICTs in schools across the African continent that will serve to inform a full scale implementation of the NEPAD e-schools Initiative. Accordingly, six NEPAD e-schools are to be established, monitored and evaluated in each of the 20 countries that constitute the first phase of the NEPAD e-schools Initiative. The NEPAD e-schools Demonstration Project has started in six selected senior secondary schools in Ghana. It is envisaged that, within the next ten years, the Project will be extended to all junior and senior secondary schools.


The Ghana Government has realized the need to find alternative means of responding to educational needs of its people. The President's Special Initiative on Distance Learning (PSI-DL) was therefore established in April, 2002 to co-ordinate and make operational in Ghana alternative models of education to complement the effort of Government to ensure that Ghana attains the target of “Education for All” (Kwarteng 2006, p.1). The PSI-DL has been planned to operate in three phases:

  • A JSS and SSS unit offering English and Mathematics to youth both within and out of school system.

  • An open college/school offering courses in Information Technology (IT), Business Management, Accounting, Entrepreneurship Skills and Technical and Vocational Skills within both formal and informal sectors at post JSS level and

  • A Teacher-Training Unit offering the teaching of English and Mathematics to complement Distance Learning Teacher Education being provided by University of Education, Winneba and University of Cape Coast (Kwarteng 2006, pp. 2-3).

The first phase of the PSI-DL aims at effectively bridging the educational gap between the well endowed and the poorly endowed schools in the rural areas and providing the youth needing remedial classes the opportunity to improve upon their grades. The first phase started on July 23, 2004 with the telecast of English and Mathematics lessons on the national television station. Lessons on all the topics of third year (final) of both the junior secondary school (JSS) and the senior secondary school (SSS) English and Mathematics have been successfully telecast. Lessons for JSS 2 and SSS 2 English and Mathematics are currently being transmitted. Lessons in the Sciences are being planned now.

To ensure wider coverage of PSI-DL programmes, a number of measures are being put in place. First, handbooks, video-cassettes and CDs have been produced from the already telecast English and Mathematics lessons. These are being sold to schools and the general public at subsidised prices as learner support materials. Second, Ministry of Education and Sports is ensuring that heads of schools adjust their time-tables for teachers and students to watch lessons live and record them for later use. Third, the Ghana Education Service has provided learning centres in all 10 halls (of all the 10 administrative regions) belonging to the Ghana National Association of Teachers (a teacher organisation) for the use of people participating in remedial classes. Fourth, the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development is ensuring that community centres are equipped for use as viewing centres to take care of people who have completed JSS and SSS but are unable to continue their education because they are deficient in English and Mathematics. In this connection, TV sets have been distributed to some schools and district assemblies. Finally, the Ministry of Energy is providing solar power to JSS in the rural areas for schools to be able to access the programmes (Kwarteng 2006). 

The acquisition of skills has been identified by the President of Ghana as a way of sustaining the socio-political stability of the nation. Based on this realization, the President's Special Initiative on Distance Learning (PSI-DL) is planning an Open and Distance Learning (ODL) in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET).Thus, the second phase of the PSI-DL focuses on TVET at post JSS level within formal and informal sectors so that the teaming unemployed youth will have an opportunity to acquire skills for livelihood and to enhance their chances on the labour market (Kwarteng 2006).

The Commonwealth of Learning (COL) is offering support for the second phase of the PSI-DL. In September, 2004, at the request of PSI-DL, COL sponsored a team from Canada to facilitate a two-day workshop to discuss the possibilities of developing an ODL in TVET. At the end of the workshop a Steering Committee selected from technical and vocational practitioners from both the private and public sectors was formed to plan the project. The Steering Committee, taking into consideration the market trends, identified the following to constitute the pilot courses:

  • Block-laying and Concreting

  • Hospitality Management & Catering

  • Basic English

  • Basic Mathematics (Kwarteng 2006, p. 5).

The Steering Committee constituted a team of TVET practitioners to undertake a study tour of both public and private TVET institutions. It has presented its report and among others recommended that facilities, workshops and equipment in existing institutions be “improved, augmented and enhanced to serve as learning centres during the afternoons, week-ends and vacations” (Kwarteng 2006, p. 7). Hopefully, the second phase of the PSI-DL will soon commence.


As already indicated, apprentices and their masters face some challenges that the present conventional apprenticeship training system does not address. Many of the challenges could possibly be addressed through a two-site apprenticeship training model. The model seeks to build on the three moves/policies of the Government: the Government's new vision of actively partnering the private sector in delivering apprenticeship training; the Ghana ICT for Accelerated Development (ICT4AD) Policy; and the President's Special Initiative on Distance Learning (PSI-DL). By the proposed model, apprenticeship training will take place at two sites: workshops (on-site) and through Distance Learning (off-site). The on-site training which will take place in the workshops shall follow the present conventional apprenticeship training system while the off-site training will employ various instructional approaches used in Distance Learning.

Since many apprentices and masters are illiterates, any Distance Learning programme for them must necessary use educational radio broadcast, educational television broadcast, audio-tapes or video-cassettes and presented in English and the predominant language spoken in the locality. Through these media, excellent instructions can reach unlimited apprentices and their masters distributed over vast areas countrywide. As already indicated, the use of educational radio broadcast, educational television broadcast, audio-tapes and video-cassettes in Distance Learning is not new in Ghana. It appears the efficacy of such media has been proven beyond reasonable doubt under the PSI-DL. Adopting these media to complement the present conventional apprenticeship training system is therefore in the right direction. When the second phase of the PSI-DL which focuses on TVET commences, the learning centres to be created could also be used to reach apprentices and their masters as well. Also at the learning centres, the questions and concerns of participants could be received face-to-face or through telephones for future resolution.

Though On-line delivery is yet to be tested under the PSI-DL, it could still be used to reach the few literate apprentices and masters. This could be a simple one-way (teacher to student) virtual communication where a multimedia component replaces the tutor and the student accesses the material at a distant workstation. With the help of e-mail links, a two-way communication could be established to address concerns of participants. As part of the implementation of the Ghana ICT4AD Policy and the NEPAD e-schools Initiative, junior and senior secondary schools are to be provided with computers and Internet access. Under the ICT4AD Policy, the Government is establishing Community Information Centres in all the 230 constituencies in Ghana. Thus, apprentices and their masters could use the junior and senior secondary schools and the Community Information Centres as workstations to access materials.

Though the proposed two-site model could enhance apprenticeship training, the cost of training could be prohibitive. Mishra and Bartram (2002), however, argue that the large number of learners that could be reached over several years offsets the overall high cost. Additionally, the Government's involvement in apprenticeship training means that the State would subsidize the overall training cost and thus make it affordable to beneficiaries. Finally, the two-site apprenticeship training model is likely to strengthen the traditional apprenticeship system and significantly improve and increase productivity. The proposed model will strengthen the theoretical base of both apprentices and their masters and offer continuing education to master craftsmen to upgrade their knowledge and skills in order to offer apprentices better training.


Apprenticeship training plays a crucial role in the economy of Ghana. However, apprentices and their masters face some challenges that are not addressed by the conventional apprenticeship training system. A two-site apprenticeship training model is therefore being proposed. The model seeks to build on the Ghana Government's new vision for apprenticeship training, the Ghana ICT for Accelerated Development Policy and the President's Special Initiative on Distance Learning. Under the proposed model, apprenticeship will take place at the workshops and through Distance Learning. It is expected that the Distance Learning component will offer a new complementary approach to the conventional apprenticeship training system to help prepare apprentices better and encourage life-long learning among apprentices and their masters.


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Accessed April 5, 2006 

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