To commemorate International Women’s Day 2021, Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) is featuring (in the month of March) influential female policymakers from several countries they work in around the world to highlight their experiences working in government and promoting a culture of evidence-based policymaking within their institutions, how the COVID-19 pandemic changed their work, and what long-term impacts they hope to achieve in the sectors in which they work.

From Ghana, Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) spoke to the Executive Director/Inspector-General of Schools, Dr Haggar Hilda Ampadu who directs the National Schools Inspectorate Authority. In this capacity, she is responsible for creating, institutionalizing, and overseeing the establishment, registration, licensing, inspections, and assessments of Ghana’s all public and private pre-tertiary schools in Ghana.

Upon assuming her role as the Inspector General of Schools/Executive Director, she has worked to create streamlined processes, with an emphasis on digitization, standard operating procedures development, policy development, and implementation.

Below is the feature:

What motivated you to go into the public sector?

Over the course of my career, I’ve worked across 36 African countries to develop and strengthen health systems. This was mainly in the domain of medicine safety for the World Health Organization (WHO), which required me to understand quality control, supply chains, and other systems and processes. Through this work, I realized that there were insufficient documentation processes and effective systems approaches in many organizational operations, mainly across Africa. This realization is what motivated me to work in policymaking and implementation, and now I work to promote integrity and transparency in Ghana’s education sector.

My goal in creating and institutionalizing policies and processes within the National Schools Inspectorate Authority (NaSIA) is for schools to be fully aware of our mandate, processes, and requirements, per the Education Regulatory Bodies Act, 2020 (Act 1023) and operate their schools within the remit of the law.

We also want our stakeholders and the general public to know that we operate in a spirit of transparency. For instance, our School Inspection Reports, a list of Registered Schools, and aspects of the new law, among others, are published on our website (www.nasia.gov.gh) for ease of verification. With the integrity of these processes and data-driven decisions, we can better ensure that we are supporting our learners—who are our essential stakeholders.

How has your work changed because of the pandemic over the last year? What has been the biggest challenge for you and for the National Schools Inspectorate Authority?

The pandemic has seriously affected our school Inspections. We recognized the need for the continuation of teaching and learning in this time of crisis, we were thus inspired to conduct virtual school inspections. In addition, in partnership with the UNICEF-Ghana office, we developed and published the National E-learning Standards and accompanying guidelines for pre-tertiary schools in April 2020 in response to COVID-19 and school closures. This has been a key resource for schools nationwide over the course of the pandemic. 

In addition to adapting to the crisis, we still need to keep up with our planned operations. For example, prior to a collaboration with UNICEF in the 2019-2020 academic year, we did not have specific inspection tools for assessing the quality of learning in kindergartens. In partnership with the UNICEF-Ghana office, we have now developed kindergarten inspection tools that will be deployed in the next inspection term during the 2021 academic year.

How have you promoted evidence-based policymaking within the National Schools Inspectorate Authority, and what are some challenges in doing so?

One of my main goals is to continually identify areas that can be improved for better organizational capacity and effectiveness. For example, the National Schools Inspectorate Authority previously had a series of ad-hoc processes for inspections and audits to assess the quality of education for learners. In June 2019, with technical assistance from IPA and DFID-Ghana in the form of four personnel forming a part of our core digitization team, we digitized the inspection approach and this significantly streamlined data collection processes.

As a result of this digitization, data to support policy decisions is collected at the school level and received in real-time by headquarters in Accra for reporting and analysis. This approach better ensures that each inspection report is based on objective evidence, and thus limits subjectivity and opportunities for bias. 

Prior to my joining NaSIA, there were also limited policies guiding the organization’s work. In my role as Executive Director, I am championing the development of key policies to support our mandate in my bid to ensure that all our processes are well documented and published. I’ve worked to develop the School Establishment and Inspection Policy (SEaIP), School Licensing Policy (SLiP), Safeguarding Policy, and School-Based Assessment Policy.

The SEaIP and SLiP, developed with financial support from the UNESCO-Ghana office and the Education Partnership Group-UK respectively, started in June 2020. They are now near completion and have gone through various Technical Working Group meetings and stakeholder reviews and are awaiting approval, including at the Ministerial level. Each policy is also accompanied by specific guidelines to aid its implementation and operationalization. 

All that being said, the push to create more effective and efficient processes to make decision-making more data-driven is still a big challenge for us. Inadequate resources, in terms of financial resources, equipment, staff time, and capacity building to give a few examples, is the biggest challenge that we face. However, digitizing many of our inspection processes has enabled us to work within these constraints. For example, by adopting a statistical sampling approach for selecting schools for inspection, we have increased the number of schools inspected from about 50 to now 2,341 per academic year—this is a huge win for us.

More importantly, with this approach and the expanded sampling we have, we can confidently extrapolate the results across all schools in Ghana. We’ve also focused on reducing manual and human efforts in our operations. For instance, school registration and payment processes at NaSIA are now automated and done online, which allows us to more efficiently track these processes and assess support for schools regardless of their location in the country. 

I am committed to continuing to improve the quality of the work of the Inspectorate Authority by institutionalising data-driven processes and decisions.