2013. Vol.4, No.6, 405-410
Published Online June 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/ce) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ce.2013.46057
Copyright © 2013 SciR e s . 405
Child Migration and Dropping Out of Basic School in Ghana:
The Case of Children in a Fishing Community
Eric Daniel Ananga
National Centre for Research into Basic Education (NCRIBE), University of Education, Winneba, Ghana
Received September 30th, 2012; revised April 28th, 2013; accepted May 9th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Eric Daniel Ananga. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons
Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
The government of Ghana’s effort on increasing access to basic education led to removal of school fees,
introduction of capitation grants, school feeding and free school uniforms. While such moves have been
applauded leading to improved access, child migration remains a barrier to educational access for children
living in fishing communities in Ghana. This paper presents the experiences of schoolchildren who drop
out of school as a result of child labour and seasonal migration. The central questions of the study are how
and why migration acts as a barrier to education of children who had initial access. The paper presents
in-depth analysis of qualitative data. The findings presented in the paper demonstrate that children enroll
and attend school until they begin to migrate during mid-school sessions resulting in their exclusion from
basic school. The paper concludes by highlighting some policy implications of children’s seasonal migra-
tion during school sessions and access to basic school in Ghana.
Keywords: Child Migration; School Dropout; Children; Child Labour
Factors such as the cost of education and other socio-cultural
issues are cited in dropout literature as causes. The reasons why
pupils are unable to complete basic education in developing
countries have been attributed to structural factors at household,
school and society levels (Colclough et al., 2003; Eie, 2003,
cited in Wikan n.d.; Hunt, 2008). The argument that most chil-
dren in Africa are enrolled in school, but that the real problem
concerns children dropping out of school has been raised (Du-
mas et al., 2004; Lewin, 2007). Ensuring children enrollment in
school is one thing, but whether they will complete their educa-
tion is another issue altogether.
In Ghana, access to primary education has grown over the
years and Gross Enrolment Rates are now above 95% (MOESS,
2007). According to official statistics, 85% of children of school
going age went to school (86.3% boys and 83.6% girls) in 2001
and between that period and 2006, gross enrolments is reported
to have reached 90% (MOESS, 2006). Basic education (kin-
dergarten and grades 1 - 9) is compulsory in Ghana’s education
system. While basic school enrolment in Ghana has improved
significantly in recent years, one major challenge facing it has
been high levels of drop out (MOESS, 2007). Over 20% of
school going children in Ghana have either dropped out or
never enrolled in school at primary level (Ampiah & Adu-Ye-
boah, 2009). Reports on the state of education in Ghana by
Akyeampong et al. (2007) and other studies (see GSS, 2003;
Hashim, 2004; MOESS, 2007, 2008) confirm the reality of
school dropout in Ghana’s basic school system. In 2006, non-
completion rates stood at 15% and 35% for primary and junior
high school (JHS) levels1 respectively (MOESS, 2007).
To explain what hinders some children participati on in school-
ing, issues of poverty, location, gender and age have been iden-
tified to have interacted with seasonal obligations and child
labour (Hunt, 2008). Studies have found that there is a trade-off
between child labour and child schooling (see Heady, 2003;
Rosati & Rossi, 2007). Although there is a growing body of
interest in the influence of child labour and child migration on
children’s schooling, there have been relatively few empirical
studies in Ghana focusing on how seasonal migration clashes
with school calendar (Akyeampong et al., 2007). Not much is
understood about independent child migrants (Edmonds &
Shreta, 2009), in relation to school attendance patterns (Ananga,
2011). The purpose of the study is to fill this knowledge void
by exploring the influence of seasonal child migration on school
attendance in an empirical setting. The data used in this paper
draws on data from the authors’ doctoral thesis. In this paper, I
highlight the accounts of children who migrated seasonally to
work to shed light on clashes between child labour, seasonal
child migration and school calendar in Ghana. The key question
the study explored was how and why migration shape school
attendance and school drop out?
Dropout Literature: Child Labour, Child
Migration and Access to School
While education is considered in a positive light and migra-
tion is assumed to interfere with children’s ability to access
education, some research findings suggests an ambiguous and
1Basic education in Ghana comprises 2 years of pre-school, 6 of years
rimary schooling and 3 years junior high school for children who should
enter at age 4,6 and 12 respectively.
E. D. ANANGA
complex picture, showing both positive and negative links be-
tween child migration and access to education (Hashim, 2005).
The literature highlights how child labour and migration influ-
ences access to school. Child labour and child migration are not
independent of each other. Often, child labour is the pull factor
behind child migration. Their influence on schooling is there-
fore discussed simultaneously.
There are links between poverty and child labour and how
that results in children being pulled out of school to work (Hunt,
2008). Other research works (see Admassie, 2003; Canagarajah
& Coulombe, 1997; Ersado, 2005; Huisman et al., 2009) reveal
the influence of child labour on schooling. Research by Guar-
cello et al. (2005) and Jacoby and Skoufias, (1997) reveal that
households in developing countries adjust the school attendance
and labour force participation of their children to absorb the
impact of negative shocks. For instance, in rural settlements,
parents facing an unexpected decline in crop income withdraw
their children from school (Jacoby & Skoufias, 1997). Beegle et
al. (2006) reported that crop shock leads to a significant in-
crease in child labour and to a decrease in school enrolment and
attendance. Guarcello et al. (2005) not only highlight how some
households adjust the activity status of children in response to
idiosyncratic shocks and natural disasters but also reports that
the effects of such shocks on children’s activities are often en-
during, as children who are sent to work are subsequently less
likely to return to school.
Hunt, (2008) shows that the types of work children are en-
gaged in has implications for initial and sustained access to
schooling (see also Ersado, 2005). In terms of gender, Hunt,
(2008) pointed out that research by Brock & Cammish, 1997
and Andvig et al. 2001 reveal that in some cultures, the girl
child may drop out of school because of demands on her to look
after siblings. In certain contexts, child labour may interfere
with boys schooling rather than that of girls (see Cardoso &
Verner, 2007; Hunter & May, 2003). For instance, boys in
Ethiopia are likely to be the first to enrol in school, but during
periods of economic crisis, they also be the first to withdraw to
engage in waged employment (Rose & Al Samarrai, 2001).
Withdrawing from school to work affects regular school at-
tendance and usually leads to dropout. Colclough et al. (2000)
noted that some children enrolled at the beginning of the school
year but leave by the middle of term as a result of demands for
their labour during harvest time. Such children may re-enrol the
following year in the same grade but, again, are unable to com-
plete the year (Colclough et al., 2000). Combining child labour
with schooling often leads to incidents of lateness at school and
or irregular attendance (Guarcello et al., 2005). In Ghana it was
revealed that child labour is the main reason that pupils drop
out of school (Fentiman et al., 1999). It is important to note that
whatever the form child labour takes, it builds pressure on the
children’s schooling time. Often, when seasonal activities such
as child labour and migration clash with school hours, children
who are engaged in such activities terminate their schooling
(Hunt, 2008). Hashim, (2005) pointed out that older children
(aged 13 and above) from poor rural communities in northern
Ghana migrate to wealthier localities in the south in search of
Child migration to work and demands of the labour market
influences schooling decisions and dropout patterns (Hunt,
2008). In situations where rural-urban migration exist with
opportunities for children to work and earn money, school chil-
dren often terminate their schooling in order to migrate and find
work (Hunt, 2008). Smita (2008) highlights the effects of sea-
sonal migration on educational access in India.
Duryea (2003) found that a buoyant job market acted as the
main force pulling children out of school in Brazil. Similarly,
Okumu et al. (2008) emphasise how communities can influence
dropout rates by providing employment opportunities during
school hours. The next section highlights the methodology of
the study. It focuses on type of study, the participants, proce-
dure and analysis.
Methodology of the Study
This study was designed to explore how and why migration
shapes school attendance and school dropout. It also aims at
giving voice to children to tell their individual experiences of
migration and schooling. Accordingly, the qualitative approach
is considered invaluable to this study. Qualitative research is
committed to seeing the social world and the events that take
place in it through the eyes of the researched; its provision for
gathering detailed accounts of actions that occur in the setting
being explored; and the ready evidence of change and flux it is
able to provide (Bryman, 2004). Adopting the qualitative ap-
proach for this study is useful for going beyond the surface to
the deeper issues about child labour, migration and schooling.
The study was therefore designed as a kind of “case study”. To
Yin (2009), the case study design is an empirical inquiry that
investigates a contemporary phenomenon in depth and within
its real-life context (Yin, 2009: p. 18). In this paper, I conceived
the case study to be nested. It resonated at three levels: first, the
phenomenon of seasonal migration to work and school dropout
as a case; second, the geographical location of the study is an-
other case; and finally, “case” at particularistic level—the indi-
vidual experiences of dropout children.
This study took place in two of the eight educational circuits
in the Mfantseman district in the Central Region of Ghana.
Some communities in the Central region are regarded as de-
prived in Ghana. The district has a total population of 152,264
comprising 69,670 males and 82,594 females who reside in 168
settlements of which 148 are rural. The participants in this
study are selected from 2 rural schools located in two different
educational circuits-Narkwa and Dominase circuits educational2.
From Narkwa circuit, one school from the Narkwa community
was selected and in Dominase circuit, one school in the Ky-
eakor community was also selected. In these communities,
fishing (in Narkwa community) and subsistence farming, trad-
ing are the main occupations. There is also high migration of
children from both communities to fishing towns such as Half
Assini, Axim, Fasu3, and to la Cote d’Ivoire4 during major fi-
shing seasons. In terms of socio-economic activity, the selected
communities are typical of other communities in the district.
The district was selected for the study because of its socio-
economic activities that pose challenge to schooling. Many
school children in these communities are overaged in grade. 18
2These circuitsare located 15 and 20 kilometres respectively from the
district capital. The two circuits are approximately 35 kilometres away from
3Half Assini, Axim, Fasuare fishing communities in the western region o
Ghana. These communities are very close to la Cote d’Ivoire.
4Cote d’Ivoire is located in the western border of Ghana.
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s .
E. D. ANANGA
children (8 girls and 10 boys) aged between 7 and 17 years who
dropped out of school participated in the study. Although the
study sought to highlight the voices of children, I also inter-
viewed 6 school teachers and 6 parents. In this paper I highlight
case studies of the 18 children, who have for different periods
of time migrated and dropped out of school.
To identify dropout children to participate in this study, I
made initial contacts with some school pupils who attended
school irregularly. I also walked in the two selected townships
during school hours when school-age children would be ex-
pected to be in school to identify children not in school. After
contacting a child, I negotiated access by seeking consent from
the child’s parents and assent from children before engaging
them in the study. The first contact with the children who at-
tended school irregularly and those I met loitering in town dur-
ing school hours led me to identify other children who partici-
pated in the study. During the period of data collection, I con-
ducted in-depth interviews with all 18 children who participated
in this study. Interviews with the children were unstructured,
with episodic interviews and generative narrative questions. I
conducted a total of 46 interviews with the children, 36 inter-
views in the first phase of data collection (twice with all 18
children) and 10 interviews during the second phase. I audio
recorded and transcribed all the interviews personally. Also, I
examined all the children’s past attendance records prior to
their dropping out. I gave children disposable cameras to take
photographs of activities they engaged in that shape their
schooling behaviour. The photographs were very useful in
opening conversations with children. I observed activities in the
community that children mentioned to have influenced their
schooling decisions. To gain first-hand information about sea-
sonal migration and what dropout children do when they mi-
grate, I followed 12 of the children who migrated. The data for
this study was collected in two phases within a period of 11
months (between June to October 2008 and October 2009 to
A thematic approach to data analysis was adopted, which
involved developing themes and patterns from the data (Glasser
& Strauss, 1967; Guba & Lincoln, 1985).The data I analysed
included in-depth interview transcripts, samples of children’s
profiles and dairies, and field notes. Data from all interviews
were analysed manually by making summaries of the views of
the participants; supporting them with relevant quotations that
captured these views; and augmenting the findings with data
from my own field observations. The analysis of data primarily
involved an iterative process of reading, reflecting and coding
the interview transcripts, and then drawing out major and recur-
ring themes from it. Individual accounts and response to ques-
tions were critically examined, categorising responses and fi-
nally deriving themes from them. I developed an inductive
cyclical diagramme to illustrate clashes between seasonal mi-
gration and school calendar founded on children’s accounts,
analysis of school calendar, parents and teachers views and my
observation of periods and lengths of time children migrated
and when they return to their communities. For analytical pur-
poses and in terms of children’s accounts of how their school-
ing was influenced by child labour and seasonal migration, I
present the findings and discussion together in the next section.
Findings and Discussion
The findings and discussion focuses on the child labour ac-
tivities of children, the reasons children give for migration and
how such movements interferes with their schooling. It spans
several economic activities of children during school hours and
the reasons of child migrants. Issues pertaining to children’s
migration to work and schooling are highlighted in the discus-
sion. It is important to note that the reasons children cite for
working and migrating are not independent of each other; rather,
they often exert their influences concurrently, and an under-
standing of the relative importance of such factors in affecting
children’s schooling decisions can only be obtained if they are
Child Labour and Clashes with School Calendar
Local labour market opportunities appeared to prompt chil-
dren to pursue income-generating activities instead of going to
school. I noticed that children participated enthusiastically in
economic activities in the two study sites, even competing
amongst themselves for work in the local and external informal
I observed during data collection that the informal labour
market structure gave children the opportunity to gain employ-
ment by taking part in fishing expeditions and working on
farms; as well as to sell various items ranging from farm pro-
duce to provisions. It is thus likely that the attraction and acces-
sibility of such an informal labour market structure interrupts
It appears children might have found that they were not able
to concentrate fully on their schoolwork because by the age of 9,
it was becoming more difficult to postpone immediate financial
reward in order to pursue temporally remote but more valuable
academic goals. For example, instead of attending school, some
children in Narkwa, particularly boys, joined groups of adults
who left home early in the morning to go fishing, or sometimes
waited at the beach for the fishing canoes to dock; while a lar-
ger number of younger children joined them later in the after-
noon when school was over in order to work at the beach. Dur-
ing interviews with children, some of them had this to say
about working to raise money:
“I had to support my parents to take care of my brothers and
sisters, so I resorted to going fishing and working at the beach...
Sometimes, I caught crabs, which I sold to raise money ...That
was when I started attending school irregularly.”
“Sometimes I don’t go to school regularly because I have to
“I have been working to make money to buy a new school
uniform...so I attended school irregularly.”
“During the harvest season, I work at the beach to make
These interview excepts no doubt reflects the extent to which
children were attracted to seek employment in the informal
local labour market instead of going to school. It seems that
children from poor socio-economic backgrounds and the indif-
ferent attitude of the community towards schooling were the
reasons why some children considered selling their labour to be
attractive. Madda, a parent, told me: Because of the money they
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s . 407
E. D. ANANGA
make from fishing activities, some of the children in this village
are not willing to stay in school, and most of the adults in this
community are not worried that children are not staying in
It appears that children’s attraction to the informal labour
market was supported by covert collective communal support
for them to sell their labour. It thus seems that the community
condoned dropping out of school and approved of children
finding a job. It is likely that such collective communal support
created an enabling environment that acted as a driving force,
pulling children out of school to sell their labour in the informal
labour market. It may be argued that such a collective commu-
nal support compromises children’s school attendance and that
this was the overt manifestation of a structural devaluation of
schooling which otherwise is not visible.
For example, upon the arrival of the canoes at around 1:00
pm, all other activity in the Narkwa village ground to a halt and
both children and adults converged on the beach to do brisk
trade. Some pupils even ran away from school so as not to miss
out if the boats docked early. Apparently, adults needed child
labour, a point that became clear when Mark told me: We
[children] have to be at the beach to help unload the fish, and
our parents expect us to bring fish and money home. Joe, an-
other boy also said: when you don’t help adults at the beach or
work to bring anything (money or fish) home, family members
think you are lazy and sometimes your parents refuse to give
you food at home.
It can be argued that children absent themselves from school
to engage in economic activities because of the existence of a
market for child labour. Okumu et al. (2008) reports on a simi-
lar phenomenon about how communities influence dropout
rates by providing employment opportunities during school
hours. Also, Duryea (2003) noted that a buoyant job market
acted as the main force that pulled children to drop out of
Apparently, the labour market in the study sites shaped chil-
dren’s schooling behaviour and attendance patterns because
although most children enrolled, they only attended classes
until fishing and farm work were available, after which they
dropped out in order to earn money. In effect, this may explain
the issue of the seasonality of dropout. An exploration of the
attendance records of children who dropped out of school re-
veal that almost all of them attended school irregularly for at
least a month to work prior to dropout. Moreover, it appears
that children who previously attended school irregularly, espe-
cially to pursue economic activities, easily dropped out of
school again. In all of the dropout cases, migrating to work also
emerged as a key contributing factor. The next section high-
lights evidence of the overlap between seasonal migration and
school academic calendar in the study area.
Seasonal Child Migration and Clashes with School
Seasonal migration came up in my interviews with children
as one of the critical factors that pulled children out of school.
The effect of seasonal migration on regular school attendance
was twofold. On the one hand, parents migrated with their chil-
dren even before schools broke up for the holidays; and on the
other hand, some children independently migrated seasonally to
work in other fishing communities.
For some children, drop out occurred because they migrated
with their parents. A child’s education was disrupted when he
or she was withdrawn from school to accompany parents on the
seasonal migration. I was told by John, a 14 year-old boy who
dropped out of grade 4 that: I was in grade two by then and
school hadn’t yet vacated, but my mother took me to accom-
pany her to la Cote d’Ivoire; and she left me there with my aunt
for eight months. Another child-Ninkyi said: my father took me
to the city to go and work with him. That was when I did not go
to school for the whole of the first term...I was in grade 5 by
From another angle, it appears that older children who did
not accompany their parents to migrate before school vacation
migrated during the school holidays to join them then, but that
such pupils did not return home early enough for the beginning
of the new academic year. I observed that boys in the upper
primary grades were the most affected category of children
whose schooling was disrupted by seasonal migration. Al-
though these older boys migrated during the school holidays,
they were often unable to return early enough to register at the
beginning of the new academic year and thus continue their
schooling. For instance, Emmanuel told me: During the vaca-
tion, I travelled to Half Assini to fish, but when school re-
opened I had not made enough money to go back to school ...
So, I travelled further, to the Gambia, in the company of other
children to fish. Other children who dropped out due to migra-
tion also said:
“I dropped out of school because I travelled to Half Assini to
“By the time I was in grade 4, I travelled to Half Assini dur-
ing the vacation to fish; but I did not return when school re-
opened, and I stayed there longer working for money. But when
I returned to school, I had problems with school authorities, so
I stopped going to school”.
“During the long vacation, I travelled to Half Assini to work
there too. I was supposed to enter grade 6 but I did not return
from Half Assini early enough. I missed most of the days, so I
could not return to school”.
“In the third term, I did not go to school at all because, I
travelled early to Half Assini to work. The problem is that when
you stop school for some time and you go back, you have prob-
lems with the teachers so you just stop going”.
Thus, withdrawing from school before the end of term obvi-
ously resulted in disruption to a child’s schooling. In confirma-
tion of this point, a male teacher, Hamid, explained: Some chil-
dren drop out of school because their parents migrate with
them. In some cases, the child is left behind but they later mi-
grate to join their parents. However, when school reopens,
some of these children do not report early and this disrupts
For most children in the study area, seasonal migration began
in mid-June, that is, about five weeks before the end of the third
term (see Figure 1). Children who migrated often stopped at-
tending classes at this point.
Figure 1 illustrates the clash between school times and sea-
sonal migration, which provide evidence that corroborate other
studies on seasonality (see Smita, 2008; Hadley, 2010). In addi-
tion, Akyeampong et al., (2007) noted that migration habits of
children have implications for school attendance in Ghana (see
also, Fentiman et al., 1999).
The period of migration in the third term was the time of the
school year when children sat their graduation examinations;
thus, non-participation in such assessment meant grade repeti-
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s .
E. D. ANANGA
School Calendar, Migration Calendar and Economic Activities of Sch-
ool Children. (Sou rce: Field data)
tion. Therefore, in addition to late enrolment, it is probable that
seasonal migration partly explained the cases of overage in
grade, given that grades were most frequently repeated in lower
Taking the duration of the third term as being from May to
July, and the beginning of the first term as being in early Sep-
tember into consideration, it appears that seasonal migration
from mid-June to early October might have been largely re-
sponsible for dropout cases. It could be argued that the clash
between the school calendar and seasonal migration created
recurrent cases of irregular attendance and school dropout dur-
ing the academic year. In the cases of children engaged in this
study, it seems that the influence of seasonal migration on their
schooling was so strong that some pupils’ education spanning
two academic years was punctuated by irregular attendance and
Considering activities such as child labour and seasonal mi-
gration, disruption of school attendance could be overcome if
the schools adapted their timetables to it. When teachers were
asked why the school calendar could not be adapted to accom-
modate this inevitable seasonal activity. One female teacher
told me: All schools in Ghana follow the same timetable for
reopening, writing exams and holidays...We don’t have the
authority to change any aspect of the school calendar.
It seems no provision exists to allow for adjustment to the
school calendar in order to suit local variations in seasonal ac-
tivities that potentially disrupted school attendance. In my in-
formal discussion with the Parent Teacher Association (PTA)
chairperson and a school management committee (SMC) mem-
ber, they told me that they wished they had the power to change
the school times in order to avoid clashes with harvest periods.
They believe that such changes may be useful in ensuring that
schoolchildren remain in school. Research shows that among
the factors that are responsible for low educational access and
dropout is rigid schooling system, which does not cater for
particular needs of local communities such as seasonal migra-
tion out of communities (Care International 2003).
I have shown in this paper that the phenomenon of child la-
bour, seasonal child migration, and school dropout in the study
areas involve clashes in school calendar and activities. The
clashes between seasonal child migration and school calendar
in the study area have a lot of challenges for children’s progres-
sion and completion of schooling. Many of the migrant children
miss out on their learning when they miss school as a result of
migration to work in the informal labour market. In return, they
perform poorly in school and are therefore repeated. Thus they
become over age in grade, while repeating they tend to attend
school irregularly, and migrate again.
This study has shown that the clashes in seasonal child mi-
gration and school calendar in Ghana have created a path for
some children living in such communities to drop out of school.
It is therefore important that policies and programmes are
evolved to ensure that the risks involved in the migration of
these children are reduced.
Considering the foregoing, I highlight some policy implica-
tions to be considered. First, in respect of the clash between the
organisation of the academic year and the seasonal activities
that pull children out of school, policy on the school calendar
should be reformed and adapted to the requirements of local
activities. Secondly, school curricular may have to be rear-
ranged to accommodate seasonality of school attendance. For
instance, more intensive teaching should be done during such
periods that children were not likely to migrate or work.
Thirdly, remedial lessons should be organised for children who
return to school long after schools have reopened. Lastly, alter-
native school programmes might be useful in providing courses
for dropout children who were overage on withdrawal, and
those for whom schooling had lost its value but might yet be
willing to improve their literacy and numeracy skills.
It is important to know that the evidence presented in this
report is important but it has some limitations to it. First this
study is only limited to the selected cases of migrating children
in a rural setting with whom I was able to negotiate access.
Secondly, the interviews were conducted in the local language-
Fante-before transcribing and translating them in English. Not-
withstanding my proficiency in Fante, the translation process
might still have led to a loss of meaning to a certain extent,
which could have negatively affected the quality of the infor-
mation I have presented.
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