Literacy and its contexts: Evaluating direct, self-evaluative and proxy measures in Ghana

Wendy Akua Addae, University of Pennsylvania


Indirect (self-evaluative and proxy) measures have been used widely to measure literacy in both developing and industrialized countries. However, different measures yield widely varying rates for the same population. Analyses often neglect the human and sociocultural factors, and the historical framework, which surround literacy and its measurement. Comparisons across countries thus become problematic. This dissertation addresses these issues through a study of literacy and its contexts in the former British colony of Ghana. A large sample (N = 8589) of Ghanaians responded to a variety of questions often used as convenient indirect measures of literacy in national and international surveys, as well as providing an unprecedented variety of social and background information. A selected subsample (N = 2219) also completed written (direct) reading and mathematics tests. Comparisons of specific indirect measures show, in the absence of written tests, that self-evaluative measures are adequate and appropriate for the assessment of literacy skills. While the educational proxies (like years of schooling) have their merits, each also has serious flaws that compromise its validity in a Ghanaian setting. These findings lend qualified support to two previous studies that shared an interest in the relationship between self-evaluative, proxy and direct measures. This dissertation advances these studies in its statistical demonstration that certain cultural and demographic variables, including language, environment (urban/rural) gender and religion, have a statistically significant independent influence on written test scores for literacy beyond that accounted for by differences in years of schooling received. This influence of religion and language is explained by an examination of Ghana's colonial-era, Christian missionary-driven education policies. Inclusion of these factors has the potential to substantially increase the accuracy of studies based on self-evaluated and proxy literacy rates. In the absence of written tests, self-evaluative measures are more appropriate than are conventional educational proxies, because they provide more accurate and more stable estimates of directly observed literacy. The study therefore concludes that literacy measurement in developing countries would benefit from a reexamination of methods.

Subject Area

Educational evaluation|Language arts|School administration

Recommended Citation

Addae, Wendy Akua, "Literacy and its contexts: Evaluating direct, self-evaluative and proxy measures in Ghana" (1998). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9829851.