Scholar Spotlight - Eliana Amoh

Laidlaw Scholar, Eliana Amoh, on Ghana's Educational Disparities and Their Global Implications.
Scholar Spotlight -  Eliana Amoh

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Eliana Amoh, a Cornell University Laidlaw Scholar, Explores the Intersection of Education, Labour, and Migration in and out of Ghana.

Research title: Ghanaian Secondary Students’ Education, Labor, and Migration Outcomes

Article 25(1) of Ghana’s 1992 constitution states that basic education should be free and that secondary and higher education should be accessible to all (Ayentimi et al., 2021). The importance of education has become more prominent in Ghana due to its direct correlation with economic growth (Bowles, 2013). However, a barrier to this growth is the educational inequity that persists in the Ghanaian education system, specifically at the pre-tertiary level.

Professor Ivory’s “African Futures Project” is a multi-year longitudinal interview project that assesses the educational, labor, and migration outcomes of a cohort of high school students in Ghana, Kenya, and South Africa. The study obtains data through surveys and qualitative interviews, which are then examined using qualitative data analysis software to highlight the characteristics, aspirations, beliefs, backgrounds, and resources of the secondary students from those countries.

The goal of the study is to contribute knowledge on the effect of educational resources, educational inequity, and gender inequity on African secondary school students’ labor and migration outcomes. The results of the study show that Ghanaian secondary school students, especially those in northern Ghana compared to southern Ghana, do not believe that their education is effective because the schools themselves lack career-oriented mentoring, materials, and practical learning opportunities. Additionally, the education is not effective because students personally have a lack of familial support and money to pay for materials. This has led to interviewees seeking tertiary education abroad to receive job opportunities in knowledge-based economies. When youth human capital in Ghana isn’t being utilized due to a lack of resources and migration, it not only affects Ghana but the whole world to which the youth contribute.

Where did your passion for this research originate?

I had always been interested in education stemming from my love for musicals and films such as Annie, Hamilton, Matilda, and Last Chance U. These types of films interested me because I got to see how students navigate the classroom in response to their background, circumstances, and environment. Then my interest in education grew to its direct correlation with human capital and how human capital can be used to advance the social and economic development of a country. Then I started to realize that I wanted to look at this interest from more of an international perspective, especially as it pertains to how human capital moves from one country to another causing the growth of one country and the loss of the other. Especially because my parents are from Ghana and moved here to the United States. In other words, I’ve become interested in economic migration. Therefore, when I found out about Professor Ivory’s project, I knew it would be a great opportunity for me to analyze qualitative data to figure out why students feel the need to leave Ghana and why they feel that their skills would be better utilized elsewhere (particularly in the Europe and North America). 

University of Cape Coast courtyard.

What is the most memorable moment from your Laidlaw scholarship experience so far?

Since my research was based at Cornell, my most memorable moments from the Laidlaw scholarship has been exploring Ithaca. Moving into my first apartment and hanging out more with Ithacans helped me understand the community I have in and outside of Cornell. For example, I went on hikes, watched movies, went to parks, and generally explored. However, I would say that one of the most memorable experiences was going to the Ithaca Canoe Fest because I could participate in an Ithacan tradition, eat from local food trucks, do community service, and hear from the indigenous community of the Cayuga Nation. That first summer really showed me the importance of community-centered engagement and feedback when getting involved in any task because the local community has the information needed for research to be holistic and innovations to be effective.

What is the biggest challenge you came across in your research and leadership journeys so far, and what did you learn from it?

I would say that my biggest challenge throughout the research process was staying motivated. Last summer was the first time that I used Atlas.ti, a qualitative coding software. So when I was first introduced to the research, I was a little intimidated but I ended up getting used to the software. However, after I got used to it, I realized that Atlas.ti was a coding software that required time. I had over 50 interviews to code and I would feel discouraged when I looked at how much time it took for me to code just one interview. I kept trying to find shortcuts but it wasn’t worth it because I needed to produce good work. However, after a while, I started to embrace the process after I started seeing the trends that I had read about in my literature review. I had to learn that through my research, I was learning accountability and consistency which are traits I would need as a leader.

What does it mean for you to be a Laidlaw Scholar?

Being a Laidlaw Scholar, to me, is being someone who is motivated to learn about my community (whether it’s my home, school, research area of focus, etc) for that community’s good. It’s an opportunity for me to learn how to work more collaboratively and effectively to produce optimal outcomes to help others. As I am doing the research, I am focused on how to grow from the experience and grow in a way that promotes servant leadership and community engagement. 

University of Ghana courtyard.

Which leaders inspire you the most and why?

The leaders that inspire me the most are leaders who are vulnerable and help me to understand the responsibilities and joys of engaging in social justice. Two people who I’ve been inspired by are Vee Kativhu and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Vee is really motivating because she has such a strong work ethic that is driven by her passion of education equity. It inspires me to make the most of every day and work hard. Chimamanda spoke in a widely viewed TedTalk titled “The danger of a single story.” While she told the story she was descriptive and passionate allowing me to see the magnitude of the problem of a dominant majority setting an agenda. She inspires me to also have effective communication skills to rely complex messages to a variety of audiences.

Briefly describe a scene from the future you are striving to create.

A little boy from Ghana looks up at his parents and smiles. He smiles because he sees the hope in their eyes. The hope that they have in their country. He goes to class excited, knowing that he has the resources that he needs to engage in a globalized world. At school, he is being taught about the beauty of his country while learning about the interconnectedness of the world. He doesn’t feel the pressure to leave Ghana but still has the choice to leave. Therefore, he sits in class with an open mind dreaming big dreams. He is one child out of many who are also dreaming big dreams.

Quick-fire Questions

🎥 Currently Binging: One of my favorite movies: Let it Shine

📚 My top book recommendation: 

Love and Justice: A Story of Triumph on Two Different Courts by Jonathan Irons, Maya Moore Irons

🎶 My anthem: Sunflower- Post Malone and Swae Lee

🎵 Podcast obsession: The Just Different Podcast

🌈 Something that made me feel joy recently: 

Getting to live life with my college friends and God’s goodness.

💭 Parting thoughts:

I just want to say that I am open to talking so feel free to get in touch with me!


You can find Eliana on LinkedIn. If you are interested in learning more about Eliana's research, check out her research here.

Eliana is a Laidlaw Undergraduate Leadership and Research Scholar at Cornell University. Become a Laidlaw Scholar to conduct a research project of your choice, develop your leadership skills, and join a global community of changemakers from world-leading universities.

Find out more about the Laidlaw Scholars Undergraduate Leadership and Research Programme.

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