Two years ago, the governing National Democratic Congress (NDC) was violently against the introduction of Free Senior High School education in Ghana. It was the main policy of the opposition, New Patriotic Party (NPP) to Ghanaians for the 2012 elections. The party’s presidential candidate, Nana Addo said making secondary education free was the first step to transforming the nation.
The goal was to make secondary level the termination point for basic education in Ghana. Though the NPP could not tell exactly how much it would cost to implement the policy or how it planned to fund it, officials were convinced the party’s government could foot the bills of all senior secondary students if they were elected.
The NDC said the policy was unrealistic. Officials argued that it was better to improve quality and access at the basic level, which has been free for decades but hadn’t seen much improvement. They made a case for a system where students from poorer communities would be targeted and sponsored by the state to get education at that level. They gave so many good reasons why it would unwise for a government to introduce free SHS at this point in Ghana’s
Oddly enough, President Mahama announced in his 2014 state of the nation address that his government would be implementing what he described as progress Free Senior High School policy at the beginning of the 2015/2016 academic year. On Monday, the Deputy Minister in-charge of Tertiary Institutions, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa revealed that the project will begin with some 36,500 day students at a cost of GHC 42.7 million. He also revealed that the government has enough funds to sustain the project.
It is wonderful that the government has the funding of the policy covered, but it is not enough. As many have said when the issue first came up, free SHS isn’t such a bad policy, but the details and the timing don’t make sense. Perhaps government officials have forgotten the reasons they so eloquently made for the rejection of the NPP’s bid. So here are some of their questions.
1.What happened to let’s fix basic education first; FCUBE was introduced decades ago, the idea was to ensure that all Ghanaian children received education no matter the economic backgrounds of their parents. Ghanaian children still study in conditions unfit for animals – windowless rooms, under trees, on bare floors, as well as contributing to buy teaching and learning materials. Quality education for all requires well-trained teachers, active learning techniques, relevant curriculum and adequate facilities, have achieved all this at the basic level?
2.Is the quality at basic level good enough: Early Grade Reading Assessment” report commissioned by the Ghana Education Service (GES) for primary two pupils showed that 98 percent of primary two pupils in basic schools can neither read nor understand English or any Ghanaian language properly. Many pupils complete primary six, but cannot write their names or do simple arithmetic. Can these pupils qualify to enter senior high schools? And if they drop out, can they ever compete?
3. Can the government afford to fund free SHS: Just a few weeks ago, the special schools for the disabled were forced to delay re-opening because government had not released subventions for the 2013/2014 academic year. Last year secondary schools in the three regions in Northern Ghana delayed re-opening for the same reason. The president’s argument in 2012 was that fixing primary and junior high school education was the key to transforming the education sector. He was right, if we have so much money, why not invest in improving basic education across the country.
4.Why does government want to pay the fees of all secondary school students? First of all, secondary education is already heavily subsidized for all Ghanaian students who make it. Some parents can pay the fees, why give everybody a free ride when you need money to improve schools in rural communities?
5.What happened to targeting students from deprived communities: Government insists this isn’t just another political trick, but this is part of its plan to ensure that students from poorer communities and deprived students receive senior high school education. It can still do it without paying for everybody. It can establish scholarships for such students. It can also ensure that the community secondary schools are of the same standard and quality in top secondary schools in the country. So poor students can attend these schools for free, thereby creating room in the top schools for parents who can pay for the full cost of secondary school education.
6.Is free SHS really necessary at this point: The government says their progressive free senior high school education is enshrined in the constitution. Great. But so is the provision of basic amenities (like water, roads, electricity, housing and schools).
The Mahama government is overwhelmed with the management of the education system. It has not been able to reduce teacher absenteeism, expand infrastructure, provide teaching and learning materials, it shouldn’t be allowed to destroy the already weak senior secondary education.