A GNA feature by Godwill Arthur-Mensah
Accra, Sept. 14, GNA - The 1992 Constitution of Ghana has some provisions that calls for the need for free compulsory basic education.
For instance, Article 25 (1) says; “All persons shall have the right to equal education opportunities and facilities and with a view to achieving the full realisation of that right (a) basic education shall be free, compulsory and available to all; (b) secondary education in its different forms including technical and vocational education, shall be made generally available and accessible to all by every appropriate means, and in particular, by the progressive introduction of free education”.
In Article 38 (1) stipulates that; “The State shall provide educational facilities at all levels and in all the regions of Ghana, and shall, to the greatest extent feasible, make those facilities available to all citizens.
“The Government shall, within two years after Parliament first meets after the coming into force of this Constitution, draw up a programme for implementation within the following ten years, for the provision of free, compulsory and universal basic education”.
The aforementioned provisions in the supreme law of the land clearly highlight the need for free compulsory and universal education at the basic level, therefore, gives credence to the implementation of the Free Senior High School (SHS) Policy by the Government.
Government Promise and Critique of the Policy
The Free SHS programme is a long-held campaign promise by the New Patriotic Party (NPP) that seeks to increase enrolment in schools by removing the burden of all major mandatory fees from parents and guardians and making it a responsibility of the government.
The NPP, while in opposition, trumpeted the policy and mentioned it in its 2008, 2012 and 2016 campaign manifestos saying they would implement the policy when given the nod to rule this country. This is in spite of the fact that some critics said it would not be feasible given the economic circumstance of the country.
They said the policy could be rolled out progressively while others indicated that it could be feasible in 20 year’s time.
Ghanaians, however, gave the Party the benefit of the doubt and voted for them in the 2016 general elections, in order to implement its much-talked about policies including the Free SHS policy.
True to its promise, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo led government officially rolled-out the policy on Tuesday, September 12, 2017 at the West Africa Senior High School in Adenta Municipality of the Greater Accra Region.
So far, government has projected to spend GHC 480 million on more than 400,000 Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) candidates who qualified for admissions in the 2017/2018 Academic Year.
In terms of its sustainability, President Akufo-Addo said, it would be funded with the country’s oil and gas proceeds and other natural resources through the Annual Budget Funding.
The President expressed the belief that investing in the human resource of the nation was the best investment for the future that would propel the development of the nation.
He said some Asian countries like South Korea and Japan had pursued similar education models, which yielded great dividends.
Benefits of the Policy
The Free Senior High School /Technical and Vocational Education Training (SHS/TVET) Policy initiative is intended to relieve the huge financial burden on parents and guardians to ensure that students who qualified for second cycle education would have quality, equity and accessible education.
It also marks the end of the era when financial constraints were a barrier to the aspirations of children who wanted to access second cycle education.
President Nana Akufo-Addo at Okuapeman SHS earlier this year, spelt out fees that would be absorbed by the Government under the Free SHS Policy.
The President said apart from the tuition fees, which is already free, other fees would be scrapped including admission fees, library fees, science centre fees and computer laboratory fees.
The Government is also giving free textbooks, free boarding fees and meals, and absorbing the examination fees, utility levies.
The day students, he said, will get a free hot meal a day.
The policy would also cover agricultural, vocational and technical institutions at the high school level, while government continues with the construction of new public senior high schools.
Government had declared plans to upgrade 42 existing SHSs across the country into model schools to enhance teaching and learning.
The Free SHS Policy is in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs- 4) Target One, which stipulates that; ‘‘By 2030, all boys and girls complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education, leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes’’.
It also states that by 2030, all girls and boys will have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education, so that they are ready for primary education.
Dr Matthew Opoku-Prempeh, the Minister of Education, during the launch, said the Government has already paid 20 per cent of the fees of the beneficiaries to their respective SHSs.
He said: “No matter how poor a child’s family is, he or she will never be shackled by the manacles of school fees as he or she lived out his or her dream.
‘‘The days of poor students being left on the streets because of poverty are over, the days of parents at their wit ends scramble to find admission fees are over, the days of young students being driven from the classroom to go home for their school fees are over,” he emphasised.
The Education Minister noted that the implementation of the historic policy would be etched in the letters of gold as one of the greatest legacies of President Nana Akufo-Addo’s government.
Professor Kwasi Opoku-Amankwa, the Director-General of the Ghana Education Service, said such a major policy intervention given to Ghanaians was arguably the most significant policy initiative aside the National Health Insurance initiative.
He called for effective leadership to ensure the success and sustainability of the policy.
Ghanaians of all political divides have also hailed the policy as a laudable one and called for its sustainability in order to alleviate poverty in the country.
Challenges with the rolling out of the Policy
There were, however, some teething challenges regarding the implementation of the policy.
More than 150,000 BECE candidates who duly qualified for placement into SHSs of their choice were not placed under the Computerised School Selection and Placement System (CSSPS), while some male students were placed in female schools and vice versa.
More also, some candidates who selected boarding schools were also placed in day schools far away from their areas of residence.
There were problems with the online placement portal as parents and students were finding difficulties accessing it thus, creating unnecessary tension and inconveniences leading to the extension of the deadline of the self-placement to September 30.2017 by the Ministry of Education.
Meanwhile, some head teachers are said to be charging unapproved fees from parents and guardians and it has been reported that the Ghana Education Service Council has summoned them for questioning.
It was alleged that some school heads were charging parents fees to buy mobile phone credits so that they could call them whenever the need arises while some were charging PTA levies, raincoat fees, cutlass fees and demanding paints for painting the school building, among other ridiculous charges in spite of persistent warning by the Government to them, to resist from charging unauthorised fees.
It therefore came as a great relief when the GES Council interdicted seven heads of SHSs for infractions against the guidelines of the Policy implementation. I hope it would serve as deterrent to other heads from doing anything that would jeopardise government's efforts.
Moreover, the Conference of Heads of Private Second Cycle Schools (CHOPSS) has called on the Government to include private schools in the implementation of the Policy
Mr Joseph Dzamesi, the General Secretary of CHOPSS, at a press conference in Accra, said private SHSs contributed significantly not only to the educational sector but also in the area of job creation and to the growth of the economy, hence the need for their inclusion in the Policy.
He said they were not there to compete with public schools but rather to complement the efforts of Government in providing access to secondary education for Ghanaian children.
He said: “If all private SHSs close down, access to secondary education for the more than 50,000 students currently enrolled by the private SHSs would be jeopardised”.
Mr Dzamesi, therefore, called on the Government to, as a matter of urgency, include private SHSs among the schools listed on the self-placement website, and also pay for the distribution of textbooks, computers, buses, equipment and chemicals for science laboratories, technical and vocational workshop
He said while public schools would get those resources for free, private schools could pay a discounted price for them so that government could recoup some of its investments.
He called on the Government to support the efforts of private schools by periodically assisting them to deliver best quality education.
CHOPSS called on government to re-introduce a more realistic cut-off point for qualification into public high schools so that they could also get enrolment considering the fact that about 10,000 people were employed by the Association.
Dr Kwabena Tandoh, an Education Consultant, suggested that, there should be a public/private partnership between the government and the private schools so that parents whose children were enrolled there would also benefit from the policy.
It is my fervent expectation that government would take a critical look at these criticisms and suggestions and make the necessary adjustment that would ultimately inure to the benefit of Ghanaian children and alleviate poverty among Ghanaians.
Free SHS Policy is a laudable policy worthy of emulation by other African countries, therefore, Ghana cannot afford to fail.