By Philemon Adjabeng
Relieving parents and guardians of almost all the financial commitments involved in second cycle education in Ghana dominated the 2012 and 2016 campaign promises of the then presidential candidate of the New Patriotic Party Nana Addo Danquah Akuffo Addo and the Party in general.
Ever since the Party revealed its plans in 2012 of making senior high school universally free in Ghana, there has been numerous views and assertions on how things could unfold with a lot of well-meaning individuals, civil society groups, various educational stakeholders and political parties expressing their views either in support or opposition.
Amidst all the hullabaloo and unfortunate talks that greeted the intentions of implementing a great policy of this nature, the President, his appointees, party faithfuls and the well-wishers of the program remained astute and resolute in all efforts aimed at making the policy materialise, nonetheless the policy was unveiled and implemented convincingly from September 2017 till date.
After witnessing the policy over the period and seeing the increment in the numbers in our senior high schools, it has become necessary to, as a matter of urgency, make constructive criticisms and objections in addressing the daily problems that are impeding the success of the policy and for that matter the fortunes it will give birth to.
It is high time, the Ghanaian appreciated the socio-economic benefits of education, rally behind the government and make scholarly injections to help remedy the situation rather than the “Let them do it and let’s see”, ” They can’t do it” and the lukewarm attitudes across the political divides.
There is more than ample evidence that, every policy comes along with its own predictable and unpredictable predicaments for which reasons the free SHS and the government shouldn’t be condemned to hell, after all we can only consolidate our gains from our natural endowments as a country poised to achieve measurable progress through a good educational system.
As a patriotic citizen who is poised to see mother Ghana liberated from the evil claws of poverty and all the nuisance of depending on foreign aid and loans, I can feel the passion and driving force with which the President aims at making education accessible and free to all Ghanaians.
With a surprising 90,000 more students entering senior high school last year and an expected 181,000 more entrants in 2018, it is the only evidence that a lot of useful brains who could add to output were left to rot due to the cost involved in financing senior high education at the expense of Ghana’s development. It is really time we accept in good faith that the policy must remain free and it must also not collapse.
To this effect, I table a few ideas which I believe will help sustain Ghana’s social intervention policies.
The Free Senior High School Policy.
1) Prioritising day schools:
Among the numerous challenges affecting the smooth operation of the policy are lack of infrastructure such as dormitory blocks and inability of the already existing schools to accommodate the increasing number of students, inadequacy of beds and mattresses, scarcity of nutritional supplements, access to portable water and deteriorating toilet facilities due to the pressure from new entrants.
It’s important our policymakers encourage that, at least 40% of the fresh entrants come from surrounding communities. This can be better achieved by revisiting the previous governments’ community school projects after all national development is a continuous collaborative task. This will reduce the burden on infrastructure.
Even in advanced nations like the United States, well-established boarding institutions are privately managed to a large extent and are reserved to the rich and affluent who are ready to pay for such services while the absolute majority opted for day high schools so why can’t we replicate same in our struggling dispensation.
It is also important to encourage junior high school leavers to select schools which are not too far away from their existing neighborhoods.
2) Release Tier 1 schools to alumna unions:
Highly endowed schools with vibrant and already supportive old student unions such as Adisadel old boys Association, Achimota, Presbyterian boys Legon, Prempeh and other decorated second cycle institutions already benefit immensely from their student unions.
There is ample evidence that Adisadel old boys are willing to take over management of the school. As it stands, most of these schools already have most of their administrative staff and teaching staff’s as old students who give all there is to maintain the history of such schools.
With this already in practice, the government can now channel it’s available resources to the less privileged institutions.
3) Introduction of school farms:
Considering the chunk of recurrent expenditure, the government makes on feeding on a daily basis, schools located in rural areas and less busy vicinities can acquire farmlands from their Chiefs and engage in farming activities to reduce the burden on government.
Such schools should have well-resourced agriculture departments and the government should incorporate its planting for foods and jobs policy through the district assemblies to these Schools. If carefully rolled out, these schools can venture in poultry and crops such as maize, cassava, vegetables such as pepper, okra, garden eggs and rice where possible.
Harvest could be used to supplement the government’s efforts. Another advantage is also to inculcate farming as a habit into these students for self-ventures after school.
4) Parents to foot feeding bills of their wards:
In order to reduce the feeding burden on government, parents can take responsibility of their wards feeding needs in two scenarios.
a) Directly paying feeding components on termly basis as the situation was in the past.
b) Issues of feeding can completely be taken off the shoulders of school authorities.
In these regards, approved food items would be served at designated canteens for students to purchase during break periods.
This will provide employment to cooks, sales boys and girls and also provide a ready market to locally produced farm items.
Currently, some parents dish out as much as 1,000 Cedis a term to their wards as so-called pocket money since the government has taken the school fees burden off them.
The money could properly be paid as feeding fees or still use by the wards to feed on their own.
5) Engagement of private schools.
Whatever being the case, private schools have been an embodiment of our educational systems for a long time. Most of such schools have state of the act facilities and good human resources, and in general, they perform better than public institutions. Currently most of this schools are out of business due to the free SHS policy.
A complete extinction of private schools has got it’s own negative effects on the country.
Teachers will loose their work and government will also loose revenue obtained through taxation.
Instead of seeing all these being channeled down the drains, it’s rather laudable we utilise their facilities since they have confessed they have enough space to aid government.
The Free Senior High School Policy can be adjudged the best over the period and it provides surety of fruitful results and a better Ghana in the near future, any effort aimed at developing human resource is worthy of praise.
LONG LIVE FREE SHS, LONG LIVE GHANA