Every Ghanaian has educational rights under Article 25 of the 1992 Constitution, which gives the right to equal educational opportunities and facilities. The Constitution therefore requires that basic education is free, compulsory and available to all; secondary education including technical and vocational education is also generally available and accessible with a progressive introduction of free education. The Constitution again requires that the development of the system of schools with adequate facilities at all levels must be actively pursued (emphasis mine).
There are two approaches to actualizing this Constitutional right. One is to take a long-term approach of providing adequate facilities such as classrooms including even roads to the schools, availability of teachers and appropriate curriculum to make the Free SHS available and accessible which is the Mahama quality approach. The other is to take a short term approach of giving the opportunity and ignoring the availability of facilities such as classrooms including even roads to the schools, availability of teachers and appropriate curriculum which is the Akufo-Addo quantity approach.
The Akufo-Addo approach of Free SHS has of course given the opportunity for our children to have the opportunity as required by the Constitution. This has come with its short term political gain but the lack of facilities in its implementation has exposed the approach leading to the TRAFFIC LIGHT shift system and insufficient learning contact hours to appropriately prepare the students for their exams. This eventually led to the first time in the history of Ghana, the need for the government to officially buy past questions (passco) for the students which were followed by an unprecedented mass leakage of the actual examination questions with answers, all in the zeal to show statistics that the opportunity and quantity approach by Akufo-Addo has been successful.
Has Akufo-Addo given the opportunity for free SHS? Yes! Are education facilities generally available and accessible? No! What should therefore come first? The free opportunity or the availability and accessibility of the facilities? Don’t you think it makes better sense to pursue the Mahama approach by providing the necessary educational facilities, while making SHS education progressively free?
The framers of the Constitution required all persons to have the right to equal educational opportunities and facilities. This they knew, in their wisdom, would require enormous resources hence made the introduction of free education progressive, so other sectors do not suffer.
In 2014 Mahama, in his State of The Nation Address, declared a progressively free SHS programme which he launched on September 18, 2015 and for which GHS12.2 million was released to enable the Education Ministry pay for the first term of the 2015/2016 academic year.
Mahama then commissioned the first of 200 Community Day Senior High School earmarked to be constructed at Ekumfi Otuam in the Central Region. The following components were removed from schools fees for day SHS students:
1. Fees for all day students attending public senior high school
2. Examination and Library fees
3. Entertainment and SRC dues
4. Science development fees
5. Sports & Culture fees
6. ICT fees
This was a transformational approach to respond to the Constitutional provision of a progressive free basic education and which will not give instant gratification. Akufo-Addo opted for a populist approach as against the transformational approach by Mahama and made it appear as if it is a privilege he had given to Ghanaians. Akufo-Addo ignored the wisdom of the progressively free education and his response to the lack of adequate resources to develop other sectors of the economy is the introduction of free SHS.
Mahama in the NDC People’s Manifesto has pledged to still pursue his transformational agenda as follows:
• Abolish the double-track system at the senior high schools and address all numerous challenges. This is to improve on the learning contact hours and quality of the opportunity.
• Students of private senior high schools shall also benefit from free education. This is to make SHS available and accessible.
• Provision of free tablet computers loaded with relevant educational content to facilitate teaching and learning. This is to improve the quality and equal opportunity.
• Free education for all students of TVET. This is in response to our Constitutional right.
• Absorb 50% of fees of tertiary students for 2020/21 academic year. This is to make education progressively free as per our Constitutional right.
• Free Wi-Fi zones for all tertiary students in both private and public institutions as well as free laptops to students to facilitate participation in virtual classroom sessions. This is to give equal opportunity and make education available and accessible to all in line with our Constitutional right.
• Free tertiary education for persons with disabilities. This is to give equal opportunity to all, irrespective of our physical or learning challenges.
• Provision of residential facilities to accommodate both teachers and education support staff. This is to attract good teachers to improve the quality of education delivery.
Free SHS education is a Constitutional right and not a privilege. There are two possible approaches; the populist by-way-of opportunity, quantity and instant gratification which is the Akufo Addo approach as against the progressive, transformational by-way-of availability, accessibility and quality Mahama approach. There is no doubt that the Mahama approach is a superior approach.