Education is a powerful agent. It is one of the most important investments a country can make in her people and her future. These investments translate into improved health, infrastructure development, the growth of the economy and general living conditions.
Education contributes to social stability and drives long-term economic growth. Education is also essential to the success of each one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Any country or society that does not take education seriously shall remain dead to the future.
Over the years, successive governments have done their best in contributing to the promotion, development, sustenance and viability of Ghana’s educational system.
However, the current campaign promises by President Akufo-Addo defies what has already been stipulated in Ghana’s constitution as far as “free education” is concerned. It is quite obvious that the "Free SHS" programme introduced by the Akufo-Addo-led government is causing damage to the QUALITY of Ghana’s educational system and if something urgent is not done to contain the situation, especially in the area of infrastructure, a serious catastrophe awaits us.
The journey started with the framers of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana, who made provisions for basic educational rights. Article 25 Clause 1 (a) and (b) clearly state that (i) basic education shall be free, compulsory and available to all. When did free education start in Ghana? Certainly, not the brain child of Nana Akufo-Addo and the New Patriotic Party (NPP).
Ghana introduced free compulsory education at the primary and junior high school levels in 1995 as required by the Constitution, but implementation took time. It wasn't until 2014 that the World Bank said Ghana had achieved near-universal access at the primary level.
“The Government of Ghana launched Progressively Free Senior High School education in September 2015, and an amount of GH¢ 12,178,544.00 ($ 2,744, 334) was released to the Ministry of Education for the first term of 2015/2016 academic year to fund the policy” (MOE, 2015).
This prompted the then government under His Excellency, John Dramani Mahama to take critical actions which saw the building of E-Block schools across the country. This was to prepare the grounds for the take-off of the Free SHS programme; and to increase room for access in the event of increased enrollment.
The above action was not fully actualised before the change of government in 2016. In view of the above details, it is not true that President Akufo-Addo was the first to introduce free senior high school education in Ghana.
Furthermore, President Akuffo-Addo’s “Free SHS Education” was a mere campaign promise which was made on a weak foundation and was not well thought through in the sense that facilities/infrastructure that must have been put in place to accommodate any future eventualities were not sorted out satisfactorily and, above all, the financial capacity to implement this promise was unavailable.
Free education policy has the possibility of increasing enrollment, hence one would have thought that adequate facilities would have been provided in addition to strong financial muscle to contain the large numbers that would patronise the programme. But President Akufo-Addo overlooked these and is thus leading Ghana’s senior high school education into a critical ditch with the introduction of the so-called Double-Track System.
This colour-themed system (blue, green and yellow tracks) has rather put a huge financial burden on parents, who have to be hiring teachers to teach their wards at home since the vacations are now taking longer periods than normal. Some parents have to rent apartments for their wards to stay in due to the unavailability of accommodation facilities in the schools. This situation has exposed many children to dangers that could jeopardize their future aspirations.
Some teachers that I interacted with concerning their experiences of the implementation of the Free SHS policy indicated that the system has the potential of weakening the country’s educational system as the second cycle institutions have become “factories of mass production with little quality”. Others described it as “Humans without vitamins” in the sense that the current situation has the following disturbing outcomes:
- Very large number of students in a class, making the learning environment challenging.
- Many students enter into Senior High School with low academic capacity.
- High rate of indiscipline due to the large student populations.
- Low quality and quantity of food served to students in the dining halls.
- Due to the concept of "FREE," most parents don't buy textbooks (elective subjects) for their children, making teaching of some subjects such as Literature in English and English Grammar very difficult
- Membership of Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) has become optional. It is therefore difficult to get parents to support the schools, among other challenges.
With the above analysis, one would have thought that the current government would as a matter of urgency, complete all unfinished E-Blocks to contain the situation but these thoughtful projects were abandoned. This and many other projects, especially uncompleted health facilities have also suffered the same fate.
The execution of government policies should have the element of continuity so that the citizens can derive maximum dividends to enhance their lives. Therefore, John Dramani Mahama’s promise to complete all abandoned projects in his second term of office is, indeed, commendable.
I strongly believe that if all leaders, especially successive Presidents of this country adopt such a spirit of commitment, the country will reach higher levels of holistic development for a better future for all.
President Akufo-Addo’s decision not to continue most of the projects of the past government, especially the E-Blocks, which could have resolved many challenges in terms of accommodation, is unfortunate. His decision to introduce and implement a colour-themed, double-track educational system for Ghana must be discouraged and condemned.
Indeed, it seems clear that we are not in normal times as far as our educational system is concerned. NPP’s half-baked Free SHS education is a disaster.