It has consistently been the major campaign promise of the New Patriotic Party led by Nana Akuffo Addo to make education at the Senior High School level free for all Ghanaians.
The idea was conceived in 2007 at Akwasiho in the Eastern Region during the then-candidate Akuffo Addo’s interaction with a sixteen-year-old boy whom, despite passing the B.E.C.E, stayed at home due to lack of fund to cater for his SHS education. To Akuffo Addo, financial constraint should not be a factor to deny B.E.C.E candidates’ access to SHS.
The free SHS debate gathered much momentum in the build up of the 2016 general elections. While the NPP believed that the payment of fees at the SHS level denied Ghanaians from poor background access to SHS, the John Mahama-led NDC had a different view. To the NDC, infrastructure challenges and deficits in the various SHS in Ghana needed to be addressed first before progressively introducing the free SHS policy.
The New Patriotic Party (NPP), led by the current president Nana Akufo-Addo, pledged to introduce a fee-free senior high school policy in its election 2008 and 2012 manifestos. The party failed to win these two elections, but showed deep commitment to the policy, when it again made the introduction of free high school education one of its major campaign promises in the 2016 elections. When the party won the 2016 elections, the new president affirmed the party’s commitment to fulfil the campaign promise in his first State of the Nation Address.
On 11th February 2017, President of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo Addo announced a policy to make Senior High School education tuition free, opening a new chapter for young people whose education would not have gone beyond grade 9 because their parents could afford to pay for it.At Grade 9 the Ministry of Education uses the Computerized School Selection and Placement System (CSSPS) to place Ghanaian students in the Senior High School System (SHS) and their statistics show that prior to free SHS education, 25% of the students who were placed by the CSSPS yearly, did not enrol in SHS – many because of financial reasons. This is very scary for a nation that has approximately 57% of her population under the age of 25.
In the first year of the implementation of the free SHS policy, Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh, the Minister of Education at a press briefing in Accra in November 2017 disclosed that just over 358,000 students had enrolled under the free senior high school policy, an improvement of 75% from 2016. As if that wasn’t enough, it was expected that enrolment for the September 2018/2019 academic year would hit around 472,730 students.
The total seats available at the time was 290,737 so overcrowding related issues at senior high schools was inevitable. The exigencies of the situation called for a double-track system to be introduced to create adequate seating from the existing classrooms. With the double track system, schools have a calendar of two semesters in a year to be shared between two batches of SHS students. To make this stopgap system maintain its quality, teaching hours were increased from six hours to eight hours per day.
However, the introduction of the policy, and subsequent implementation of the Free Senior High School Programme, generated a lot of uncertainties and unease in the minds of Ghanaians and policy watchers. Many analysts of the programme have argued that the absence of comprehensive policy documents – except for the budget statement and the president’s State of the Nation Address – to inform public discussion and scrutiny of the policy raises key questions about its intent.
Among the key issues that dominated public discourse included: the feasibility of the programme within the context of existing education sector challenges; funding sources; and how to ensure and maintain quality learning outcomes. The discussions, in particular, on how to ensure quality learning outcomes and the politics, policy and institutional option to realise that, are in our mind the most important to have.
Already, on the positive side, the introduction of the policy has enabled over 400,000 students to be enrolled, thereby expanding access to secondary education. On the negative side, the implementation of the programme has been attended by a number of problems, challenges and fears. The challenges include the absence of adequate school infrastructure to accommodate the expected increased enrolment , and concerns with growing deficit in teacher numbers relative to increasing student population. There has also been concerns and fears expressed about how the policy will destroy some of Ghana’s prestigious public Senior High Schools, the so-called “Ivy League Schools ” which have developed, unique, informal governance arrangements at the school level to ensure quality learning outcomes over the years. Others have also raised the problem of sustainable financing for the program and expressed doubt over whether government can find the necessary resources to fund the policy.
Critics of the reform have also pointed to the emerging problems and concerns in the implementation of the free Senior High School programme as the outcome of a policy focus on ensuring access (mass enrolment) rather than the concerns for quality (building structures to support learning outcomes) in Ghana’s educator sector policy reform.
The flagbearer for the National Democratic Congress (NDC), John Dramani Mahama made an assertion on 26th October, 2020 when he had a professional dialogue at Accra. He said:
“My interest in TVET gained firm roots when I expected an oil and gas project and I was informed by the supervisor that they often have to bring in professional welders and other professionals from outside the country because Ghana just did not have enough of such trained personnel to deliver according to specifications and time schedule,” he said.
“From that moment I decided that we needed to brand TVET from the basic level to the technical University level so that our young people can be equipped with the needed skills, knowledge and qualifications and be well-positioned to take advantage of the numerous employment opportunities or alternatively to employ themselves and others,” he said.
Mr. Mahama mentioned that, during his first term of presidency, he will work to eliminate congestion on the double-track school system. He also said he will fully support skills for technical and vocational training (TVET).
The presidential candidate stated that a future NDC government will initiate the Free National Apprenticeship Programme where the services of master craftsmen and partisans engage and pay for in the communities to equip and train the young people including youths in urban areas.
According to him, the newly passed out trainees in vocations such as dressmaking, catering, hairdressing, plumbing among others will be given equipment to start up their own businesses in other to earn a living for themselves.
“We believe the NDC’s 1 million jobs plan and free TVET and national apprenticeship programme as contained in the people’s manifesto are important because the failure to create jobs for the team youths could prove disastrous for this nation,” Mahama said.
He explained that the NDC will initiate the digital economy which seeks to train many computer programmers to promote youth development.
On formal education, Mr. Mahama added that pre-schools and basic schools will be strengthened and improved to ensure quality teaching and learning.
The NDC flagbearer said his administration will complete the abandoned day schools as well as the expansion of existing infrastructure and inclusion of private schools in the implementation of the Free SHS programme. This, he said, will address congestion and ensure quality teaching and learning for all children.
In the awake of the debate as which among these two major political parties can better implement the Free Senior High School. The National Democratic Congress made some claims about the New Patriotic Party manifesto lunched at Cape Coast was false.
The National Democratic Congress’ Claim about the New Patriotic Party’s manifesto:
In item 103, on page 54 of the 2020 manifesto, the NPP claims that it has implemented a free SHS policy (on Universal Basis), which encompasses Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET).
The addition of the qualifying phrase ‘Universal Basis’ to the claim of implementing a free SHS policy itself suggests and is an admission that there was, at least, a form of free SHS policy in place before the NPP assumed office in January, 2017.
What was therefore introduced by the NPP was a modification and enhancement of what the NDC government started before it left office. This fact has been acknowledged by the current NPP government, with the claim that the NDC left some debts it incurred in the provision of free SHS for them to come and pay.
Secondly, it is not wholly true, and thus deceitful, for the NPP to claim that the free SHS policy also includes Free TVET. The TVET sector of Ghana’s educational system spans several ministries and agencies; including but not limited to the Ministry of Education (MoE), Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations (MELR), the Technical Education Division (TED) of MoE NVTI, ICCES and with co-ordination done by COTVET.
What the NPP government is referring to as Free TVET, the Ghana Economic Dialogue respectively submits, covers only those in the Senior High Technical Schools (SHTS) or the Technical Institutes. This therefore makes TVET students under the MoE the only current beneficiaries of the Free SHS policy in the TVET sector.
Students in the NVTIs and ICCES among others, who actually constitute the majority of the TVET population in the country, are currently not benefitting from the Free SHS policy. It must also be stressed that these aforementioned institutions are all part of the second cycle education sector in Ghana.
The National Democratic Congress’ Claim about the New Patriotic Party’s manifesto:
Further under the TVET sector, the NPP claims, under item 112, on page 56, to have developed a TVET Qualifications Framework and accredited some 80 institutions to run competency-based training (CBT) programmes in the country.
This claim is also untrue as the development of the TVET Qualifications Framework and the introduction of CBT into the TVET sector of Ghana’s educational system far predate the assumption into office of the current government. The eight-level National TVET Qualification Framework was development and adopted through the enactment of a Legislative Instrument (LI 2195) in 2012, under the previous NDC regime.
Secondly, the accreditation of institutions to run the CBT and the subsequent training of teachers in those institutions commenced in 2013/2014. Technical Universities (then Polytechnics) were also brought on-board to run the CBT programme, with the selection of the College of Technology of University of Education (UEW-COLTEK), Kumasi Campus, as the centre to supervise the rollout of the programme. A CBT Centre was thereafter established on the COLTEK campus to place it on better footing to take up that responsibility.
Ghanaians will go to the polls to elect their next president on December, 7th, approximately four weeks from now. Granted that this election would be won on the lines of free SHS, who would have the political advantage; NDC or NPP?
By Emmanuel Aboagye
Email: [email protected]