When Akufo-Addo became president of Ghana for the first time in January 2017, he made the introduction of free Senior High School (free SHS), the major ambition of his government. Nana Addo and his government kept their promise to Ghanaians and initiated the introduction of free SHS in September 2017. This was a true fulfilment of Nana Addo's 2017 presidential campaign.
This free SHS policy has now become an essential part of Ghana's educational system. The major or core themes of the free SHS policy are: access, equity and equality which completely fulfil United Nation's modified sustainable development goals. Some people have been employed and allocated the duty to ensure the policy’s efficiency.
Some countries in Africa have consulted Ghana eager to amalgamate the Ghanaian free SHS experience in their countries educational system. The leaders of these countries, after visiting Ghana, are confident that if they adopted the free educational policy, it will ensure an excellent learning experience for students in the respective countries.
Will Ghana SHS education continue to be free? Ever since Nana Addo declared free SHS policy, the number of students has more than doubled. This has exposed the weaknesses and lack of preparedness of the free SHS implementation. The initial arrangement of some students staying at home for three months while others go to school is gradually being solved.
An unfortunate phenomenon has crept into the free SHS system thereby creating difficulties for parents and guardians. It is difficult to tell whether this is connivance between the heads of the schools and directors of Ghana Education Service. The headmasters have found a way of making the parents spend. The heads of the schools profit by this.
Two leaflets of Prospectus, supposed to be given free to parents, are sold to them. There are a whole lot of things listed in the prospectus which the parent needs to buy for their children. They include a mattress, two brooms (one short and one long), one cutlass, selected text books and readers, one bucket and many more. The total cost for the item ranges from GHc1200 to GHc1500. Is this not more than paying fees?
Wesley Girls High School admitted 1550 students. 600 of them could not go because their parents could not afford to buy the items. That is free education for you!
When the free SHS was first introduced, all what those admitted had to do was to go to the school with their pens. Everything else, including school uniforms, was provided by government. What is now going on in the schools is an indication of hard times for the free education policy.
It is also interesting to note that with the introduction of this new education policy, both personnel at the Ghana Education Service (GES) and the heads of SHS have no means of enriching themselves by collecting huge bribes from parents whose children could not be placed. Admissions are now computer generated so the school authorities have no means of taking bribes to admit certain students.
But they have now found a means of making extra money for themselves. The schools normally admit between 1000 and 1500 fresh students. The items stipulated on the prospectus cost between GHc1500 and GHc2000 depending on the school. When half of the new students have brought in these items, any parent who came to collect prospectus is encouraged to bring only the mattress and mosquito net but buy the rest from a store temporarily set up in the school. For all you know, and in a typical robbing Peter to pay Paul style, the shop is filled with the items brought in earlier by the students.
All proceeds from the sale go into private pockets. Is the GES aware? Are they condoning and conniving with the heads of these schools? Why should parents weep in the face of fee education? A friend puts it in loose English as, "when it is coming it is doing!"
The number of students admitted into Senior High School has doubled under the free education policy. As a result the classrooms are unable to take all the students due to lack of space both in the classrooms and in the boarding houses. A shift system was created whereby one group would be in the school for a term while the other group remained at home.
The system does not favour day students at all since the computer places day students haphazardly. A student from Sunyani was placed as a day student at Assin Fosu SHS. Several students suffered similar fate. What the parents did was to rent a room for the 14-year old boy at GHc650 a term excluding water and electricity. Apart from the risk of living alone as a teenager, is this student really benefitting from free education?
There are many critics and observers who feel Nana Addo started the free SHS in a hurry. The promises made during the campaign are being broken one by one. Nana Addo assured Ghanaians that no students will have to buy anything before coming to school. The government would provide everything including text books and uniforms. Today parents have to buy most of the items. This alone is preventing many from enjoying the free education.
Concerned citizens, critics and national observers insist that the hurry with which the government implemented the free SHS policy was bound to result in problems. Before the implementation, Nana Addo announced that what the students needed to do was to prepare their brains for effective learning and everything else will be provided by the government. Is that what is happening today? Are the critics right?
The Minister of Finance, Ken Ofori-Atta, came to terms with the overbearing problems of support and finances and expressed the view that there were many well to do people in the country who could easily pay their ward's school fees. He appealed to such people to come forward and help the system by paying their children’s fees.
Will free SHS survive? When it is coming, it is doing!
Columnist: Stephen Atta Owusu
Author: Dark Faces t Crossroads
Email: [email protected]