Government to consider a national debate to review the free-SHS policy?

By Kwasi Owusu-Afriyie
Article Government to consider a national debate to review the free-SHS policy?
MAR 21, 2022 LISTEN

The NDC had showed opposition to the free SHS campaign since 2008, and it continues to make utterances that seem to suggest that “we-told-you-so” to the NPP government. NDC is preparing fertile grounds for ending the policy if they are returned to power. However, the policy continues to receive favorable ratings among Ghanaians, who prefer a review to ending it. NPP-Finland joins majority of Ghanaians calling for a meaningful review of the policy to keep it alive. Recent developments amid economic crisis partly due the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russian-Ukrainian war have made calls to review the free SHS policy louder. Whilst maintaining free-SHS policy is a popular request, a considerable section of Ghanaians believe people who can pay must be made to do so to reduce the enormous burden on the government.

People who can pay must contribute to cushion the government. How do we do that? We can learn from examples from the free education the northern part of the country that had been place since independence. According to law, the policy implemented by past governments offered free education for only students from the north and students of northern extraction. This meant that all non-northern students paid school fees even though they attended same schools in northern Ghana. Currently, the Nordic countries such as Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark implement universal free education for its citizens and EU citizens except for non-EU citizens. How is this policy being implemented successfully? How do some students enjoy free education and others pay in the same school?

Until Ghana improves its data system, it would be very challenging to have a section of the student populace pay fees as it was done in the northern part of the country and currently being implemented in the Nordic region. Ghana can, however, begin a national dialogue on reviewing the policy and looking for ways of taking fees from non-Ghanaians and richer citizens to cushion government. NPP-Finland suggests the following three-points.

First, all foreigners must pay for SHS education. Having a stepparent should not automatically make one exempt from paying fees. To be exempted from paying fees, such a stepchild needs to have a Ghanaian citizenship. To prove your citizenship status, such an applicant must submit a copy of Ghana card or passport as attachment to SHS application documents. In Finland, for example, having a Finnish spouse doesn’t automatically qualify one to enjoy free education, but in addition, a student needs to be a residence card holder issued for a family member of an EU citizen in Finland. All copies of documents of proof for fees exemption must be submitted as attachment during school application.

Second, free SHS fee-paying-act may be enacted by the parliament to compel families with higher income levels to pay stipulated fees to help government implement free SHS policy more effectively. All families above category 1 income ceiling must pay for the SHS education in full and those falling under category 2 income awarded fee waiver. In the event of a student awarded a fee waiver, the amount awarded to be deducted from the student’s invoice accordingly and paid by the government. Different percentages of fees waiver may be clearly stated in the free SHS fee-paying-act. For example, if a student is awarded a 50 % scholarship or waiver, such beneficiary will pay half of the fees due for that academic year. If Ghana had a robust system, income statement could be attached during SHS selection and parents’ Ghana card, or ID numbers provided. Currently, government may have to rely on families’ willingness to volunteer information on their income status. Government’s adamant to have richer families paying for SHS may be due to difficulty in implementing such a policy in Ghana. NPP-Finland, therefore, implore well-meaning Ghanaians to abandon the path of unending criticism of the policy and begin to offer some practical ideas to make richer students pay.

In Finland for example, every child below school going age pays for the early childhood education (day care) fee and this is calculated according to the child’s family’s income. A statement of the family's income must be submitted to the day care for onward submission to the customer fee unit of the city’s education department or it can be submitted to the education department directly under special arrangement. The Act on Client Fees in Early Childhood Education and Care is a tool used by every city’s education department in setting the income limits on which the fees are based. Family size and number of siblings receiving early childhood education at the same time affect the payment percentage calculation. Some families receive zero invoice based on their income levels.

Third, Ghana may emulate the equal and egalitarian comprehensive education system run by most Nordic countries, where admission is done mainly by the principle of neighborhood school allocation. All students attend school from home and served free lunch at school. In Finland for example, there is freedom of parental school choice, but precedence is given to children residing in the neighborhood in admission to education. The principle of neighborhood school allocation if adapted to suit Ghana’s unique social construction, would help reduce the budget for keeping and expanding boarding facilities greatly. The ex-president Kuffour model schools and now, president Akufo-Addo model schools should be spread across the country to encourage parental school choice within their neighborhood. This will increase the number of day-students and reduce government’s expenditure on boarding-students. The fewer the boarding students, the less government’s expenditure. If a student is placed in a school other than the local school according to parental school choice, the parents must be responsible for boarding fees and other related cost.

NPP-Finland commends government for keeping faith with Ghanaians in maintaining the free SHS and striving to keep the policy alive, despite challenges that are usually inevitable with new policies. Patriotic Ghanaians domiciled in Finland are ever ready to share their experiences gained from a nation known as having one of the best educational standards in the world. Our experiences are shared directly with government and in the public to whip up appetite for a national debate. NPP-Finland believes we can all contribute through our collective effort to make the policy ever-lasting, a better one and an enviable one in Africa.

Kwasi Owusu-Afriyie
Communication director, NPP-Finland