There have been persistent calls for the review of the Free Senior High School policy, at least by three prominent persons in Ghana. The thrust of the calls, possibly, is on cost reduction, and the need to lessen the financial burden of the policy on national budget as it increases public expenditure.
Yet there are reports of corruption taking huge sums of financial resources from the state, and misappropriation of funds at the MMDAs. So, the cost of the Free Senior High School policy is not a demanding factor to urge for its revision. From a professional and development point of view, the focus of any suitable review should not be targeted at cost reduction, but the review should be directed at achieving goals that aim at developing the human capital of the state for the future. People capable of resolving development challenges in the future should be trained and developed.
Presently, there is no adequate assurance that the graduates produced by the policy can be relied on for knowledge support in the future for development purposes. There should be independent investigations on the impact of the policy on literacy and the total development of the students prior to a possible review.
The policy, from its beginning, is viewed as a necessary pro-poor social intervention programme that is pursued to reduce poverty and increase Secondary School enrolment in order to reduce illiteracy rate in the country. A proper review of the policy currently will reveal the inability of the state to achieve quality literacy rate and analytical skills for students as most of the graduates or the beneficiaries at the various Senior High Schools cannot read and write with better understanding. There is no political underpinning for this conclusion; it is made from a professional background.
The content of the programme must be reviewed to check the churning out of graduates who will ultimately add to the unemployment rate of Ghana than adding value to the labour force. A properly developed and groomed Senior High School graduate should be able to fit and function well in some industries with increase in productivity. Therefore, in supporting and reiterating the call for a review of the Free Senior High School policy, I suggest the following:
The state should set targets for pursuing the Free Senior High School policy. Currently, the policy is being pursued for political goals and convenience. As a social intervention programme, the policy is appropriate for reducing poverty and perhaps for modelling the growth of the literacy rate of the country. It is not sufficient to conceive and implement educational policies with the aim of achieving the social intervention objectives of a state. The Free SHS policy was conceived and pursued from a social interventionist orientation than from a development ideology, which should develop the human capital of the state.
There have been untiring complaints about the quality of the graduates from the tertiary institutions in Ghana. The Free SHS policy implementation Committee should embrace the plea for the review of the policy by considering its impact of it on industry and the other sectors of the economy. The foundation for developing the labour force of a country should be laid at the Senior High Schools, to be refined at the tertiary institutions for the job market. However, the discussions around the policy seek to conclude on a success being chalked by the government by putting a million or more Ghanaian children in school; it is not focused on training quality students proficient to resolving issues in the future.
The quality of the graduates from the tertiary institutions will deteriorate in the future if there is no radical attempt to change the foundation at the Senior High Schools presently. The political parties are only interested in achieving greater numbers at the polls; they cannot help in setting quality goals for the policy than influencing the masses with a policy that increases their fortunes during national elections. The state should have a goal for implementing the Free Senior High School. Currently, it is only a social intervention programme that cannot help develop the human capital of the state.
The call for the review of the Free Senior High School is primarily based on reducing public expenditure on education. The cost-reduction arguments are essentially weak as the Auditor-General’s department perennially reports financial malfeasance at the MMDAs with a greater value than the amount spent on the policy since its implementation. There could be cost reduction strategies if the state intents to revise its policy on education. A cut-off system for entrants into the Senior High Schools could reduce cost.
The Free SHS policy should be implemented with a targeted-approach such that JHS graduates who demonstrate capacities to be upgraded or trained are the ones to be admitted at the Senior High Schools. The other category of persons can be trained at the Technical and Vocational schools, to be imparted with technical skills. The cut-off system should not just be applied for the admission of the JHS graduates; it should be used for the cumulative development of the students at the Senior schools. A national or regional promotion examination could be taken as the basis for moving to the next class. Students who trail in such examinations should be demoted. Parents and guardians should be educated on why they need to pay the tuition fees of non-performing students as the state is not ready to pay the fees of a student twice. Wholesale admissions and promotions will spur the growth of enrolments at the Schools but cannot guarantee quality. Therefore, wholesale promotions must cease immediately.
The discussion on the need for the review of the Free Senior High School policy often ignores the quality of the policy and its end-product, the students. The goal of every education policy globally is to meet the demands of the industry as well as provide the manpower needs of a country. But the nature and content of the policy on education for the Senior High School in Ghana is not reassuring in providing the foundation of the quality labour force needed.
The Free Senior High School policy provides an appropriate social intervention strategy but it does not have the essential qualities in content for developing the students at the Senior High Schools. The need for its revision should not center on cost-reduction as the critical objective. The review should consider options that can improve its quality.
Emmanuel Kwabena Wucharey
Economics Tutor, Advocate and Religion Enthusiast.