01.06.2005 Feature Article

Free Education For Northeners

Free Education For  Northeners
01.06.2005 LISTEN

Should the government be paying for the boarding fees of all people of Northern descent or it should only be the needy? What about the CMB and other similar scholarships? In a recent article entitled "NDC urges Govt to pay feeding grants to Northern Schools" published on the Ghanaweb on 16 May 2005, the author discussed some problems facing the students of the secondary schools in the three Northern Regions because of the delay in receiving the government scholarships to cover their feeding grants. As we are aware, this is highly sensitive political issue and for that reasons our immediate-past and present governments have not been able to review the policies, which created the Northern scholarship to reflect the realities of today.

My intention of writing this article is not to suggest that the Northern scholarship scheme should be abolished, rather my intention is to suggest that the current way of administering the system is outdated as it still reflects how the scheme was established over 40 years ago by Dr Kwame Nkrumah. The article will also briefly touches on the inefficiencies inherent in other scholarships available in the Southern part of the country.

To start with I believe that every country or nation has the responsibility to assist needy students, especially the talented ones to pursue education, as it helps both such students and the nation at large. Therefore, as it is generally believed that poverty is much more widespread in the northern regions than the southern sector of the country, it is imperative that the Government of Ghana assists students from the North to pursue their education.

Having said that I also believe that the way that the Northern review the whole program in order to bring efficiency into it and to ensure that the scheme can be sustained for a reasonable period of time to the benefit of the disadvantage students in the area. For instance, when I attended six form in Ghana Secondary School, Tamale between 1981 and 1983, it appeared that not only students of Northern descents from both the rich and poor families enjoyed the Northern scholarship, but some of the students who were of southern descent but in the school and even some students of parents of other nationalities living in the Northern Ghana such as Nigerians, automatically enjoyed the scholarship. Thus, it appeared there was no system in place to check that the scholarship only went to students of Northern descent. While I am not sure if such inefficient practice still exists, I still believe that the Northern scholarship has come of age and needs review in order to ensure its sustainability.

Firstly, while the late Dr Kwame Nkrumah set up the system primarily as an affirmative action to ensure that students of the North would be able to attend secondary school, I strongly believe that after over 40 years of the establishment of the scheme, it must be restructured to reflect the realities of today. While I strongly support that the Government of Ghana should still support the students from the area whose parents are poor, I do not think that it is still appropriate for the Government to continue to pay for the Northern students whose parents are obviously rich and can easily pay for the fees of their children. I remember that at Ghana Secondary School some of my mates came from the very rich and important homes in Ghana, yet they enjoyed the scholarship. To continue award the scholarship on such absolute comprehensive basis without any regard to the financial situation of the people certainly makes the system inefficient. Perhaps, if the students of the rich parents are taken from the system, the scheme will become much easier for the Government to handle. Although many people in the North remain poor, there are definitely some very rich families from the Northern who can easily pay their children fees without any struggle and the Government should not be paying for such students from rich families including the children of the rich MPs and contractors from the North as giving the scholarship to such obviously rich people makes the aim of the scheme self-defeating.

I therefore urge that the Northern caucus of MPs and other stakeholders from the area in collaboration with the Government take this important bold step to review the scheme and put measures in place to ensure that only the needy students receive it to ensure its sustainability and timely disbursement of such funds to the right students.

It is also equally true that some of the scholarship schemes in the south such as the CMB scholarship go to the wrong people. In most cases, the poor farmers who children are to enjoy it do not have it rather they are sold to the rich people. There were even some cases where some students happen to have both CMB and other scholarships concurrently, which in effect, they get about twice of the amount they need to pay their boarding fees, while other students are sent home because of their parents' inability to pay for their fees. Like the northern scholarship, I also strongly believe that some mechanism should be established to make it more efficient rather than people using bribes to get them.

Further, the Government should also encourage more students all over the country to take the option of being day students, provided the family environment and other factors such as proximity to schools will permit it. For instance, the Government can provide reliable buses services picking up students from vantage points at specified time. In Ghana, the secondary school system has been designed in such a way that it appears that it is mainly the students from poor families that become day students. I remember as a day student in secondary school, the boarders certainly portray themselves as superior to us, yet some of us performed far better than most of the boarders in our "O" level examination results. In the western countries over 90 percent of the students are day students but the situation appears to be different in Ghana.