12.09.2022 Feature Article

A Second Look At The Free Senior High School Policy

A Second Look At The Free Senior High School Policy
12.09.2022 LISTEN

In line with article 25 1b of the 1992 constitution, which states that Secondary education in its different forms, including technical and vocational education, shall be made generally available and accessible to all by every appropriate means, and in particular, by the progressive introduction of free education, the free senior high school policy was introduced by the government in September, 2017.

Undoubtedly, the policy has brought relief to parents who were not able to raise the needed funds to cater for their wards in school. The enrolment in our schools according to data from the ministry of education has also improved tremendously. Students who were hitherto brilliant but needy and could not have access to education have breathed a sigh of relief following the introduction of the free senior high school policy. The policy in principle is a much-needed one as it bridges the gap between the haves and the have-nots in terms of access to education. There have been instances in the media where brilliant students from poor backgrounds scored good grades in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination which they would otherwise not have gotten the opportunity to under the erstwhile ‘cash and carry system’ in our education. While the policy is essentially a good one, some challenges with it cannot be ignored.

The removal of cost barriers, expansion of infrastructure, improvement of quality and equity, and the development of employable skills are some of the major objectives of the policy. Among these objectives, the removal of cost barriers to parents and students seems to be the pivot around which all the others revolve. Whilst this has arguably been achieved to some extent, the cost to the government and its attendant implication for the management of the economy is troubling. Whilst the source of funding for the free Senior High School is not readily known, making its sustainability questionable, the increased budget to the education sector can be attributable to the heavy financial burden of the free Senior High School policy. As government removes the cost burden of the policy from parents and guardians and shoulders the same, there is no doubt that the government is struggling under the weight of the free Senior High School policy. The persistent and recurrent complaints by the Conference of Heads of Assisted Senior High Schools (CHASS) and other stakeholders in education about the shortage of food in Senior High Schools, inadequate infrastructure to accommodate students leading to the creative double-track system learns credence to this fact. The government with the commitment to sustain the policy has no choice but to introduce new measures to generate revenue including the introduction of taxes. This has the ripple effect of increasing the cost of living on the same parents and students who are the targets of the policy thus questioning the effectiveness of the policy in removing cost barriers.

On infrastructure and improvement of quality and equity, the government is doing all it could to improve upon the same. However, with the consistent increasing enrolment, the effort of the government seems to be a drop in the ocean. It may take many more years for the government to resource the schools in terms of infrastructure to accommodate students. With increasing numbers, quality is of major concern. The student-to-teacher ratio in our senior high schools is already below best practice. Recent complaints by the members of the Graduate Teachers Association of Ghana (NAGRAT) about poor conditions of service and arbitrary decisions by the Ghana education Service make matters worse. To ensure the needed quality, the teachers who teach at the senior high schools must be an integral part of the policies and decision-making process.

The sustainability of the free Senior High School policy demands a clear and sustainable source of finance, motivation, and necessary attention to teachers and support from all and sundry. We must also consider allowing parents and guardians who can afford fees for their wards to pay to reduce the burden on the government.

Writer's Email: [email protected]

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