The Government of Ghana in its Budget for 2009 has initiated moves to achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on Achieving Universal Primary Education by 2012 instead of the stipulated 2015 deadline.
The government in that regards has also outlined its policy framework that will facilitate the attainment of the goal by the set deadline. While it is acceptable that a budget statement is essentially a list of projections, it is also very true that it is a blueprint that guides government's action. In this regard it is very important for one to commend government for tasking itself to realize the goal before the deadline. One cannot deny the fact that the government over the years has taken giant efforts towards achieving universal basic education.
Considerable successes have been chalked in achieving universal primary education through interventions such as the provision of capitation grant, school feeding program, upgrading of school facilities and the Schools Under Trees Project. The government has shown this commitment through its Education Strategy Plan (ESP) for 2003-2015 and the implementation of Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE) as mandated by the Constitution.
For instance, Government released a total amount of GH¢15 million during the 2008 as payment of Capitation Grant to pupils in all public basic schools while the School Feeding Programme was expanded to cover 596,089 pupils nationwide as against 408,989 in 2007. It also engaged NGOs and religious groups to establish more educational facilities to accommodate the increase in enrollment. The current enrollment statistics which is pegged at 95.2% in 2008 as against 93.7% in 2007 (Source: Ministry of Education) with somewhat increased in gender parity is very refreshing and an indication that Ghana is not relenting on her efforts.
In as much as the increase in enrollment is laudable, the issue of quality is questionable. Unfortunately the enrollment rate does not measure with the number of classrooms, teachers and educational materials available to ensure quality education. Quality education is not an option but a must in our quest to achieve universal primary education. As much as we can tap our back for increasing the number of children in school, we should not forget that our efforts would be meaningless if quality education is compromised.
It is also very clear that the retention rate at the primary level is very low because the provision of food and capitation grant is not enough to keep children in school since most of them that come from very poor homes would still have to struggle with transportation, purchase of uniforms and other educational materials. This vacuum of quality education can be traced to gross inadequacy of teachers in some places of the country, insufficiency of some school infrastructure (classrooms, sanitary facilities, etc) in some places in the country, geographical location, unfavorable socio-economic and cultural factors.
Adding impetus to gains already made to ensure a full universal basic education, the government in its budget statement for 2009 which was read on the 6th of March this year, will be providing 1.6 million school uniforms for children in deprived communities, increase the capitation grant from ¢3 to ¢5, free exercise books, abolish extra fees and improve and expand teacher training colleges. Although these initiatives will positively complement the existing ones, the abolishment of the shift system will erode some gains made. It is rather unfortunate that government intend abolishing the shift system which is absorbing the overflow of enrollment without putting in place alternative measures that will absorb this overflow or those in the shift system. Already, there is an overwhelming pressure on the existing facilities, so it will be shooting itself in the foot if it goes ahead to abolish it without finding remedies to the problem.
Although efforts being made by government are commendable, they are not enough to propel the country to achieve the target by 2012. Ghana still need to address the challenges outlined above with a critical focus on alleviating poverty.
Government should also consider adopting the Complementary Education Programme (CEP) to enhance its efforts. The CEP will help cover areas which are inaccessible with educational facilities. The program also uses indigenous languages and factors in some traditional beliefs like market and festival days which will enable teaching to be done in the most convenient ways for the community. This program also entrenches the role of traditional authorities in achieving the goal since for far too long they have been relegated in national efforts. Countries like Ethiopia and Zambia are using this strategy and it has proven to be very effective.
An immediate action should be taken to champion the education rights of marginalized groups such as shepherd boys, domestic child servants/children and the disabled. I also recommend that the Ghana Education Service (GES) must show interest in proactively monitoring what happens in the enclosures of the classroom-example teacher presence/punctuality, teaching and learning methodologies, children's de -facto access to textbooks and other learning resources.
It is also important for government to involve Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), development partners, religious bodies, corporate institutions and traditional authorities in designing and implementing policies for the achievement of the goal.
Leonard Ackon is a media consultant and a member of the Ghana MDGs /GCAP Campaign Coalition [email protected]
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