15.04.2012 Feature Article

Free SHS education is an Unavoidable Constitutional Obligation – Challenging Heights.

Free SHS education is an Unavoidable Constitutional Obligation – Challenging Heights.
15.04.2012 LISTEN

Challenging Heights is at a loss and shocked to hear that our friends at IMANI Ghana are opposed to free senior high school in Ghana. IMANI has sited a few reasons for their opposition to the policy. Prominent among their reasons are that Ghana cannot afford to pay for the policy; that parents are happy to pay for the fees of their children at the high school levels; that we should place more emphasis on day schools; that we already have too many unemployed graduates; and that it is our taxes that would be diverted to pay for the policy.

Currently, the NPP, the CPP and the PPP have all taken a policy decision to implement a free SHS education. We believe the NDC, the PNC and the other political parities will soon declare that they will make SHS education free for the poor segment of our society. In this anticipation, we believe the discussion should be centered on how we would be able to implement such a policy, rather than discouraging its introduction in the first place.

Various Governments since independence have used taxpayers' money to fund one project or the other to meet its social responsibilities. Such monies have never been referred to as diversion. Spending money to allow our youth to access secondary education is one of the best investments Ghana can make for its future.

Dr. Kwame Nkrumah gave Ghanaians free education from elementary school to the University level. Where did he get the money to make this happen? Where are we getting money from to implement the free school uniform policy for basic school pupils? Are they not from the taxes that we pay to government?

What we have to remember is that, the well-educated person who sits in the air-conditioned office in Accra does not necessarily pay more taxes than the cocoa farmer whose sweat has seen all of us through our various stages of economic development. The cocoa farmer in the Atodauda village pays more unacknowledged taxes than some of the bribe-taking public officers who see themselves as paying more income taxes and therefore see their children as more deserving of better secondary education than the farmer whose children's cocoa scholarship is even stolen for the children of the so called educated elite!

Definitely, most parents are not happy paying over GHC500 a term in fees at the SHS levels as opined by IMANI. Most of these parents earn less than GHC50 per month. How do we expect them to pay for these big fees at the secondary school levels? It is estimated that about 30% of newly admitted students into the SHS lose their admission due to their inability to pay admission fees. For example, 50 out of the 300 newly admitted students into Arch Bishop Potter's Senior High School at Takoradi lost their admission to the school largely due to late payment or inability to pay fees. Those who were able to make payments within the stipulated time had to struggle very hard to meet the deadline, and we have similar situations throughout schools in farming and fishing districts in Ghana.

We at Challenging Heights believe this is the opportune time for all of us to have our politicians commit to Article 25 (1)(b) of Ghana's 1992 fourth Republican Constitution which states “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”.

So free senior high school education is an unavoidable constitutional obligation.

The cost implications of the free secondary school education is what almost everybody seem to be concerned about. Of course we should all think about how we are going to pay for this cost.

According to the Chairman of Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, Ghana loses $3 billion every year due to lack of proper record keeping. Poor sanitation also costs the country over $290 million annually. Over $20 million is lost in taxes involving fake phone importations. There are many more of such colossal loses. These are in addition to the over GHC600million we lose to preventable judgment debts.

Can we sincerely believe that we cannot afford a 200million additional senior high school expenditure when we lose over GHC6billion to preventable situations? What we will have to do is to prevent these losses, so that Ghana can have more than enough to pay for free basic, secondary and tertiary education!

IMANI has proposed de-boardenization as a way of lessening the burden on parents in fee payments. There are just about 500 senior high schools in the country. Yet we have thousands of small towns and villages in Ghana. It is estimated that less than 10% of all senior high school students live one hour away from the schools they attend. The rest will necessarily either have to live in hostels or have to stay in the boarding houses.

Let's take Aburi Girls Senior High School as an example. Close to 98% of all students of Aburi Girls comes from outside of the Aburi township, save the recently re-introduced 30% disputable quota system. It will be interesting to note how our children are going to be required to trek to this mountain top each morning for school!

Finally, IMANI Ghana is questioning the rationale behind the production of more SHS graduates when the country is saturated with unemployed Senior High School and University Graduates. What Imani Ghana is telling Ghanaians is that because there are a lot of unemployed university and SHS graduates, we should shut the doors of secondary education to aspiring and brilliant SHS students from poorer homes. Imani Ghana is also telling us that we must close down some of our Universities to ensure that only the exact number of graduates that can be accommodated at the job market are offered admission. Whose children should stay at home? Of course those from poorer homes! Some of the same children we deprived of cocoa scholarships because of large scale injustice and corruption in the administration of scholarships. Some of the same children who have been selling on the streets for us to be buying for our school-going children.

We will like to re-emphasize that, in the coming days, Challenging Heights expects the President of the republic to make a public pronouncement on the issue. The public support from the Presidency will add much weight to the discussions. Win or lose, children from poorer homes must be guaranteed of free basic and secondary school education – that is a constitutional obligation!

James Kofi Annan