There's something interesting about the NPP Manifesto. It is not immediately obvious on face value, but pretty much like the kind of feeling you get after reading a good fictional novel. In fact if it were a novel it would pass for a masterpiece!
This is the first manifesto I have ever read and the impression I take away from it is one of audacity and dreamy ambition. Quite reminiscent of the language of a young revolutionary who has been swept into power on the wave of popular youthful adoration.
The most poignant of the itenary of promises was Nana Addo's Free Senior High School Education Program. Spontaneously, it brought back memories of my high school days when we had lengthy, vigorous debates over what the duration of Senior High School Education should be. Lessons from those debates do not make me doubt in any terms the importance of such a policy, but rather, its position of urgency ahead of a contingent of very basic demands of our ailing educational system.
While it is not known publicly what research informed the proposition of this program, or whether the funding exists for its implementation, other pressing questions regarding the feasibility of the extent of “freeness” this very generous policy promise can deliver on need some careful thinking around.
Page twenty three (23) of the NPP's Manifesto, under FREE UNIVERSAL SECONDARY EDUCATION states that "...By free S.H.S. education we mean free tuition, admission, textbooks, library, science centers, computers, examinations utilities, boarding and meals." My personal experience with admission into Ghana National College showed that much of the freebies quoted in Nana Addo's program though widely considered as free at the time, still required that I make substantial payment on other aspects of that education. Progressively my school bill included items such as incentive quotas for teacher motivation, House dues (for residency) and its associated maintenance costs and honorariums for House Masters, Maintenance fees to insure against damage to school property, charges on general material supplies by the school, sick bay charges and miscellaneous items such as our school vests. My bill was not spared even levies to the Cape Coast Municipal Assembly, for reasons which still remain unclear to me.
This is just a cursory look at the basic expenditure associated with an admission to a public Secondary School, or at least in my experience.
But Nana Addo's campaign is promising to foot all that cost; admission fees, boarding fees, bed-user fees, house dues, free text and exercise books….and perhaps even cover all other costs associated with development projects initiated by each school! Laughable! I haven't as much as taken a single class in project management but fairly assess an impractical project when I see one. My verdict is that if this policy should form the basis of serious electoral competition, them anyone could up the stakes with a promise to build a Taj Mahal around each campus!
The thrust of my argument is that not everything free is prudent. The lures of a cost free life is most overpowering, but I'm most persuaded by the fact that providing quality education is a collective effort requiring shared responsibilities between state and guardians. Going by Nana's free SHS, we risk spawning a culture of “hand-outs”, playing down on the values of responsible stewardship, and degenerating a serious parental obligation of planning and investing in their wards education into one hinged on the whims of state sponsorship.
A critical test of Nana's policy should be its sustainability. Firstly on the quality of books to run this scheme. I recall how a good number of the books we thronged the school library to buy never made it to the classroom because our teachers couldn't find use for them. Per the syllabi, they were ineffectual, to put it mildly. Instead, the teachers sold us copies of their own books, or made recommendations of others which we had to buy. I don't readily recall how much I spent on those books but cumulatively we the students must have spent a fortune just to keep up with the instructional textbooks demanded by our teachers. Nana needs an urgent sitting with teachers associations and heads of public schools to fully appreciate what quality of study materials his program will require, and its associated cost.
To my mind, the haste to push for a free SHS education wouldn't quite pay off as well as investing such scarce resources into providing quality study materials for vocational schools in particular, to better prepare them on a practical level for the real requirements of the job market. At least, they hold better promise of putting their knowledge directly to work instead of skylarking about on lofty expectations of white-collar jobs.
I can safely presume that most parents would appreciate the prospects of their wards enjoying good quality education over the promise of free SHS with highly under-motivated and under-equipped teachers. These should be commensurate with an expansion in the basic infrastructure to increase access and equalize opportunities in a practical, sustainable sense. I tend to agree with Nana on the need for providing SHS's with modern laboratories. That was straight on point! But are we talking free SHS under trees?
I do not intend by this article to sweepingly disagree with all aspects of Nana's educational programs, as you may have observed in my assessments. Or to ridicule what essentially is an initiative to relieve parents and guardians of the burden of school fees. Such a stance wouldn't be worth the time. In fact I genuinely believe that the program is well intended. My objective is to expose the inherent weaknesses within this program, based on my personal experience with SHS education in a public school, so that hopefully, Nana and his cohorts would revisit the drawing board.
The education of Ghana's future leaders should be safeguarded against undue political exploitation and uncritically examined experimentations. Nana, please come again!
BY: MISS MERCY AMA ADJABENG
FORMER STUDENT OF GHANA NATIONAL COLLEGE (2011/2012 GROUP) [email protected]