Nduom On Free SHS: ‘Only A Fool Does Not Change His Mind’
A wise person has said that “Give me new facts and I will change my mind”. Another wise saying is, “Only a fool does not change his mind”. Our President has apparently received some new facts and as a result signaled a change of mind with regard to educating our children when he read his State of the Nation Address in Parliament last week.
I agreed with President John Dramani Mahama when in his 2013 State of the Nation address said:
“Mr. Speaker, our quest to build an equitable society in which the productive capacities of our people are tapped for national development will come to naught if we do not give our children sound, meaningful and relevant education. This is even more imperative in today's knowledge-based economy. Any nation whose people do not have the required level of education will be left behind.”
But his goal with regard to education last year was to “expand access”. The performance in this area was mixed, with end results not achieved as intended. The 200 new senior high schools target did not see one completion. Furthermore, the President and his party, the NDC kicked against making Senior High School an affordable reality for all of our children. Indeed I quite remember NDC supporters parading the streets in the Komenda-Edina-Eguafo-Abrem constituency during the 2012 elections screaming “…yepe hwease ambo, yennpe free education”!
So when he read in Parliament last week that the Ministry of Education “… has prepared a report on the road map for a progressive introduction of free secondary education in Ghana as required by the 1992 Constitution”, I was happy that he has changed his mind and has thrown away the unproductive stance he and his party took about what to do to ensure that our children receive at least a high school education.
I want to encourage the President to think beyond “free SHS”. The President's commitment by-passes the constitutional requirement of compulsory education. It is only when education at the pre-tertiary level is compulsory that we will begin to do something transformational with our human capital. When education from kindergarten upwards is compulsory, all boys and girls will get an education. Government will have to build more schools, train more teachers and give them better motivation and re-order priorities to invest in education overall as the key to a better future.
I wish to reproduce for the attention of President Mahama, his team and Ghanaians, a newspaper advert put out by the Progressive People's Party in 2012. We do not want this debate to die prematurely or become a political football to be kicked about and forgotten when the game ends. The PPP will update our full research paper on education developed in 2012 and present it to the nation in the very near future. For now, this short version of the PPP education paper should do.
“On Thursday, 22nd March 2012, the Progressive People's Party (PPP) offered a comprehensive education policy in our bid to transform Ghanaian society within one generation. New policy ideas require dynamic leaders who are capable of managing the challenges this transformational policy change will present. Ghanaians must reject those who mindlessly copy ideas and recite them without deep belief and the competence required for successful implementation.
The PPP's policy on education as we have put out in our Political Platform (Manifesto) is as follows: “Provide Quality Education for Every Ghanaian Child: Standardize school facilities from kindergarten to Senior High School our policy. An integral part of this objective will be an objective to significantly increase vocational/technical training so that all school leavers gain with libraries, toilets, classrooms, kitchen, housing for teachers, playground, etc: and Ensure free and compulsory education in public schools from kindergarten to Senior High School (including computer training). We will deploy an “Education Police” to enforce the compulsory aspect of employable skills. This will include a comprehensive sports programme to instill discipline and promote better health.”
Our policy moves the minimum standard from “basic” meaning Junior High School to the Senior High School level. Currently, the terminal point for most children in Ghana is Junior High School and that happens usually after taking the Basic Education Competency Examination (BECE) administered by the West Africa Examination Council. To ensure success, we will invest in the building of complete school compounds across the country including housing for teachers and the upgrading of teacher training institutions.Science, Technology, Education and Math (STEM) will be at the heart of our efforts.
Our education policy is different from the “expanding access” one outlined by the NDC Administration's President John D. Mahama and the “free Senior High School education” one proposed by the NPP Presidential aspirant Nana Akufo-Addo. The PPP policy recognizes the need to expand educational facilities and to enable every child's demand for access to be met. The PPP policy will ensure that a “free Senior High School education” is a right to all children and does not perpetuate the privilege reality of today where only those who “manage” to pass BECE examination and secure a place advance to the High School level. Ours is the policy that is comprehensive and consistent with standards set by countries that have overcome underdevelopment and poverty in the world. It is said that “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance”. Education is a better driver of a nation's economy than gold, oil, gas and such other natural resources.
Without it our natural resources become huge burdens on all citizens. The PPP is determined to give priority to the implementation of our policy in national budgets. We will fund the free, compulsory, continuous education vision through government revenue primarily by reducing waste, competent administration and checking corruption. The initial estimated total incremental budget allocation for 5 years is GHC 5.5 billion. We believe that the framers of our 1992 Constitution shared our belief that the goal of ensuring an educated and knowledgeable people is not negotiable. It is for this reason that Chapter Six of the Constitution - Directive Principles of State Policy makes clear the policy to be implemented by government in the area of education. Section 38 of this Chapter in the Constitution reads as follows: “38. (1) The State shall provide educational facilities at all levels and in all the Regions of Ghana, and shall, to the greatest extent feasible make those facilities (2) The Government shall, within two years after Parliament first meets after the coming into force of this Constitution, draw up a programme for implementation within the following ten years, for the provision of free, compulsory and universal basic education. (3) The State shall, subject to availability of resources, provide – (a) equal and balanced access to secondary and other appropriate pre-university education, equal access to university or equivalent education, with emphasis on science and technology; (b) a free adult literacy programme, and a free vocational training, rehabilitation and resettlement of persons; and (c) life-long education.”
We live in a competitive global village. We must not and cannot expect to wallow in ignorance and believe that somehow we will be able to attract the capital and industry that Ghana needs and gain the benefits that can be shared broadly in this country if our people do not have the needed skills and knowledge to offer high end local content. Bolivia, a developing country offers free education up to high school. This underscores the importance she attaches to education. Malaysia, a country who got its independence same year as Ghana, and reported to have solely palm oil as its largest export commodity offers free primary and secondary education for all children with six years of primary education being compulsory.
Taiwan has mined its 23 million people, their talent, energy and intelligence, both men and women through quality free and compulsory pre-tertiary education. Singapore, China, South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan stand out as having promising/robust economies because of their investment in the human capital. The Republic of Korea for instance offers free, mandatory education for all children and maintains an autonomous educational administration system established in each of 16 municipal or provincial with 230 county offices to guarantee independence and individuality in regional education. Japan offers free, compulsory public education and all children are required to attend a six-year elementary school and a three-year lower secondary school.
For 2012, 21.22% of the total budget was allocated to education. The total 2012 budget was GHC13, 529, 706,950 out of which GHC 2,871,680,218 was budgeted for education. Total allocation from general education budget for basic education was GHC1, 784,540,000. Despite the investment, the sector still faces some challenges. Prominent among them is the poor performance of B.E.C.E students over the past decade. A total of 1,562, 270 students have failed the B.E.C.E exams over the past decade. The question we ask ourselves is; where are the 1,562270 children who dropped out over the decade? What is their fate? How can hope be restored to these people? How do we curb the situation? We cannot benefit from a petrochemicals industry and technology based industries with such an educational profile.
It is evident that the Ghanaian educational system among other things lacks the needed quality, and monitoring. This can be linked to type of training we give at our teacher training colleges, availability of facilities and instructional materials and the poor performance of our Monitoring and Supervision teams at the Ministry of Education and Ghana Education Service both at the national and district levels. Finally, there is perhaps a reason why the requirement of the 1992 constitution for free and compulsory education has been ignored by those who have had the opportunity to lead this nation. There is a reason why great ideas have escaped us. Transformation needs great minds and insightful leadership. The Progressive People's Party is demonstrating today that new policy ideas require dynamic leaders who are capable of managing the challenges this transformational policy change will present.”
Does it matter who said “free SHS” first? No. But it matters who says it, whether they really believe in it and will work relentlessly to implement it well. There is nothing wrong with copying ideas. Cross fertilization is a good, natural process and we must encourage it in Ghanaian society. I have always believed that a lot can be achieved if we do not care who takes the credit.
Papa Kwesi Nduom,
March 3, 2014