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13.07.2004 General News

Editorial: Wanted - A Blueprint For Free Educ

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THERE WAS CHEERY news the other day. That the NPP government has released a further ¢37.5 billion this academic year as subsidy to senior secondary schools in the country.

According to Education, Youth and Sport Minister Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu who disclosed this in an interview, the amount represents the final payment for this academic year and is expected to be used to supplement expenses being borne by the various public second cycle institutions.

He disclosed that the government, since 2002, has paid ¢393,000 as subsidy per student per year, pointing out that the amount excluded “expenses on the provision of basic infrastructure for secondary schools, salaries of teachers, the provision of books, and other such things.”

The Minister stressed: “The government is committed to ensuring quality education at all levels and was taking the necessary measures to sustain it.”

As stated above, this is good news for hard pressed parents as it is the subsidy on schools fees that they should have paid; it is actually the increase in boarding fees which the Conference of Heads of Assisted Secondary Schools (CHASS) imposed but which the government, caught in the strap of its own electioneering posturing, could not afford to pass on to parents and students.

This is sequel to the hue-and-cry that followed an increase in boarding fees in 2001, just six months after the NPP assumed power. There was an outcry because the electorate remembered that the NPP, on the campaign trail for Election 2000, had criticised schools fees charged under the NDC as being unbearable.

Yes, the government deserves commendation even though it is a partial fulfilment of its promise, since it allowed an increase in 2001.

However, this so-called partial redemption of a pledge is not the reason for our reservation in the headline.

It is for the limited number of students who have access to this subsidy.

The financial requirement for admission to SS1 is so oppressive that many, possibly the majority, who qualify for secondary education, do not get it because their parents cannot afford to pay. And this is in a country whose supreme law enjoins government to progressively make education free and compulsory, within 10 years. This supreme law, the 1992 Constitution, is in its 11th year of operation, yet there is no sign of free education anywhere in sight.

On the contrary we continually hear of full cost recovery and escapist arguments of non-feasibility of free education.

To put it mildly the Gye Nyame Concord is not at all amused by the situation, where we operate our supreme law on education financing more in the breach than obedience.

And we have a GETfund? Any party who seriously wants our mandate, whether for a second term, a comeback after a rest period or for the first time in the current dispensation, should give us a plan for financing free education at all levels in the country.

Yes, it is feasible! The problem now is that the GETfund is being misapplied for infrastructural development when it was meant for the provision of academic user facilities.

The budgetary allocation for infrastructure, when there was no GETfund, where has it gone to? It must be rescued from wherever it has been diverted to today.

If after the budgetary allocation for infrastructure had been rescued the GETfund is still found inadequate to fund fee-free education, the education component of the VAT rate should be increased to the extent of the required top-up.

The wastage at all levels of education, in terms of people who qualify for admission but are not admitted for one reason or another is a disgraceful scandal that must be ended without delay, possibly today.

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