The path to the currently constituted free senior high school education policy started ahead of the 2008 election with Nana Akufo-Addo promising educational reforms to win the 2008 Presidential election.
It would take over eight years for this policy to finally come to fruition in line with Goal 4, Target 1 of the Sustainable Development Goals, stating that by 2030, all boys and girls have access to free equitable and quality primary and secondary education.
In the 2008 and 2012 manifestos, Nana Akufo-Addo promised the implementation of Free Universal Secondary Education by making secondary education free for every Ghanaian child, in line with the Constitution.
Article 25(1)b of the 1992 Constitution states that, 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.
That promise of free SHS was to encompass free tuition, admission, textbook, library, science center, computer, examination, utilities, boarding, and meals.
Progressively free SHS
In the NPP's time in opposition, the Mahama administration in 2014 started what it called progressive introduction of free secondary education after consultations with stakeholders. This brand of free education was to start primarily with only day students.
At his state of the nation address in 2014, former President John Mahama announced that a road map would be presented to Cabinet for approval and subsequent implementation.
“Under the guidance of this proposed road map, we can anticipate that fees for day students will be abolished at an estimated cost of GH¢71 Million in the 2015/2016 academic year. Other reliefs in respect of the boarding students would be announced when the road map is published.”
In 2014, there was a national consensus on free secondary education for all qualified Ghanaians between the two main political parties, NPP and NDC, and in 2016, the budget statement ushered the start of the progressively senior high school education with Government providing funding for the first term of 2015/16 academic year for 320,488 day students in public senior high schools.
The progressive free secondary education absorbed examination, entertainment, library, SRC, sports, culture, science development, science and mathematics quiz, ICT and curricular fees.
President Mahama subsequently proposed an extension to the progressive free secondary education to cover about 500,000 students, with 120,000 boarding students having been earmarked for the programme in a bid to increase the total number of students in senior high schools enjoying progressively free senior high school education.
The Ministry of Education indicated that these interventions almost doubled SHS enrollment from 393,995 in 2007/08 to 787,861 in 2015/16 academic year.
But the ministry noted that, on average, over 140,000 students are either Not Placed by the CSSPS or are placed but do not enroll largely due to financial barriers every year. In addition, out of the number placed by CSSPS yearly, over 25% do not enroll.
Free SHS now
The change of power in 2017, saw Nana Akufo-Addo assume the mantle of governance and by his first State of the Nation Address, it became clear his vision for Free Secondary Education was going to be realized in September 2017 at the start of the 2017/2018 academic year.
Under the free SHS policy, beneficiaries will not have to pay admission fees, library fees, science centre fees, computer lab fees, examination fees and utility fees, and it will cover agricultural, vocational and technical institutions at the secondary school level.