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22.08.2019 Feature Article

What! NDC PRO-Free SHS?

John Mahama
LISTEN AUG 22, 2019
John Mahama

“Impossible is a word to be found in the dictionary of fools” - Napoleon Bonaparte

“There is nothing impossible to him who will try” - Alexander the Great

THE CHINESE PHILOSOPHER, LAOZI, made a profound statement in Chapter 64 of Tao Te Ching (Chinese classic text) around 560 B.C.: “A journey of a thousand Chinese miles begins with a step. This saying has erroneously been attributed to Confucius, a contemporary of Laozi, because Confucius outshone Laozi and established Confucianism. The import of the saying is that one does not have to stay put on the thinking bubbles for years. Start! Move! Succeed!

Mark Twain adds weight to Laozi's proposition: by stressing, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” Mark Twain further urges one to get started by breaking the complex apparently insurmountable tasks into manageable ones and starting on the first one. “Dream big” is a positive exhortation; however, if one does not start to do something to achieve those dreams, they would remain dreams forever.

Before the NPP administration assumed power, some people in this country were enjoying “free education” – the “Northern Scholarship”. John Dramani Mahama who was attending Achimota School was taken to Ghana Secondary School, Tamale, by his wealthy father to benefit from the Northern Scholarship. So did most of our northern brothers and sisters who are now “big” people in the governance of this country. Some of us in the south had to struggle through life (no secondary school education) to reach where we did, just because our parents could not afford to pay school fees, even though we had passed the Common Entrance.

In 1980, some of us had the “guts” to write an article in one of the newspapers: “Scrap the Northern Scholarship,” the argument being that the scholarship had served its purpose, enabling Hilla Limann, a Northerner, to be the President. The kind of furore this article elicited can be imagined, some giving it a tribalistic slant. This backlash was not unexpected! Who would close his lips when sugar is dripping: someone taunted the writer that the scheme was going to stay for a hundred years till the south had sufficiently done “reparation” to the north… When President Akufo-Addo spoke of free SHS, the opposition made a mockery of him. Where was he going to get the funding from? The scheme appeared to them like Lewis Carroll's 'Alice in Wonderland', where a girl of seven, falls into a rabbit hole into a world of fantasy inhabited by anthropomorphic creatures and peculiar otherness. Till the President got it implemented! And the indefatigable Minister of Education, Dr Matthew Opoku Prempeh and his equally ebullient deputies took up the challenge. Napo declares: “…I'm not a Minister of Education for the rich; I'm a Minister of Education to give the opportunity for the poor also to come up…” For the doubting Thomases, Napo thinks the rich had sufficiently been taken care of; there is now the need for equity.

Nearly all the NDC gurus, including John Mahama, had, at one time or another, taken a swipe at the Free SHS, the most lamentable one from Lee Ocran the then Minister of Education claiming that Free SHS can only be possible after 20 years, and that if it was easy, his idol, Dr Kwame Nkrumah would have implemented it. Mahama kept harping on a review of the 'lala-su-lala' scheme if they came to power. Note the conditional 'if'. Asiedu Nketia called it 'shambolic'. Spio-Garbrah remarked that the scheme was 'impossible', and Haruna Iddrisu called it a 'hoax'. To Alban Bagbin, the Free SHS was 'unsustainable'. Akufo-Addo decided to use the windfall money from oil to fund the scheme, something that 'irked' Felix Kwakye Ofosu. The money should lie there, then, they NDC could 'create, loot and share'. President Akufo-Addo noted at Winkogo on Tuesday, August 14, that he was “…prepared to use the oil money to secure the future of our children through education and not to allow it to go into individual pockets and be misappropriated.” He added that some political opponents were “…dreaming that when they come to power they will scrap the Free SHS policy but I want to emphasise that the policy has come to stay because they are living in a different world and Ghanaians at the end of the day will tell them that they were wrong in their perception.” Cocoa money had been used in the past to finance education (and continues to this day) – with CMB Scholarships and the like. Farmers can point at Akuafo Hall at the University of Ghana as the culmination of the success of their contribution in the education sector of the country.

Wonders shall never end! To Julius Caesar: “Of all the wonders that I have heard, it seems to me most strange that men should fear, seeing death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.” For our purpose now, the issue is Free-SHS, and the volte-face (U-turn) of the NDC, and especially that of its flag-bearer, Mahama. Flag-bearer Mahama's speech at the Kumasi Technical University on August 15 came as a wonderful surprise. Mahama declared: “The free SHS programme is here to stay.” Mahama was quoting the exact words of the President. Mahama added: “…it is a policy that is guaranteed by the 1992 Constitution of our country so nobody or no government can reverse it.”

Indeed, Article 38 of the 1992 Constitution talks about “…the provision of free, compulsory and universal basic education.” But the NDC had ensconced itself on the provision in Article 25 (b) “Secondary education…shall be made generally available and accessible to all by every appropriate means and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education” to counter NPP's free education with “quality education”. Till… the NDC realised that Ghanaians had embraced the free-SHS concept and that any talk of “progressively free” or “a review” of the free SHS policy would be a suicidal political message.

So, now free SHS has come to stay. It is provided in the 1992 Constitution, and it is not the making of NPP, so argue NDC. Do Ghanaians accept this? Free SHS, repeat free SHS. Nana Addo throws another challenge to himself—“… the results of the pioneer students in the West African Senior School Certificate (WASSCE) would be positive, and that is when critics of the policy would know that huge investment in the policy was worth it”.

Should the WASSCE results be a measure of the success of the policy? The mere fact that a poor farmer, a penurious fisherman, an impecunious waakye seller, a beggarly pito seller, can send their wards to the most prestigious schools without paying a pesewa as school/ boarding fees is the success; the mere fact that people are enabled to send their wards to SHS without paying anything constitutes sufficient measures of success.

It is expected that the enrolment figures in second cycle institutions would jump from 800,000 to 1.2million by September, this year. With capitation grant having been increased from GH¢4.5 to GH¢10 and with free supply of school uniforms to needy pupils, it calls for more funds. Hopefully, with prudent economic measures, Ghana will sail through. Aristotle says: “The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet”, and Malcolm X thinks positive when he notes that: “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”

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Africanus Owusu-Ansah

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