This week has been a busy week for the education sector, especially at the high school level. Parents of young men and women who are eager to make it to the various Senior High Schools (SHS) to enjoy Akufo-Addo's Free SHS have been at the center of attraction on both social and traditional media. The news as it is expected in a time like this for the past 14 years; has been about the Computerized Selection and School Placement System (CSSPS).
Since 2005 till date, the Ministry Of Education and the Ghana Education Service have been using this system to place students who complete Junior High School into the available spaces in the SHSs. Despite 14 years of using this system, we seem not to have been able to overcome its attendant challenges. One would have expected that after using a system for 14 years, we should have been able to find a lasting solution to its challenges. But unfortunately, the situation has been the same if not worsened. What happened this week, tells us that we definitely need to up our game as a country.
Many, for their own parochial reasons have tried so had to attribute the unfortunate circumstances about the CSSPS to the visionary policy of the Free SHS. Members of the past government have been busy moving from one media house to the other, bastardising the exercise and placing the blame squarely at the doorstep of the over attacked Free SHS. Mr. Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, a former Deputy Minister of Education, has been at the forefront of the attack leading an army of NDC foot soldiers to lambast the process.
Meanwhile, to find answers to the issues surrounding the CSSPS this year, the Ministry of Education established solution centers across the country to help people get their issues resolved. One of the said solution centers at the Black Star Square at Accra witnessed allegedly some students and parents collapsing at the center. The Minister of Education, Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh had regrettably suggested that some of the huge number of people who thronged the Black Star Square were transported there by opponents of the Free SHS program. Napo, as the Education Minister is affectionately called, further alleged that some of the collapses witnessed at the center were faked. He alone may be privy to whatever information he has and cannot be begrudged for expressing such opinions.
The Education Ministry in a press statement signed by its Public Relations Officer (PRO), Ekow Vincent Assafuah stated that over 90 per cent of the challenges associated with the placement system this year, had had to do with change of schools with other minor challenges such as change of track, program, residential status and self-placements – representing some 10 per cent of the challenges. The Ghana Education Service has also proven with fact that thousands of candidates who are seeking for their schools to be changed were indeed placed in schools that they chose themselves. Indeed the Ministry of Education's statement stated that “selection of schools is the prerogative of the candidates and by extension parents and guardians, adding that these choices cannot be changed by the GES or the CSSPS.”
Both the Ministry and GES have admitted that there may have been some challenges with some of the placement which have been arisen, as a results of wrong entry of data at different levels of the schools selection process by the candidates. The many explanations given this year for the 'failure' of the CSSPS has been the same explanations that have been rehashed for the past 14years since the policy was introduced.
It therefore beats imagination and shy away from common sense and logical reasoning, that anybody at all will attribute the challenges of the CSSPS with the introduction of the Free SHS. As stated by the Ministry, there were enough vacancies in the schools and the government is ready to let every single child who is placed enjoy the sweet fruits of the Free SHS. The point is simple; 'Be Placed, Enjoy Free SHS.' But the government has also made it vociferously clear that “No Ghanaian Child Will Be Left Behind”.
The challenges with the placement system started in 2005 when the policy was first introduced. At the time, the only thing we knew to be free in our education sector was Free Basic School, introduced by the Kufour government. There had not been any mention of Free SHS in the political and educational lexicon of this country. The challenges associated with the system have compounded over the years, including years where hundreds of political campaigns were mounted against the Free SHS policy. Free SHS is less than four years old, CSSPS and its challenges are 14years old, to think that the challenges facing the big man called CSSPS is as results of the small boy called free SHS, can only be a thinking born out of mischief and deliberate propaganda.
Even in 2016 when the Ministry of Education under the watch of the now “ambassador of proper managers of CSSPS”, Okudzeto Ablakwa, had tried to white wash the challenges associated with the problem, by announcing that there was no problem with placement, it was reported extensively in the media that some parents were complaining about wrong postings for their wards. To therefore try to hoodwink everybody into believing that the challenges associated with the CSSPS, albeit could be improved, has to do with the introduction of the Free SHSs policy – suggest a reemphasis of the over a decade long attack and bastardizing of the visionary and life transforming policy.
With or without Free SHS, there would have to be placement of students who complete JHS into available SHSs, as was being done some ten years before the introduction of the Free SHS. The placement; until a final solution is found; will always be fraught with challenges. The Free SHS has never been and cannot ever be the reason for the problems with the Computerised Selection and School Placement System. The Free SHS continues to be a policy of its own albeit with its own challenges, while the CSSPS is also a policy of its own with its own challenges. Trying to shift the challenges of the CSSPS to the free SHS in a deliberate attempt to give the dog and bad name and hang it, will not wash. The CSSPS as a means of placing students can be changed, but it will not affect the Free SHS in anyway. In the same way, the Free SHS can be cancelled but that will not be a reason to change the CSSPS as means of placing students.
After several campaigns against the Free SHS had failed, one would have expected that lessons would have been learnt. It is therefore intriguing that the same group of people, keep on trying so hard to make sure that every problem in this country finds a means to be associated with the Free SHS. The Free SHS has come to stay and no amount of mudslinging of the policy will wash.
Free SHS is Free SHS, CSSPS is CSSPS. They are not the same.
By: Nana Kwasi ([email protected])
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