In light of the announcement of Free Senior High School policy initiative by the current administration of the Republic of Ghana, I would like to commend His Excellency Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo on this bold step towards a brighter and more equitable future for Ghana. This article, however, shall attempt to assess the viability and implementation of this initiative as well as provide a platform for discussion on the best way forward as a nation.
One of the focal promises of the NPP Campaign team was to implement a system where Senior High School education was going to be free for those who qualify for entry. This program stipulated that there will be no tuition, admission, library, science centre, computer lab, examination and utility fees. Furthermore, students shall be entitled to textbooks, boarding and meals at no cost to them.
This is a significantly bold move which has been welcomed by citizens across the entire nation. However, it is extremely challenging to refrain from asking how exactly this policy is going to be rolled out. How are we going to sustainably fund this policy as a nation? Do the existing schools have enough capacity to accommodate the influx of new students? Do more schools need to be built? Are there enough textbooks? Are there enough desks? Are more teachers going to be trained? All these questions arise in the minds of many and are begging to be answered. However, there is inadequate information surrounding the implementation of this policy.
Based on the information available, funding for this policy is unclear. Various sources suggest that funding will be from the Heritage Fund, Annual Budget Funding amount (ABFA) and proceeds from Ghana’s natural resources. The Minister of Finance, Mr. Ken Ofori-Atta, however disputed the use of the Heritage Fund as a source of funding when he stated that there was no need to use these funds. The government, in its maiden budget, allocated 400 million cedis to fund the Free SHS policy but the source and structure of the budget is still obscure. This has raised objections by various organizations including Imani Ghana, which has questioned the viability and sustainability of this policy. There are already reports, after the implementation, of secondary schools not receiving the money they were promised; can we really afford this policy immediately? To satisfy the need for clarity on such a delicate matter, it is requisite that the government of Ghana releases a long term detailed and robust structure of funding for the Free SHS Policy. This plan should be comprehensive enough to answer any questions and clear all doubts concerning the viability and sustainability of this policy. The government owes it to the people of Ghana and to the youth who stand to benefit from this great policy.
Another major reservation about the viability of this policy is whether the existing senior high school educational structures can support the influx of students due to this policy. Some have suggested that the current government should have used its first year for expansion and acquisition of teaching and learning supplies and fully launched the program in the subsequent year. The Executive Director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS), Professor Newman Kusi cautioned that this policy may lead to undesirable circumstances. He questioned the availability of classrooms, teaching and learning materials and teachers. This policy is projected to increase enrollment by at least 70% but what will the consequent impact on the quality of education in Ghana be? Is this being taken into consideration enough by the government? What measures are being taken to alleviate the risk of depreciating quality in education due to the increased number of students? Professor Kusi stressed the need to get other essentials adequately catered for in the policy and I agree strongly with his assertion. I believe that the free SHS policy will not achieve the intended results if other complementary needs, such as expansion of school facilities, increase in the provision of learning and teaching materials and an increase in the number of qualified teachers, are not met.
The concerns raised by Ghanaians are not unsubstantiated if you consider the current effects on educational systems in other African countries who have undertaken similar educational policies. In 2007, Uganda became the first country in Sub-Saharan Africa to introduce universal secondary education. In their system, the government pays the schools an annual grant of up to $52 per student, spread over three school terms, while parents cover the cost of the students’ uniforms, stationery and meals. The enrollment of poor students and of girls was boosted with the implementation of the policy. The government of Uganda also increased funding for secondary schooling which translated into more teachers being recruited, more classrooms and labs being built and more textbooks being bought. Furthermore, their policy included building at least one public secondary school in each sub-county.
Generally, their educational policy has been a success aside a few challenges. Although access to education has increased as a result of this policy, education standards have not improved. The government attempted to partner with about 640 private schools because of inadequate public school infrastructure. Yet, problems such as inadequate teaching space and materials, shortage of teachers and inadequate and late disbursement of government funds, still persist. David Wanyama, a head teacher in Uganda said, “academic performance standards are deteriorating, and with the education being universal, students are just pushed through”. Examination results in Uganda are indicative of this decline in quality of education. In 2006, nearly 95% of 0-level candidates achieved the minimum pass rate to qualify for a national certificate but in 2010, with a 54% increase in candidates, 80% qualified for the certificate.
Although it may be argued that the loss in the quality of education is inevitable with an increase in the number of students, does the educational policy by the current Ghanaian administration make provisions to soften the adverse effects this policy may have on the quality of education? Is the educational policy only focused on increasing the number of students who receive a secondary school education? In the 2016 NPP Manifesto, it was stated that education is critical in the building of a cohesive and prosperous Ghana. They also asserted that Ghanaian children must be equipped with the knowledge, skills and aptitudes that would enable them to compete globally. I agree with this stance and strongly applaud the current administration for boldly placing education at the top of their priority list. However, I believe that the proper implementation of the Free Secondary Education with all the appropriate expansions done is just as critical.
As such, it is recommended that the government pays attention to complementary needs such as teacher training, expansion of schools and provision of teacher and student materials to offset the arguably inevitable reduction in the quality of education this policy shall cause. Again, it is prescribed that the current administration releases a full policy document outlining all the necessary details of the policy and its implementation, especially financing. God bless our homeland Ghana and make our nation great and strong. Thank you.
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Hedger, E., Williamson, T., & Stroh, J. (2010). Sector Budget Support in Practice: Case Study- Education Sector in Uganda. London: Overseas Development Institute. Retrieved from https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/odi-assets/publications-opinion-files/6077.pdf
Kavuma, R. (2011). Free universal secondary education in Uganda has yielded mixed results | Richard M Kavuma. the Guardian. Retrieved 25 September 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2011/oct/25/free-secondary-education-uganda-mixed-results
New Patriotic Party Manifesto for Election 2016. (2016) (pp. 101-105). Retrieved from http://newpatrioticparty.org/docs/2016-manifesto-full.pdf
By Guest Hacker Alexander Asiedu
Alexander Asiedu is a senior in Ashesi University College and an experientialist, who also lives for thought-provoking conversations with anyone, about anything. He currently doesn’t know what he wants to be/do but is interested in investment management, real estate, poverty alleviation and dogs!