The Flag bearer of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, desperately needed votes so he and his team went in for a very populist promise to make (senior high school) education free. It was not properly thought through. He was exposed when he was asked on BBC HARDTalk how much the programme would cost to implement. That was in 2012, and he still did not know the cost despite the fact that he had campaigned with the same promise in 2008.
President John Dramani Mahama at the time said the free-SHS policy was going to destroy the educational system in Ghana. And he was right. President Mahama at the time said there were serious issues at the basic level and said we should first consider improving the quality and accessibility before we start talking about making the Senior High School free.
In November 2012, President Mahama said at Okere in the Eastern Region that the free SHS system was being practiced in Kenya but was failing due to inadequate funds to support the system.
“If you rush to do something in life, you will not succeed. In Africa, there are two countries which have started this free Senior High School; Kenya and Uganda. But now, Kenya has launched an appeal for international assistance to help them with the free SHS idea because they can’t pay for it,” President Mahama said.
He added that there were serious infrastructural constraints, poor teacher to student ratio and a booming student population that needed to be considered. The option of free SHS, in his opinion, therefore meant an imminent collapse of the system.
“If they had thought about it, they would have used the funds which were pumped into the establishment of the free SHS to expanding their infrastructure.”
So what has changed? Students still study under trees. Those who have roofs over their heads are forced to learn under life-threatening structures and leaky roofs. The teacher-student ratio is widening for rural students. President Mahama promised to build 200 community day schools in his first tenure but, as we speak, less than 10 have been completed. And he has a little over a year to end that tenure.
The basic level is my biggest worry. Many students who go to public basic schools cannot read and write after school. The only means some can get past the basic level is to cheat in the Basic Education Certificate Education. Basic education is collapsing in Ghana, so why would we fail to recruit and train teachers and expand infrastructure before thinking about populist Free-SHS policy?
What has changed so drastically that Mahama has to make a U-turn? If this is not a way to cripple Akufo-Addo’s ill-fated campaign message, then what logic can explain this?
The Minister of Education, Lee Ocran, on Monday, 10th September, 2012, held a press conference where he described the NPP’s policy of free senior high school education as not feasible. He said any such policy would be feasible in after 20 years.
So what has changed after two years? But we don’t have to go far to find the reason for this policy. I know why. And you should know. This is the reason.
Recently, President Mahama had a photo opportunity when he presented sandals to some basic school children. It was part of his promise to provide 10,000 sandals to basic school kids. We have more than 5,000,000 basic school kids. So this number is extremely insignificant. But that is not the end of the matter. Apart from the few sandals which the president distributed, no one has followed up to ensure that the 10,000 has been given out. Yesterday, when Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa was speaking on Joy FM’s Newsnight, he mentioned the “free distribution of sandals” as one of the policies that have increased enrolment in basic schools.
Are we that dumb as a people to accept this? We have done propaganda with everything, now we are collapsing the educational system as well. All of this is to add up to the number of paid campaign commercials that will soon flood our media ahead of the 2016 elections.
I was against the free SHS policy at the time Akufo-Addo went to town about it and so I heaved a sigh of relief for our educational sector when Akufo-Addo lost. My take has always been that the populist intervention was meant to divert attention from the main problems confronting the education sector. To my biggest shock and disappointment, President Mahama turned round to take that policy.
The Government says GHc12.2 million has been released to implement the programme for the first term of the 2015-2016 academic year. The policy will benefit 320,488 students. This means in a term, each student will only benefit from GHc38. Thirty-eight cedis is how much each student will benefit from this policy. Ask the SHS students how much each student pays for PTA dues alone, not to talk about other fees per semester.
The GHc12.2million they are making noise about is peanut. For instance, Government pays Zoomlion about GHc15 million EVERY MONTH as management fees for the Youth in Sanitation module under the Youth Employment Agency, formerly GYEEDA. So this is not anything to boast about.
I have traveled widely across Ghana and I can say for a fact that most basic schools in the country are death traps. The pictures you are seeing are the pictures of Kojo Njorfuni who died after a school wall collapsed on him. In all, two pupils died and a number of students still live with deformities. A few years ago, a school block collapsed in Odumase Krobro and killed one pupil. Airtel Ghana had to come to their aid and build a new block for them. Many such accidents go unreported in rural Ghana.
Our government should invest in education. Now senior high schools are depending on the parent-teacher associations (PTA) to survive. Anyone who doubts me should go to Apam Senior High School in the Central Region. Apart from old blocks that were built by Ghana’s first president, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, almost every building or facility has been put up by the PTA. Without the PTA, most senior high schools cannot survive.
By paying the peanuts and deceiving the gullible electorate that there is free education, the heads of schools will still bill students to pay PTA dues, which will be used to fund the main infrastructure government has ignored. In fact, the component of fees all day students will pay is more than what the government has taken.
So is there free SHS for day students in Ghana? There is no free senior high school for day students in Ghana. Government has subsidised it by GHc38. Anything said beyond this will be lies and an insult to the intelligence of the good people of Ghana.
The government has done well with infrastructure in some sectors such as health and transportation. A project like the Tamale Teaching Hospital has come to provide quality healthcare to people in at least five regions of the country –Volta, Bono Ahafo (Please, it doesn’t make sense for me to write “Brong”) Upper East, Upper West and the Northern Regions. The University of Ghana Teaching Hospital will reduce pressure on Korle-Bu and 37 Military Hospitals and the rehabilitation of the Ridge Hospitals among others will significantly improve healthcare deliver in the country.
The Sawla-Tuna-Fufulso road has come to link up the Northern Region with the Upper West Region while opening up the Mole National Park to tourists who in the past feared to go there because of the terrible road network. The Western Corridor Road, IF completed, will be one of the biggest legacies in the transport sector of our country. These projects are impressive apart from the questionable cost involved in their execution. I don’t have any problem if government trumpets such developments.
With what Government is doing in the Education sector, however, I feel insulted as a Ghanaian.
Our education system is collapsing and if we don’t wake up, the number of illiterates in Ghana will only increase.
The Writer, Manasseh Azure Awuni, is a senior broadcast journalist with Joy 99.7FM. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.