President John Dramani Mahama yesterday announced in his State of the Nation Address in Parliament that his government would progressively introduce free senior high school education as enshrined in the 1992 Constitution from the 2015-2016 academic year.
The announcement by the President sent the Minority New Patriotic Party (NPP) into a state of prolonged ecstasy amidst boos and chorus of ‘We told you so.’
The issue of free senior high school became a big bone of contention during the 2012 electioneering period when the then NPP flagbearer, Nana Akufo-Addo, told Ghanaians that free secondary school education, as his flagship policy, would be implemented under his presidency to give free secondary school education to all Ghanaian children, but President Mahama who was also the flagbearer of the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC), said the free secondary education concept was not possible and questioned the source of funding for such a ‘populist’ programme by the NPP, even though the 1992 Constitution mandates that.
He therefore kicked against the free SHS as promised by NPP’s Nana Akufo-Addo.
According to him, African countries, such as Kenya and Botswana, have reintroduced fee paying in their secondary schools after a free education policy nearly collapsed their secondary education system.
‘Countries like Botswana, Uganda, Kenya have implemented free SHS; today as I talk to you, Botswana has announced a reintroduction of secondary school fees.
‘Kenya has appealed for international assistance to prevent their secondary school system from falling apart. A recent study done on free SHS in Kenya shows that it is running into major difficulties,’ President Mahama told students of Cape Coast University in the heat of the 2012 electioneering campaign.
President Mahama with Osei Kyei Mensah Bonsu and Benjamin Kunbuor
However, the President yesterday suddenly made a sharp U-turn saying that free secondary education was feasible and that as a first step to achieving that constitutional requirement, the Ministry of Education, with other stakeholders, had prepared a draft report on the roadmap introducing the free secondary school education which he said would soon be presented to Cabinet for consideration and then to Parliament for approval.
The President explained that he was not principally against the introduction of free secondary school education but the mode of implementation was his problem, and therefore said progressively introducing the policy would be much more realistic and achievable.
He disclosed that his government had decided to pay the fees for all day students in senior high schools and also heavily subsidize fees paid by boarders at the cost of GH¢71 million by the year 2015-2016 when Ghana goes for another election.
The President explained that education, which is the bedrock of development, must be easily accessible to all Ghanaians, irrespective of one’s social standing, adding that currently, only 60 percent of qualified candidates get access to secondary education, claiming that was the reason why he made a campaign pledge to build 200 senior high schools across the country to make secondary education much more accessible.
He said the construction of the first batch of such senior high schools, which should have started at the beginning of his tenure last year, was delayed due to detailed preparation for the start of the programme and that on March 3, this year, he would be cutting the sod for the construction of these new senior high schools to begin in earnest.
President Mahama also said his promise of establishing a new public university in the Eastern Region was on course and that the Prof Benneh/Amoako Nuamah Committee tasked to do preparatory work on the new university, had already submitted its report to him for further action.
The President noted that his government has the wellbeing of the ordinary Ghanaian at the centre of all its policies and that he was committed to bridging the gap between the richest and the poorest in the society.
He said the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection would be used as the fulcrum to protect and assist the vulnerable in the society, especially women and children, adding that under the ministry’s intervention programme, it had been able to provide financial assistance to 74,000 vulnerable families under the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) programme to take care of their immediate needs, stressing that the programme would cover 100,000 vulnerable families this year.
A Deputy Minister of Education and NDC MP for North Tongu, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, lauded the President for his vision for education, stressing that as required by the Constitution, the President is very much committed to making secondary school education free for all Ghanaian children.
By Thomas Fosu Jnr
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