The National Democratic Congress (NDC) owes the New Patriotic Party (NPP) no apology for its plans to introduce a progressive free senior high school education from the 2015/2016 academic year, the General Secretary of the NDC, Mr Johnson Asiedu-Nketia has declared.
According to Mr Nketia, the NPP could not lay claim to the idea which had been enshrined in the 1992 Constitution — the source from which the NDC lifted the initiative.
Addressing a press conference in Accra Thursday, Mr Asiedu-Nketia said the NPP could not claim patent to the idea, especially when it boycotted the constituent assembly that drafted the 1992 Constitution.
The President, John Dramani Mahama, in last Tuesday’s State of the Nation Address, announced that the Ministry of Education, following consultations with stakeholders had prepared a report on the roadmap for a progressive introduction of free secondary education in Ghana as required under the 1992 constitution.
“This roadmap will be presented to cabinet for approval and subsequent implementation. Under the guidance of this roadmap, we can anticipate that fees for day students will be abolished at an estimated cost of GH¢71 million in 2015/2016 academic year,” said the president.
The announcement appeared to have tickled the nerve of critics of the NDC, including NPP commentators who have accused the NDC of ‘stealing’ the free SHS education concept which was the central message of the opposition party’s campaign in the 2012 elections.
Free education not for NPP
Making an extensive reference to Article 38 of the 1992 Constitution and the NDC 2012 Manifesto, he said “the ideas are not the ideas of the NPP and we are prepared to debate them anywhere.”
Franked by party functionaries, including Mr James Asante, the NDC’s Director of Communications, Mr Ludwig Hlodze, National Youth Organiser, and other party members, he said there was a difference between the NDC’s message and that of the NPP.
“I was surprised that the NPP said their idea had been stolen — because if you look at this critically, they are looking at instant free SHS.”
“We are saying that when you talk about secondary education, it is not just SHS. It is vocational, technical and others defined in the constitution. Secondly, they are talking about immediate introduction, we are talking about progressive introduction and we are working according to our programme,” he stated.
“If there is anybody who should take credit for the introduction of free education in Ghana, it should be Dr Kwame Nkrumah and not the NPP,” he said.
He said the NPP had no choice but to introduce capitation grant which it trumpeted as free education at the basic level because the constitution mandated that basic education should be made compulsory and free within 10 years after the constitution had come into effect.
Already, a number of spins have been put on the president’s announcement. While some say the move is a political strategy to blunt the NPP campaign in 2016, others claim it is a calculated attempt to deceive voters into voting for the NDC in the next elections.
In that respect, Mr Asiedu-Nketia, beaming with smiles, said the party had no intention of deceiving anyone because the expected date for implementation of the initiative was not after the elections.
What has changed?
On October 30, 2012, President Mahama was reported to have said that free SHS was a misplaced priority if primary school pupils still paid fees and that there was the need to increase access and quality at the primary school level first.
Asked what had changed between 2012 and 2014, he said the government had increased the capitation grant, addressed the problem of teachers and built more schools to increase access to primary school education.
“We are saying that the immediate policy of introducing free SHS in January 2013 is a misplaced priority. Even what we are talking about now is not an immediate introduction because it has not been budgeted for this year but rather from 2015.”
At the press conference, which addressed a number of emerging issues in the education sector, the General Secretary said a teacher who was fighting for his or her transfer grants had his support if that was the only reason why they were refusing to go to their new stations.
He said contrary to the view of the government’s critics, the recent abolition of teachers’ allowance had not affected enrolment rates at the colleges of education but had rather increased enrolment from 9,000 to 15,000 this academic year.