Free SHS: What I Told NPP In 2012

I reproduce, below, my article entitled, BEYOND FREE SHS POLICY, and published in THE CHRONICLE issue of Monday, September 24, 2012, in response to President John Mahama’s recently announced Intention to introduce a free Senior High School policy from the 1915/1916 year.

THERE IS nothing new or earth-shaking about the announced policy of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) to provide free education at the basic level to all Ghanaian children if it should be voted into power during
the forthcoming Presidential and Parliamentary Election in December this year.

Way back in 1918, one of the principles of educational policy enunciated by Governor Sir Gordon Guggisberg was that education could neither be free nor compulsory.

The Nkrumah-led administration of the Convention Peoples Party (CPP) changed that idea and introduced legislation that made education compulsory and free, at least, in the matter of tuition.

Of course, the Government accepted the stubborn fact that parents and guardians would need to make a financial contribution to the education of their children. As a result of the enlightened educational policy of the government, many of us had free education that went beyond the teacher training college, all the way to the university.

That is why I did not have to worry about finding a job after earning a 2-year Post-secondary teachers’ certificate and a university degree. Today, tuition has continued to be free in all state institutions from the kindergarten to the university.

Under the Directive Principles of State Policy, the 1992 Constitution makes it an obligation on the State to provide educational facilities at all levels and in all the Regions of Ghana, and, “to the greatest
extent feasible, make those facilities available to all citizens” (Article 38 (1).

The Government is also obliged to provide “free, compulsory and universal basic education.” The Policy also expects the Government to provide free adult literacy programme, and a free vocational training,
rehabilitation and resettlement of disabled persons. There should also be a provision for life-long education for the citizens.

After all, as we say, education has no end. Dear reader, you see, it is all there in the 1992 Constitution. So what is new in the NPP policy for the 2012 Election? Under the manifesto, the “basic Education” will be applied beyond the Junior High School level. It says, “Basic education will be redefined as from kindergarten up to and including SHS.” (p. 23).

How free will “Free education” be? The Manifesto says, by free SHS we mean free tuition, admission, textbook, library, science centre, computer, examination, utilities, boarding and meals.” (p.23)
The Manifesto also covers such areas as the development and motivation of teachers, improving the skills of children in reading, writing, arithmetic, and Internet Communication Technology (ICT); Vocational, Technical skills training and Apprentice, Educational infrastructure expansion and improvement, and finally Science, Technology and Innovation.

The best policy is that which enables an individual to use all legitimate means to fend for himself without relying on private charity or state largesse. The reality, however, is that for as long as we live, the State will have to play an over-riding role in enabling its citizen to develop their God-given talents.

Even when there is a large state-assisted component in the education of citizens of such rich nations as the United States, who are we to say that the State should play no role in our development?
The State will have to continue to provide the infrastructure for education and provide other facilities that make teaching and teaching possible and easy.

Private education in Ghana today is so prohibitively expensive that, without any State participation, millions of Ghana’s children will be deprived of even the most basic or rudimentary learning. Still, let us ask few questions.

Ultimately, this grand (I nearly said ‘grandiose’) policy of the NPP cannot be implemented without adequate funds. I was privileged to be invited to a Forum organized by the NPP at the Georgia Hotel in Kumasi on Wednesday, September 19, 2012 on the subject of its Education Policy.

I reminisced about the happy days in my life when my training as a teacher and my university education were paid for by the State at absolutely no cost to me. But I also raised the question of availability of funds to give realization to the policy. I openly warned that expectations had been raised and that the NPP should guard against singing the refrain by the Late President John Evans Atta Mills, namely, “We did not know about the state of the coffers.”

Professor Gyan Baffour had it all planned out: a stage by stage implementation of the Policy. But you see, dear reader, it all depends upon the sure and steady availability of funds. A drastic fall in tax
revenues and the prices of such commodities as cocoa and oil could lead to a drastic re-drawing of the financial blue print.

Professor Gyan Baffour stated that day students would be given breakfast and lunch. A report by a “Special Committee in Education” stated in part, “Since the pace of the construction of the initial
stages, the bussing system could be used to transport day students”. I do not think that the problem of the day students should be addressed in this manner. Compared to day students, boarders live in
the Muslim Seventh Heaven.

Boarders do not have to commute to and from school daily. They are assured of three meals a day, and a place to sleep at night. Come study time and there are the classrooms, furniture, lights group
discussions, etc. The day student may have to commute long distance to go to school and
return home. The environment may not be conducive to proper study. He or she may have to do chores that take away a considerable chunk of his or her time.

It may not be the fault of the day student that he has to be one. Boarding facilities are always inadequate .Why should his counter-part in the boarding house have all the advantages and he the liabilities? I mean to ask whether there will be a scheme to bail him out financially beyond giving him two meals and thinking of a bussing system that could transport him to and from school. The day students need help.

There will always be children ready, able and willing to be taught. But teachers are not so many grains of sand at the sea shore ready to be scooped. It takes time to produce academically and professionally
competent teachers with the right orientation and motivation to help carry out the policy. As more and more products come out of the NPP’s Basic school, will there be enough space to accommodate them at the tertiary level in the short term? And what is actually in store for the many that will come
out of the tertiary level?

Anyone who thinks that I have set out to pour cold water on the Policy is mistaken. The educational system has been sick for a long time and, therefore, anyone who wants to pay attention to it must be listened to. However, raising concerns should not be taken as an attempt to discourage its implementation. I speak as an old teacher and a citizen of Ghana.

PS- I have reproduced my article because I honestly believe that the questions raised therein are still as important as they were when initially raised. Where will the funding come from?

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