Veep launches Free SHS in Tamale

GNA Opinion by Mr. Habibu Adam, Senior Economist, Office of the Senior Advisor to the President

Over the course of last week, some media houses initiated a discussion on the current challenges facing the Free SHS system as parents who were interviewed or called in complained about spending more to educate their wards than what the Free SHS policy currently provides.

They also complained of congestion and bad food.

It is not clear whether the discussion was contrived or a reaction to bring forth the silent complaints of parents and headmasters/headmistress whom they complained of being cowed into silence for fear of victimisation.

The wonder is if top civil servants understood the rationale behind the implementation of the Free SHS. It is sad that some of the callers who are supposed to know better should rather take delight in trying to paint the policy as bad.

It is important for Ghanaians especially the upper-class and the middle-class citizens to understand that their standard of living cannot be used as the basis for measurement of quality of life the Free SHS students. In addition, measurement of standard of living cannot be equated to those living in Accra, Kumasi, Takoradi and the other regional capitals where people live lavishly in posh homes and eating good food.

Free SHS for people in poverty-stricken areas

The Free SHS policy was established for the majority of the population living in rural and poverty-stricken parts of Ghana for brilliant but needy students.

In rural Ghana, many people cannot even afford GH¢10.00 on their own. But they have brilliant children whose results are good enough to take them to the elite schools. Yet, if you impose Parent Teacher Association (PTA) levies on their parents, they cannot afford to pay it. Should that deny them the opportunity to attend such schools?

Those in the upper -class and middle-class should know that they are enjoying the free SHS because President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo did not want to introduce a discriminatory policy that will end up benefiting the rich at the expense of the poor as witnessed in the manner GETFUND and Scholarship Secretariat scholarships operated over the years.

Some implementation challenges of SHS

It is true that the Free SHS has some implementation challenges. But it is not new or unexpected. Right from the beginning of the policy, we were made to believe that over 100,000 students who ordinarily would have dropped out of school would have the opportunity to be in school.

The government had on countless occasions prior to the implementation of the policy said that the current available spaces for admissions were inadequate and government was exploring an innovative way to contain the situation, hence, the introduction of the double track system.

They also pleaded with Ghanaian parents to bear with the inconvenience that could create.

As a result, over 2000 school infrastructural projects were initiated with some completed while others are at different stages of completion. It is worth noting that most of the schools that started the Double-track system especially in the areas outside the regional capitals had reverted to the normal one stream.

Responding to some concerns, Dr. Kwabena Tandoh, Deputy Director-General of Ghana Education Service (GES), said that about 181,000 students would have been left out had the government not implemented the Double-track system.

“I remember Dr. Bawumia’s famous question ‘Whose child should be left out if there is no Double-Track system? Nobody has been able to provide the answer since the beginning of the implementation of the Double-Track system.”

Way forward

Several people including; Mr Ken Ofori-Atta, Minister for Finance, Professor Naana Jane Opoku Agyemang former Minister of Education and most parents who contributed to the programme said the free for all policy for the Free SHS was draining and unsustainable.

They have recommended that people who are able to pay for their wards should be allowed to do so.

Experience has thought us that whenever a discriminatory policy is introduced, its implementation sometimes ends up benefiting the rich at the expense of the poor.

But the current uproar on the challenges facing the Free SHS system in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic and declining in government revenues, should provide a greater opportunity for government to call for stakeholders’ dialogue to see to the review of the policy.

This review should not be seen as a change of policy, but a prudent way of managing the enormous resources required to run the Free SHS Policy.

Recommendations

The Free SHS policy should be revised to allow capable people to pay. In the revised policy, government should provide resources for the admission of all first-year students into the SHS. A profiling form to be designed in a way to obtain information about the parentage and guardianship of students.

This form will then be used to determine those who can pay and those who cannot. These forms are then given to an independent body to vet and approve. The alternative is to allow parents to fill forms to indicate they can pay fees for their wards.

Those who are not qualified for free SHS are written to by the end of the semester to pay their fees before the next semester begins. Where a parent or guardian circumstances change and they can no longer pay the fees, they can write to the independent body for consideration.

However, if even government is able to recoup 50 per cent of its expenditure on Free SHS from fee paying students, this could be channelled for infrastructural development and increasing the number of STEM students which should be ramped up to about 40 per cent of free SHS students.

The future of the world is in the STEM fields.

Government should allow the schools to charge the PTA dues on condition that it is not compulsory. The profiling of students stated earlier should enable each school to identify students from poor homes who can be exempt them from PTA dues.

Under no circumstance should any school send students’ home or deny them the opportunity to write exams for defaulting on PTA dues.

The Role of Buffer Stock Company: Government must ensure that every food produce supplied for the boarding schools is procured from Buffer Stock Company.

There must be a deliberate policy to invigorate the consumption of local produce right from the basic schools to shed off taste for foreign products.

Once, it is taxpayer’s money, they must be used solely for procuring local farm produce to feed our students.

The only exception is where there is no substitute for a particular food product or ingredient.

The Ministry of Education must review the core subjects and make certain subjects compulsory.

For instance, English Literature must be a core subject for science-related students likewise core science must be a core subject for all non-science students.

Science students should not take up core science as core likewise literature should not be core for Arts students especially those doing literature as elective.

However, Economics and IT should be compulsory for all students.

The reason being that the future of the world is in the Economics and IT related fields.

Disruptive technologies are bringing about new trends in future job prospects.

The World Economic Forum recently published the Jobs Landscape in 2022 about the emerging global roles (jobs) by 2022.

They also listed the declining roles in certain key subject areas. The Ministry of Education must study these global emerging subject areas and the declining subject areas and begin to develop new curricula for the future.

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