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Feature Article of Monday, 26 November 2012

Columnist: Kennedy, Arthur Kobina

The Case For Free SHS

University of Cape Coast—Cape Coast.
Saturday, 24th November, 2012
Over the last year, I, and indeed all Ghanaians have watched as Nana Akufo-Addo, the NPP Presidential candidate has taken his free SHS proposal across the length and breadth of this country.
Some have questioned his rationale for it and accused him of political opportunism. Some have questioned his ability to pay for it and the fuzziness of his math in calculating the cost.
Some have questioned his timelines even while conceding grudgingly that there is merit in the proposal. Indeed, the NDC have suggested that free SHS is an idea whose time will come after twenty years. Indeed, the NDC’s position has evolved from outright opposition to the scheme to raising questions about its soundness.
Some have equated “free” with “mediocre” despite the knowledge that even the best educational institutions in the world grant “free” acess to the deserving poor. Perhaps those equating “free” with mediocrity are missing the fact that they are questionning the quality of the education received by many prominent Ghanaians, including President Mahama.
The debate on free SHS shows that politics does indeed breed strange alliances and associations.
Think about it. Here is the son of privilege, Nana Akufo-Addo, who never worried a day in his life about school fees, making the case that the poor deserve free education. And there, on the other side are many beneficiaries of free education, making the case that free SHS is at worse a dangerous idea or at best a good idea whose time has not come. I am still trying to explain to myself why the NDC, the party that purports to care for and about the poor, has problems with a policy designed to lift many of the poor out of poverty. Might the politcal opportunism be on their part instead of on the part of the NPP?
As for the supposed argument between “quality” and “free”, it matters only to the elite. To the child who is given a chance for free education against no education, the choice is rather easy. Any education is better than no education.
To be candid, Nana Addo and the NPP have not been perfect messengers for this issue. First, there was the “costed”, “costing” and “not-costed” debacle on the BBC. Then there were the contorted explanations about the costs that showed some confusion with the soundness of the numbers. Then there was the linkage of the payment with “judgement debts”.
Despite all these shortcomings, the free SHS proposal deserve the commendation and support of all Ghanaians—for a number of reasons.
First, it shows all Ghanaians that depite the big words, the apparent distance and the perceived arrogance, Nana Akufo-Addo does care about the poor. We should see his commitment to this issue as a window into his soul and embrace him and his cause.
Second, we should ponder how many things we would achieve if we subject everything to cost analysis before embarking on it.
If Nkrumah had costed the struggle for independence, he would never have demanded “Freedom now!”
If he had costed free education for the north, he would never have implemented it and many of those opposing free education in big english would be illiterates today.
If Rawlings had costed the extension of power to the North, most of that place would still be in darkness and if Kufuor had costed the search for oil, we still would be without oil.
Third, while the students and their families will benefit from free SHS, the biggest beneficiary will be Ghana. The educated will help us transform Ghana by helping provide the skilled manpower that we need.
Finally, the introduction of free SHS will require the building of new classrooms, new schools and related infrastructure, in addition to requiring the training of thousands of new teachers. This will require thousands of masons, plumbers, electricians and brick-layers. In short, it will be one of the biggest jobs-initiatives in our nation’s history.
As for whether we can pay for it, the answer is “Yes, we can!” It is a question of priorities. The nation that can pay MP’s 80 thousand Ghana cedis after each term, in addition to loans for cars, build Presidential palaces and buy luxury planes for Presidents while paying questionable gargantuan sums to private individuals can indeed pay for free SHS. That is, if it has the will. This is not a financial issue. It is a moral issue.
Despite the forgoing, the best argument for free SHS, to me, is my life story.
I had passed the common entrance examination but was in danger of staying at home because my single illiterate mother could not afford the school fees. Out of desperation, I walked into the office of the headmaster of Osei Kyeretwie Secondary school, Mr. G.R. Bray, to ask for a scholarship. After listening to me for a while, he asked me to come back with a parent. My poor mother was so scared of the financial commitment that she initally refused to go with me to the headmaster. She relented after I cried all night.
The next morning, in the headmaster’s office, after I had repeated my story, the Headmaster uttered the words that would change my life.
He told my mother in Fante, “Ka woakoma to woyam. Aban befa woba no ho ka nyinaa. Oboko school FREE!”
From there, by the grace of God and my country, I went on to Presby boys--- Free; then to the University of Ghana Medical School--- Free before going on to University of Toronto and the Medical College of Wisconsin. The last two were also free. And by the way, the education that I got was top quality all the way. That made me qualified to practice as a Doctor in the United States and to train future Doctors here. Without that offer of free education from my headmaster, Mr. G.R. Bray on behalf of a generous and visionary Ghana, today, I would not be who I am. That is why I am irrevocably for free education. Opposing free SHS would be the equivalent to turning round and removing the ladder that I climbed to success so that others would be denied the chance to climb up. I would be ungrateful and ungenerous if I did that. That is why I support free SHS without equivication and indeed, with passion.
My fellow Ghanaians, I know there are thousands and maybe even millions of you out there with stories like my own. In the next two weeks, let us thank Ghana—by supporting free SHS.
While my account is historical, today, there are many boys and girls whose future are at stake. Last night, I learnt from Hon. Kennedy Agyapong that in the last two weeks, he has paid the fees of 46 students who had qualified for SHS but could not afford to take up the places offered to them. I have heard similar stories from many others and I have paid a few of such fees myself.
Let us hear the cry of poor parents and desperate boys and girls and give them and education a chance.
Let us move forward—together.
Arthur Kobina Kennedy

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