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Feature Article of Friday, 7 December 2012

Columnist: Tonto, Kofi

Free SHS: A Policy for women, our development, and our nation

*O*n October 9th 2012, in the small Pakistani valley town of Swats a young
Pakistani girl by the name of Malala Yousfzai, was shot in the head at
close range by members of the local Islamic extremist group known as the
Taliban for simply advocating a woman’s right to education. In Afghanistan,
amidst threats of violence and cultural pressure, Razia Jan remained
focused on a quest to bring education to women in rural areas, with a
bustling all girls school that educates over 300 students every year. These
women understood the true meaning and purpose of knowledge, and have shown
to the world that despite societal constructs, cultural limitations and
even faulted infrastructures cannot deter them from their goals to bring
education to the less privileged.

* *

*W*omen in developing nations have (over the years) been mistakenly
classified as incompetent, unskilled and intellectually inferior in
comparison to their male counter parts. Aside from being relegated to
domestic responsibilities (cooking, cleaning, mothering) the education of
women has been viewed by some parents as a risky financial investment,
deliberately sidelining the ability of women to acquire an education.
Cultural impediments coupled with the government’s failure to put in place
a national structure to support women’s education has further restricted
women from acquiring the abilities, knowledge, and skills necessary to
finding jobs in the formal sector.

* *

*A* 2006 study conducted by the Ministry of Planning, Economy and
Empowerment of Tanzania pointed out a strong correlation between population
growth and the level of education acquired by women. The population of
Tanzania has grown from 6 million people in 1961 to 45 million in 2011
(Carrington, 2011). Of all the factors contributing to this population
explosion, the Tanzanian government cites education among women as one of
leading causes. “A third of Tanzanians over 10 years old without any
education have an average of 6.9 babies. Women with a primary school
education have 5.6 babies, and those with secondary and higher education,
just 3.2 babies.” The problem of young girls dropping out of school is not
peculiar to Tanzania alone. Currently Ghana’s population is growing at a
rate of 1.8% per year, which is not very far from the growth rate of 2.8%
seen in Tanzania.

* *

*I*n Ghana, many young women (particularly those in rural areas) drop out
of school because of financial constraints. In a study conducted by Kwaku
Twumasi-Ankrah in Odumasi, Ashanti, Ankrah states that “in other
predominantly rural communities, family financial exigencies and social
custom[s] induce girls to stay out of school and enter into early sexual
relationships, most of which are exploitative (Twumasi-Ankrah, 1999).” Most
of these young women are cajoled by older men who promise them financial
support but yet most of these girls will never find their way back to
school. Instead they are relegated to the informal sector, and further
burden the government’s welfare system. Dr. Kwegyir Aggrey summed it up
well when he said, “The surest way to keep people down is to educate the
men and neglect the women. If you educate a man you simply educate an
individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a family.”

* *

*L*ike Tanzania, Ghana cannot afford to have women fall into the informal
sector. Ghana must engage women in the developmental process as a means to
not only curtail high growth rate, but more importantly, no girl should be
left uneducated because of financial constraints. The benefits of doing so
do not only make sense within theories of population control or education
but also economically. An empirical study done on poverty alleviation
confirmed that improving a person’s education by one level could increase
his income by as much as 30% (Aikaeli, 2010).

*T*o ensure efficient use of the potential of our human resources, we must
wholeheartedly believe that, we cannot transform Ghana’s economy without a
competent and skillful workforce that includes the human capital that women
can provide. I believe Nana Addo’s free SHS policy will serve as the
gateway for more women in Ghana to gain access to education and learn new
skills, necessary to the development of said capital.

* *

*I*t is understandable how circumstances surrounding the free Senior High
School (SHS) policy may seem blurry from afar; but one significant
potential of the free SHS policy that remains unacknowledged is how the
free SHS policy could benefit women and in consequence impact the economy.
A careful critique of the proposed SHS policy shows the intellectual
prowess of Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo. If for nothing, Nana Addo’s
ingenuity in turning the focus of our nation from politics of pettiness to
that of a substantive value must be commended. The topic of education has
gained roots in Ghana’s political terrain, and Nana Addo’s policy now has
Ghanaians asking questions as to how the free SHS policy will be funded.
Unlike the NDC however, Nana Addo and the NPP have provided a comprehensive
4 year financial plan for the SHS policy.

* *

*N*PP’s free SHS policy will make sure that at least every child can read
and write. Those who do poorly in grammar schools will be identified at an
early age, and then placed in a vocational or technical school where they
can access the needed skills to run their own business. In the NPP we
believe that every child should have access to quality education. Not only
that, but women’s education should be encouraged, not only for the purpose
of economic prowess, but to safeguard our young and ever growing democracy.
“*T*here is an old saying that the course of civilization is a race between
catastrophe and education. In a democracy such as ours, we must make sure
that education wins the race.” (John F. Kennedy) We cannot afford to deny
our people of education, because a nation that refuses to place value on
its people will eventually fall. We must all come together as a nation,
find solutions, and ensure that free quality education is provided for all.

Kofi Tonto

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