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General News of Sunday, 24 September 2006

Source: The Statesman

Child fishermen mock Capitation policy

Government's policy of free textbooks and free meals for children in selected schools country-wide, as a way of bringing education to the doorsteps of the poor, and which has been hailed by the outside world and our own people here in Ghana, incidentally appear to be news to a section of the people even though they live in the nation"s capital city.

Late this week, The Statesman in an interaction between with fishermen and fishmongers at Teshie, one of Accra's overcrowded communities, revealed that the noise about Capitation Grant and children entering classrooms all over the country is a fairy tale to some parents and boys and girls of school going age.

To the child fishermen and their parents, the noise about a Capitation Grant or free education and feeding policy for pupils is "a tale told by an idiot”. And, unless Government came with a bus to pick their children to school, the policy must only be a fairy tale in children's story books: it can never be real.

This unfortunate situation has led to many more children in the fishing community, especially children belonging to fishermen and fishmongers, not enrolling in schools so they can benefit from the policy.

Regarding the programme as too good to be true, the parents and their children still troop to the fishing harbour to spend their lives there, with the child fishermen helping their adult partners and taking home as their wages a handful a fish to sell for some ten or twenty thousand cedis, instead of being in the classroom at virtually no cost to themselves and their parents..

The children (boys), between the ages of nine to fifteen, have been engaged at the beach at the expense of their education.

When The Statesman got to the beach at 8:30 am on Wednesday, about forty to fifty five children were seen at the beach. Some were child fishermen while others either helped to convey the fresh fish from the boat to shore for sale or helped their parents to sell fish at the beach.

In a chat with some of the children, they told our reporters that their parents do not have the means to cater for their basic needs let alone pay fees to send them to school. When our reporters asked them if they knew about Government’s free education and feeding programme, it turned out that only a minority of them new about the free education. They have heard about it only in name, but do not have anybody to lead and guide them to access the benefits of the programme.

According to Akuete Kotey Dsane, a nine year old boy fisherman, he looks after himself although he lives with his mother, a kenkey seller. He said his friends informed him about the free education policy, but he could not enrol in any school, saying, “My life depends on the ¢20.000 I earn a day from fishing.”

He expressed willingness to go to school on condition that he would be supported financially to meet daily needs. At that tender age, he is independent.

Joshua Adjei Ago, a 16 year old boy said he dropped out of school six years ago because his parents could not provide him with stationary and also pay ¢150.000 fees he owed the school. When asked if he would want to go back now that basic education is fee-free, he said, “I can’t go because of stationery. Besides, my father is a carpenter. I will enrol as an apprentice and learn his profession.

Most of them strangely felt that if the policy was truly operational, Government representatives or their Member of Parliament needed to come down to convey them to the classroom.

According to them, people have been there several times to talk to them, but did not come back to take their children to school. “We are fed up with the empty promises; we want action’, they lamented.

When they were informed that parents were the ones supposed to send their children to the schools for enrolment, they retorted: “We do not know which schools are vacant to take our children.”

Ashitei Trebi, a distressed parent said though he was willing to get his children into the classroom, pocket money is nothing he could afford.

Putting the cart before the horse they were ready to complain about the increasing costs of tertiary education in the country, adding that their children would not be able to further their education to the tertiary level, even if they enrolled under the current benevolent programme. This is because their earnings a year cannot pay the over four million cedis student now pay in the tertiary institutions.

They explained that it was better for them to introduce their children to the fishing profession early than give them half education “which will rather worsen their situation”.

To them, most educated people would not want to fish but rather end up as armed robbers.

The capitation grant which enables every Ghanaian child of school going age to enjoy free basic education was introduced and implemented last academic year in government basic schools to enhance equity in the provision of education by helping to mop up children outside the classroom into the school system as well as retain those already in school.

The government realised that some parents could not pay fees charged by schools, and in the bid to improve access and enhance enrolment, Government set up the Capitation Grant scheme. Thirty thousand cedis is paid for every child in school and textbooks are provided to all government basic schools for free.

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