Feature Article of Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Columnist: Ananpansah, Abraham

The challenge with Ghana's education has never been how to make education fee free

By: Ananpansah, Abraham

Should it just be the question of fee free education? Is that what we have identified as the main challenge with our educational system as it stands now? As a country, what are our educational priorities? Must it always be politics as usual or fulfilling some campaign promise? More of such questions soon....

In fact,as a citizen, not a spectator, and a concerned one at that,I have been wondering and grappling with some few issues the very day His excellency Williams Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo-Addo made public his intention to commence his policy of free S.H.S come September 2017.

Indeed, the very first day I read about the supposed policy packages, I was like wow! Has Ghana gotten to that level already?

I must state that in as much as I'm not oblivious and for that matter agree with the constitutional provision that guarantees progressively free secondary education, I want to believe there can be more to our kind of free education than meet the ordinary mind's eye.

A begger they always say has no choice, and so free in every cycle of life is usually accepted without a choice. But in our case, do you really think we are begging? A big NO! It's our taxes; It's our money for heaven sake! And this is the reason why we have to interrogate the issues and not just fall for anything free... In any case, we are still paying for it, so it's never free.(Credit to all tax payers).

I know it gladden the hearts of many to hear that secondary education in Ghana will soon be free. Why not? After all, the policy in itself appears plausible and commendable, and we are all happy."E no be so?"

But in our unending happiness, let's begin to bother our mind's with some few questions: Do you think it's genuinely possible to comprehensively implement such a policy at this point in time? What is the possible source of funding for this "laudable" policy? Can a developing and nearly broke country as we are being told like Ghana sustainably fund such a policy into the future? You're aware the debate is already raging about the proposed source of funding for the policy... More importantly and for the purpose of this article,has the major challenge with our educational system at present to do with how to make education fee free? Does free education guarantees quality education? Will free compromise quality?

Think of it, if truly and in all sincerity, it's the question of free and cheap education, we all know and, indeed, it's common knowledge that private schools pay far more than government schools. In fact, basic education is virtually free and compulsory in Ghana. But have you ever wondered why the political class has their children in expensive private basic schools instead of the free public basic schools? If it's not abroad then it's international schools for such "golden children" They have little faith in our system... How about the teachers that teach these pupils but have their own wards in private schools? Did you also know that rich and poor parents alike are more willing to spend their last penny in funding private education for their wards than fall for the cheap public education? Don't you think these people have found some truth and logic in the adage we learnt at primary school that, 'cheap things cost much?'

Before you get me wrong, I want to state for the avoidance of any doubt that I'm not doubting the value of our public educational system. As a matter of fact, I'm a full product of public education right from nursery to the university. I remember when I got the rare opportunity through a competitive entrance examination to attend a renowned private secondary school, I turned down the offer to the dismay of my own parents. I opted for a less endowed public secondary school, and I have no regrets for my decision. Thanks to my parents for allowing me make my own choice.

I only want you to awaken to the reality that the politician is gradually destroying our education if care is not taken. All they care about is their votes (The public choice theory).

From the forgoing argument,I want to reason with you that the challenge with Ghana's education now is not how to make it free, but how to guarantee quality and make our education meaningful.

I know the think tanks,experts and the media are seeing nothing wrong with the policy except the source of funding. I have followed keenly and listened to their arguments. Just like they never anticipated nor question the source of funding when the policy was being flaunted around and used to make a particular candidate popular all in the name of votes. But "ordinary me", sees everything wrong with this policy.

I tell you,our educational system as it stands now needs a complete overhaul of the curriculum to guarantee quality not just the so called "free education". We must begin to shift from the over formalised, theoretical and marks awarding("chew, pour and pass") type of educational system. The colonial nature of our education must change! Why? Because, it is the reason why we have engineers but will always opt for Chinese contractors to construct our roads. It's the reason why our own parliament will import furniture for the chambers of parliament from outside the country when our own carpenters are dying of talent. It's the reason why all the formal sectors of the Ghanaian economy is choked. Today, we are talking about downsizing the public sector, ban on public sector employment and possible retrenchment. Nurses after years of training are now home unemployed, teachers are following suit.Graduates are theoretically churned from our schools without employable skills linked to industry to be absorbed into the private sector. We are only interested in big certificates and titles without impact. We all want to occupy formal sector positions,since it's where our education best trains us to be... We advance beautiful arguments towards vocational and technical education but do very little to realise same.

In the midst of all these,the politician can only promise us fee free education, and we are all happy. They will always have a choice and a way. What about you and l that are helping them destroy our system? Their wards are studying in the best systems abroad to come back and rule us.

You see the more reason why you and I should be worried if a whole minister of education will only be interested in students obtaining good grades. He says,"heads of schools will be sacked if students fail BECE and WASSCE.(Rephrased)... It's about passing theoretical examination and not acquiring real knowledge, skills and attitudes/abilities (KSAs) relevant to life. So unfortunate!

Fellow citizen, our education is our only hope. Let's not fall for the trick of any politician.There is nothing free in what we are being offered. It's our choice to demand the best and quality of education, and not just the so called fee free education.We are those that will continue to be jobless if our system is compromised the more . Remember, "A quality education grants us the ability to fight the war on ignorance and poverty".Charles B. Rangel...

May God bless us all....

The writer is a teacher by profession, a freelance journalist, blogger and a student of Bachelor of Science Public Administration at the University of Ghana Business School.