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Feature Article of Friday, 13 April 2012

Columnist: Klutse, David

Free Education in Ghana, a Deception or a -Part 2

In part 1 of this article, I looked at the implementation of free universal education policy in two African countries, Uganda and Kenya to be precise; as the proponents of this policy had argued that it is possible to introduce it in Ghana, because these countries had successfully implemented it.

What they failed to tell Ghanaians is the staggering drawbacks that bedevilled its implementation in both countries, the impact it had on the quality of education and the severe logistical constrains which these countries have still not found antidotes to.

In Thailand, 17 February 2012, the Bangkok Post published an article entitled: “Free education, not really free”. In this article the Ombudsman for education in Thailand, Sriracha Charoenpanich, asserted that, parents have the perception that a “free education policy” means free of all charges but in fact, only five cost components are free under the policy and that there are hidden charges.

It was also noted that, even though the government allocates about 20% of its overall budget to education, National Standardised examination results indicate students’ scores in core subjects have actually decreased since the policy was implemented.

Sriracha suggested that the state should leave the education system to market demand instead of managing it with pre-allocated budget restraints that damage the whole education system, as he blamed the failure on corruption and lack of accountability.

Indeed, in Cuba, education at all levels is said to be ‘free’, although secondary students and university graduates are required to do community service in return. The rate of literacy has been rated 100%. The average teacher-student ratio is 1:13 and the school retention rate approaches 100%. The program that achieved this result was progressively introduced by increasing minimum educated level targets from 6th through 9th to 12th grade.

Beneath the veneer of these fantastic statistics, lies a hideous repression of the people’s freedom in diverse ways including religious freedom; and any appearance of unorthodoxy can have dire consequences for whoever is deemed subversive to the state. This sort of Faustian pact between the people and the government of Cuba will not be possible in a democratic state.

According to an article published by Tisa Silver in Forbes Magazine online, when comparing tax rates by country (as calculated by total tax revenue as a percentage of GDP) several of the countries providing ‘free education’ are near the top of the list.

In fact, Denmark, Sweden, Cuba, Finland and Norway are five of the top 10 countries when it comes to high tax rates. For instance, estimates place the top income tax rate in Sweden at approximately 57%.

Based on the above review of nations that had already introduced the free education policy coupled with the ones discussed in part1 of this article, it is fair for one to conjecture that; for any government to adequately fund such a policy, she must increase taxes drastically or rely on the donor community (which in itself comes with a myriad of unintended consequences) or substantially cut if not completely withdraw funds allocated to other state departments; and to guarantee success, corruption must be reduced to the barest minimum.

Another fact is that, ‘free education’ is a deception as education in itself is not really free anywhere in the world; you or someone has to pay for it in one way or the other.

The quality of education will potentially be sacrificed in the process (especially in the case of African countries because of corruption). What we need to do in Ghana is to focus on delivering quality education by adopting more practical teaching methods, motivate and retrain teachers; undertake a complete curriculum reform (that will address our local needs) and expand the educational infrastructure.

In fact, we do not have a shortage of graduates in Ghana, if we do; there will be nothing like Unemployed Graduate Association in Ghana today. Indeed, what is lacking is quality education. We must as a matter of urgency, aggressively identify and nurture talents in specialist courses that are in high demand across the globe as well as those that are pertinent to our local economy. This will attract multinational firms to set up industries in Ghana; and these skills will also make Ghana a major player in the international Labour market, bringing in much need revenue. Technical education must be given a priority and high level apprenticeship should be encouraged and supported by government.

Should the so-called free education policy be implemented in its current form in Ghana, without first working on the attitude of Ghanaians, it will breed a sense of entitlement and irresponsibility as failing will have no consequences, since you do not pay for what you have used up. On one hand, we create access to education, but on the other, a potential positive attitudinal deficit; a black hole which no amount of money can ever fill; and a chronic culture of dependency.

I am no expert in educational policies, and do not wish to cast myself in the role of one by any stretch of the imagination, but surely, the prudent approach for any government is to gradually absorb certain cost components of education at targeted levels of our educational system as and when it is assimilable by the economy; and progressively work its way towards making education affordable to all if possible, without compromising on quality.

However, the so-called free SHS policy could be given some impetus, when it is means-tested or if you like flavoured with some kind of positive discrimination; even in this case, success is not guaranteed because of the endemic nature of corruption in the country.

On this score, free school uniform, free exercise books, removal of schools under trees, the school feeding program already introduced by successive governments in Ghana, are all steps in the right direction. However, there must be a huge cultural shift of tsunami proportions for the better in Ghana when it comes to corruption, with a comprehensive educational reform to boot, before considering making education free if there is anything such as free education.

I do not subscribe to the idea that education should entirely be left to market demand. However, it is a shattering fact that, in today’s global free market economy, it is important for even a social democratic government to mitigate its socialist ideologies with some doses of capitalism to be able to compete on the world stage.

We all can build castles in the air, but it becomes dangerous when some people decide to reside in theirs. Implementing the free secondary education policy (if it is really going to be free in the true sense of the word) in one hit, as it is being proposed by Nana Akufo Addo, will amount to gruesomely sacrificing the quality of education on the altar of quantity and political expediency.

This policy is extremely quixotic and will undoubtedly be consigned to the scrap heap of broken political promises should Akufo Addo ride on the back of it to power. It is clearly driven by a rapacious appetite for power. In fact, Ghanaians must not put their stock in anyone who claims that he or she could deliver free education in eight years, let alone in his first term in office.

I take solace in the fact that, Ghanaians have now developed immunity to eloquence and rhetoric; and will not fall for such wishful thinking cloaked as policy, designed to prey on the emotions of Ghanaians.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch!!

In part three of this article, I will be looking at the Finnish recipe for Ghana…..please stay tuned!!!!!!!

By: DAVID KLUTSE

Email: agenda.ghana@gmail.com

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