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Feature Article of Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Columnist: Togobo, Theophilus Fui

The Fee-Free Senior High School Education Policy Of The Npp

: A Prognosis

The purpose of education is to replace an empty mind with an open one."
~ Malcolm Forbe

We have all been witnesses to one form of educational reform or another. We need to be involved in the educational reform discourse that the NPP is proposing to ensure that the reformed educational system does not emphasize mainly on knowledge, not propaganda nor must it be examination-focused to the detriment of requisite skills the job market demands, since education is the most powerful propaganda known to man. Free education according to the connoisseurs, is Free education refers to education that is funded through taxation rather than tuition fees. In other words, the full cost of education is borne by government instead of parents or guardians. The New Patriotic Party’s proposal, needless to say, to make education easily-accessible to the ordinary Ghanaian up to the secondary-school level presupposes government will bear the full cost of education in the country. To wit, the NPP now prefer full-cost recovery from parents not to government.

Ghana has 12,130 primary schools, 5,450 junior secondary schools and 503 senior secondary schools (this excludes the private schools dotted across the country). On the average, it takes about 20 years for a child to complete their education in Ghana that is from the kindergarten through the tertiary. Children from wealthy families usually benefit from attending private schools while children who are from poor families attend public schools. Most children in Ghana begin their education at the age of three to four. They first enter nursery school which is then followed by two years in kindergarten. After kindergarten, the child then continues to primary school, junior high school, senior high school and then finally the university. The average age at which a child begins first grade is 6 years. In the past one and a half decades, Ghana's spending on education has been between 28 percent and 40 percent of its annual budget. On this note, the promise of a free education does not only sound more of a political promise but a mirage, unsustainable and infeasible.
The Ugandan experiment is a clinical example for Ghana to draw useful lessons from. In lieu of this, as a young educationist and researcher, I have made conscientious effort to bring to the fore both the challenges and the benefits of the Ugandan Free Education Scheme as well as profess few recommendations so as to avert the policy suffering the Uganda fate in the unlikely event it sees the light of day.
Firstly, the implementation of the policy will increase enrolment in schools. Parents who hitherto could not afford the tuition fees of their wards could enroll their wards in school at little or no cost to them. The enrolment of the girl-child is another dire problem of national interest that this policy would solve. This policy, undoubtedly, stands a chance of ameliorating the plight of the less endowed in society if well-thought-out and not implemented in a rush without taking into consideration the resources at the disposal of the state. But if its implementation is politically-motivated, it would end up just like the beleaguered National Health Insurance Scheme. how?
Not only would there be an upsurge in enrolment in all the schools, it may to an extent remedy the graduate unemployment that has bedeviled the country lately. As enrolment in the schools witness population explosion proportionate teacher recruitment is duty-bound. In this way, the issue of graduate unemployment which has become a time bomb we are sitting on could eventually be nipped in the bud. As regards the commensurate teacher motivation, let us not discount that in our analysis as it may have a rippling effect on the program
Girl-child enrolment and reduction in child-labour are other benefits likely to be derived from the programme.
Although the arrays of advantages cannot be glossed over, there are plethoras of challenges that outweigh the benefits, thereby rendering the programme impractical. The programme has the tendency of further sacrificing the quality of education for quantity if the pros and cons are not thoroughly examined. Presently, it is needless to say the quality of education in the country is poor So many factors account for this unfortunate situation and it is in that regard this section dissects few of these causes.
Infrastructure dearth is a major problem that must be tackled if this programme is to see the light of day. Most of the infrastructure (classroom blocks) in some schools are dilapidated, in others near collapse whilst the rest have little or none at all. Consequently, some classes in most schools have to be held under trees. Hence should this programme be introduced without vigorous attention being paid to, obviously, the four-year educational programme is beleaguered because relatively little or no meticulous structures have been put in place to address the infrastructure deficit before commencing the programme. An increase in enrolment without a commensurate infrastructure expansion would only put pressure on the dilapidated rickety structures and equipment. If the issue of infrastructure deficits is addressed then I dare say the educational sector needs no fee-free education.
Besides, privation of modern teaching aids, notably projectors, science laboratory equipment state-of-art computer laboratory among others, is another factor that makes the implementation of this policy impolitic. Instead of channeling between $ 150 million and $ 400 million into a seemingly infeasible venture, in my humble opinion, it is most reasonable to judiciously use these resources to rehabilitate and furnish the schools with modern-day equipment.
Population explosion comes with its attendant problems in the educational sector. The consequence of not tackling the infrastructure dearth and the blatant failure to replace obsolete equipment and other relevant teaching aid is failure at the West Africa Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (WASSCE). This has a rippling effect on us as a country. And Martin Luther King Jr. Rightly puts it poignantly:
“A nation or civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on the installment plan.”
~Martin Luther King, Jr.
There is no better way to put it than this. It is high time our politicians stopped experimenting with the future of this country.
“Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and sustainable human development.”
~Kofi Annan
As Kofi Annan has precisely espoused, the essence of education is to develop the human resource base of any nation as well as refine the individual. The Ghanaian educational system is too much examination-focused to the extent that we have always mostly end up producing “semi-illiterates”. What Ghana needs is the immediate overhaul of our educational system so that it can be in tandem with modern-day best practices. The Nigerian example provides useful lessons for us to learn from. Although they have replicated our basic school educational policy, it is quite intriguing how they have improved upon it whilst Ghana’s is near-collapse.
In my candid opinion, the politically-motivated fee-free education of the New Patriotic Party is a mere campaign promise which would not materialize even if the NPP were to win the Election 2012. As a result, I have taken the pain to make few recommendations:
• Teachers Must be Retrained to Meet Modern-Day Best Practices
• Secondary Education Should not be Overly Exams-Focused
• Educational Policy Should not be Partisans
• Allowance Must Be Instituted For The Less Endowed
• An Independent Scholarship Secretariat For The Less Endowed
• Massive Infrastructure Expansion in the Educational Sector
For any educational policy to work, it must be decoupled from partisan politics. In other words, the educational policy must be national in character instead of the current unnecessary politicization of education in the country.
Also, if we want to make education accessible to all, then stipends or allowances must be given to the less-endowed in society. On this score I strongly advocate the educational policy-makers create a secretariat that have an over-sight responsibility over the under-privileged in society. This will nip in the bud problem of people dropping out of school as a result of poverty. To solve this problem, I highly recommend Educational Maintenance Allowance in the UK.
Having dissected the benefits and the challenges of the fee free secondary-school education policy, I can put my head on the chopping board to say, the policy is bound to fail if the pertinent educational structures are not put in place. Indubitably, the NPP do not really know the costing of the programme hence in my candid opinion this programme though laudable is dead at birth since it is more of a recipe for disaster than a solution to the mirage of problems that confront the educational sector

Theophilus Fui Togobo
tftogobo@yahoo.com / ttogobo@hotmail.com
Member, Well Meaning Ghanaian
Anloga

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