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Feature Article of Monday, 22 October 2012

Columnist: Afenyadu, Dela

How To Approach The Free SHS Debate

1) First, we must place it on record that the idea of free SHS in Ghana is not a novelty being introduced by the NPP; it is a provision in the 1992 constitution, as part of provisions for ensuring the right to equal educational opportunities and facilities. Therefore all political parties including the NDC are committed to the implementation of a free SHS.
2) The relevant articles in the 1992 constitution regarding education and in particular SHS are as follows:
• Article 25 (1) All persons shall have the right to equal educational opportunities and facilities, with a view to achieving the full realization of that right:
(a) Basic education shall be free, compulsory and available to all;
(b) Secondary education in its different forms, including technical and vocational education, shall be made generally available and accessible to all by every appropriate means, and in particular, by the progressive introduction of free education;
(c) Higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every apprriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education;
d) Functional literacy shall be encouraged or intensified as far as possible;
e) The development of a system of schools with adequate facilities at all levels shall be actively pursued.
• Article 25 (2) Every person shall have the right, at his own expense, to establish and maintain a private school or schools at all levels and of such categories in accordance with such conditions as may be provided by law.

• Article 38(1) The state shall provide educational facilities at all levels and in all the regions of Ghana, and shall to the greatest extent feasible, make those facilities available to all citizens;

• Article 38(3) The state shall, subject to the availability of resources:

a) Provide- equal and balanced access to secondary and other appropriate pre-university education, equal access to university or equivalent education, with emphasis on science and technology;
b) Free adult literacy program, and a free vocational training, rehabilitation and resettlement of disabled persons; and
c) Life –long education.
3) NPP thinks that the concept of basic education should stretch from kindergarten to SHS and should be free, whether it is accessible or not; and that the concept of free should cover free tuition as already exists as well as admission, textbook, library, science centers, computers, examination, boarding and utilities.
4) We in the NDC perceive that the constitution takes a holistic view of education and rightly so because the different types and levels of education are interdependent; and therefore a radical isolation and disproportionate allocation of resources to one tier of education can cause a dangerous diversion of resources from other tiers and result in distortions and imbalances in terms of quality, as well as the flow of numbers of students from one tier to the other. Therefore care must be taken to ensure that simultaneous actions are taken to improve quality and access to the other tiers of formal education, while implementing a free SHS policy.
5) We also believe that the government of Ghana has equal responsibility for investing in the human resource development of its people as well as investing directly in the larger economy to create quality and sustainable employment opportunities; therefore government must be careful to balance these.
6) We further note that vacancy in public SHS in Ghana only exists for 46% of those who have qualified for SHS this year, therefore 54% of JHS graduates cannot enter SHS whether it is free or not, there is just no space to accommodate them.
7) Furthermore as social democrats, we perceive that if we make SHS free, without increasing the number of schools and space in these, the shortage of schools will be more acute and under such severe circumstances, it is only the children of the rich, powerful, influential and well-connected, whose parents can pay their way through that will finally gain access to the supposedly free education; and the children of the poor and working class parents will be further marginalized.
8) Having benefited from hindsight by having to manage the challenges thrown up by NPP’s attempt to implement not well thought-through policies in education including “free policies”, we observe that:
• Implementation of the basic level capitation grant without adequate infrastructural preparation, did severely compromise the quality of education as more than 4,000 schools were under trees; several schools were in dilapidated structures; class sizes increased astronomically reaching 120 students per class in some schools, with students seating 3 in a desk and with some of the affected districts recording very low BECE results eg 0% in some districts;

• Our short experience with implementation of the 4 year SHS policy established by the NPP without adequate infrastructural provision, produced similar disastrous results, with girls having to sleep in dinning and assembly halls in some schools;

• We have had to correct these anomalies through an aggressive policy of eliminating basic schools under trees; expanding many basic schools that were not under trees; and providing emergency classrooms for secondary schools all over the country, most of which are in still progress;

• If NPP is allowed to apply their ad-hoc approach to a ‘free’ secondary education, without adequate infrastructural preparation, the results will be the same, and so they must be prevented from doing so, by not voting for them.

9) We also believe that quality secondary education can only emerge from quality basic education. “The provision of free education at the Senior High School level is meaningless if the basic level, which is the foundation, is weak therefore we will strengthen education at the basic levels to continue to improve on the standards that had enjoyed some measure of improvement since 2009.
10) We observe with concern that:
• Much of the efforts at improving access to free quality basic education (elimination of schools under trees, school feeding program, etc) are yet to reach 50% of target groups; implementation of a highly expensive secondary education policy at this stage of our development therefore, would divert investments away from the systematic quality improvement being pursued at basic level, guarantee the flow of low quality students into secondary and tertiary education, and finally perpetuate the production of unemployable graduates that industry is refusing to employ; and

• Radical expansion of intake that will result from free SSS should move in tandem with a radical expansion and accelerated production of graduate teachers, which takes time. Ignoring the teacher dimension of a free SSS program as the NPP’s approach suggests will severely compromise the quality of education at the secondary level.
11) Our uttermost concerns are with quality and equity; we therefore do not believe in free access for a few; rather we believe in free access for all; we do not believe in the mirage of non-existing schools being free therefore the schools must exist and be within reach then we can make them completely free; and we insist that implementation of a free SHS education policy should not under any circumstances compromise quality.
12. Based on the aforementioned considerations:
• We excuse Nana Akuffo Addo for being sincerely wrong in his approach to the implementation of a free SHS education because he did not attend secondary school in Ghana, so he is not familiar with the issues;

• We believe that implementation of free secondary education policy must be systematic and step by step ; we therefore affirm the correctness of the constitutional provision that implementation of a policy of free SHS education must be progressive;

• We will implement a progressive free access to secondary education policy through building more SHS facilities; training more graduate teachers; incremental implementation of an eclectic mix of subsidies, scholarships, free meals in addition to existing free tuition until, secondary education becomes finally free, as the nation’s economy expands and grows; and

• We also affirm and will work with the constitutional caution of the need for balance, as we try to improve access in secondary and other pre-university education;

• We will do everything step by step to ensure that everybody enjoys quality education in the coming years.

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