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Feature Article of Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Columnist: Adu-Gyamfi, Kwaku

The Other Side Of Free-SHS Education Equation

The Other Side Of Free-SHS Education Equation That You Don’t Want To See.

Universal SHS tuition-free education is nice but Universal access to a quality education is much better because the problems of education are not confined to tuition affordability.
FAR BE It from me to get in the middle of the Ghanaian “politiricking” (a combination of the words,”politics” and trick”) debate. But, I’d like to add my two pesewas to the tuition free-SHS education debate because I don’t think the proponents of it are just pandering to education enthusiastic parents…I hope not!.
The tuition - free -SHS -education is very feasible and enticing proposition, but we need to dissect it a little to see the quality of its contents, long- term financial sustainability, and effectiveness in solving some of our emerging educational and socio-economic problems in Ghana.
The issue of the tuition - free -education proposal which is coming from the political corridors is not whether it’s feasible or not, but what kind of quality education are we going to get out of it? Or is it going to the same old stuff? The inquiring minds want to know! Remember, we’re talking about a country whose current educational system is nothing to write home about because of so many factors like: Poor salary for teachers, poor teaching methods, and lack of parental involvement, troubled homes, lack of after -school programs and an archaic school curriculum that doesn’t address the socio-economic needs of Ghana.
As a patriotic citizen, I have personally given three batches of five children tuition –free education at Asuom Senior High school, but none of them qualified to tertiary institution .Yes, that is three years of scholarship for fifteen students. The question that the Adu-Gyamfi scholarship Foundation board has been grabbing with is what is wrong with the education system in Ghana: From kindergarten all the way through SHS? Affordability is the only one of the many problems with our public education system.
Listen to this: The U.S has tuition - free education up to Senior High school level which is being financed by local taxes. And financial aid and students’ loan are given to those who qualify to go to college. But its education system in some cities is very lousy. In some black neighborhoods like Baltimore or the Bronx in New York, the education system is producing under-educated and mis-educated high school graduates who read below high school level or can barely pass any standardized test. So this goes to show that free education alone doesn’t necessary guarantee quality education. It should go hand in hand with other remedies in order to make it viable.
Lack of universal access to a quality public education is the issue, not the freebie. And; it’s a basic human Right Issue for every Ghanaian.
Yes, the idea of free education sounds very enticing and interesting, but most senior high schools in my district lack basic learning tools and amenities. Let’s take a trip to Asuom senior High school in the Kwaebibirem district. Its library has no readable books. It took the school’s administration over 8ys to acquire a school bus. Some of its students are housed in a bath house because of lack of dormitory space. The list is long, but I hope you get my point.
I love the free education concept, but what about upgrading the existing ones to match the standards of the Ivy League schools in the country? If we upgrade the existing schools instead of making it free, quality will improve and that will give us more dividends.
Speaking of upgrading, I am not talking about only High schools, but rather we should use the money to upgrade the entire educational system(from kindergarten to High school) .Upgrading means we have to provide After- School programs, recreation centers, playgrounds, etc. We need libraries in every school that are stocked with books. We also need science and computer labs.
The point I’m trying to make here is that every parent who wants better education for his kid will prefer a quality education to free education that is why parents pay to send their kids to private schools instead of government’s free school.
So at this point let’s put the politics aside and find ways to improve and upgrade the existing schools. It is not going to be cheap because it will require real work, not sound- bites or cheap political football game to score points or deflate an opponent’s trade mark.
By upgrading, I’m also referring to the need to change our curriculum to reflect on the long term needs and aspirations of this country.
For one thing, Ghana can’t afford as a nation to let over ninety-percent of its college graduates to look for job handouts from the government. And, obviously, it shouldn’t keep calling itself a “NATION” if the buy and-sale economy is maintained. A country full of sellers and consumers isn’t prepared to face this century and beyond with a well defined plan.
In an increasingly troubled global economy, with its technological innovations, corporate downsizing, shifting educational goals and job skills, wage cuts and other austerities befalling workers all over the world, the answers is ‘ENTREPREURSHIP’.
For too long, our educational system has been killing our ingenuity and has impaired our ability to dream and be creative .A quality education is not complete until classroom studies are used to solve real –life emerging problems in our society and communities. Ask yourself whether or not our current educational system is solving our emerging problems lately. That is the problem that tuition –free education cannot fix. And that is the problem the politicians and policy makers should sit down and assess it objectively without any political bifocal lens because an access to Universal Quality Education is not just a privilege, but it’s a Human Right issue that we can’t play politics within our nation. Don’t we all have a role to play in it? Let’s make it happen now!!
Without a doubt, the free SHS education mambo –Jumbo should incorporate a compulsory two –year entrepreneurship program for every Senior High school student as a graduation requirement.
Believe it or not, Universal access to quality education constitutes a far personal weapon against poverty than tuition free lousy education. For Ghana to achieve universal access to quality education there is a need for Ghanaians to take a long and hard look at themselves and ask where parental involvement, community involvement and dedicated teachers have gone over two decades. All the above mentioned factors can be solutions to our otherwise intractable school failures. Yet, political climate has resisted the needed intuition to reform our school system to free the generations of disadvantaged children who have been cemented into an underclass by third –rate schools. It’s difficult to improve failing schools when all we can do is make them tuition- free instead of tackling other factors that are obstacles to learning besides tuition affordability.
Research has proved that what matters most in education –more than free tuition or anything—is an access to good teachers or learning tools. It means an intensive learning should start from preschool, not in SHS .It means higher compensation to attract and retain good dedicated teachers and the use of an objective measurement to see who is effective and more flexible to remove those who are ineffective from the system.
Once we’re on improving education let’s talk about the new crisis in Ghanaian education. No, it’s not what is happening in our schools. It’s what is happening in our homes. As a nation, we have abandoned our children to television sets, and now we’re paying the price. As the hours spent watching TV have increased too many of our children have stopped reading or don’t read at all at night. And, since reading is the single most important skill there is in determining a child’s future success why can’t we shut off the TV for just one hour every night and read with the kids?
Maybe, the government should campaign to inspire families to bring reading back into their lives by setting aside one hour every day to read together. Those illiterate families can also tell their children to read while the TV is shut off for one hour. That is called family involvement in education which no politician is talking about now. Or maybe, it’s not politically savvy subject to talk about now.
Kwaku Adu-Gyamfi,
Ghana.
*The author is a social commentator and founder of the Adu-Gyamfi Youth empowerment foundation for Disadvantaged Youth of Asuom.

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