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Opinions of Saturday, 26 January 2019

Columnist: Samuel Frimpong, PhD

Ghana’s Free SHS System: Realizing tomorrow’s dreams for the country

In 1973, after passing the Common Entrance Examination into the prestigious Opoku Ware School, I looked and beheld a dream of opportunity. In those moments, the joy and enthusiasm of a young country boy from Kumawu in the Ashanti Region were met with the reality of the financial burden of secondary education. As I pondered the future possibilities and the reality of the financial burden, I was comforted by the words of my mother, Madam Adwoa Ampomaah, “Even if I have to sell all my possessions for your secondary education, I would do so”. These are some of the life-changing words of hope that have been and would continue to be a force in my journey in life.

In my middle school class, there were many brilliant students who were denied secondary education for a future of unlimited possibilities due to financial burdens. Their aspirations, hopes and dreams to become future engineers, medical doctors, accountants, pharmacists, educators and professionals to help their country and their people were dashed against the obstacles of financial burdens. Likewise, countless many young students faced the same obstacles around the country.

It is against this background that I write this article to strongly endorse the introduction of the free SHS System by the Government of Ghana. This is undoubtedly one of the most important policies that have been adopted by any government in recent decades. Let me articulate the significance of this policy and how the associated challenges could be addressed to make the free SHS System effective, efficient and sustainable.

Ghana must compete for a spot in the future global market place, which is being defined by advances in information science and technology. In this world, computational diversity; advanced agriculture and its derivatives; medical breakthroughs; availability of clean water, air and food; multi-source energy and its derivatives; advanced transport systems and infrastructure; and advanced manufacturing of goods and services will be the grand challenges for emerging economies.

The solutions to these grand challenges will be championed by a highly educated and prepared workforce. The education and preparation must begin at the primary and secondary levels to define the projectile for advancing human capacity and capability. Primary and secondary education opens the human brain to the art and skills for aptitude and learning.

This education begins the process of preparing students for the future professions and leadership in tomorrow’s technological world. These potential leaders are spread around the country – in the villages, towns and cities. They are the sons and daughters of farmers, traders, teachers, construction workers, the unemployed and those struggling for their daily bread. Without the free SHS System, many of these potential leaders may not rise beyond the doldrums of fear, ignorance, and poverty to claim their seats on defining the prosperity of this nation.

The free SHS System harnesses the potential capacity from every corner of the country. The System ensures that every peoples’ group participates in the process of knowledge development without financial constraints. It sustains a broad-based knowledge creation from the precious gifts and talents afforded by the Creator regardless of tribe, gender, religion, and socio-economic class.

The free SHS system is the “Future Investment” for Ghana. The national strength, wealth, and technological advancement are all dependent on her educated and prepared citizens. The free SHS System offers strategic tax relief for all including farmers, miners, construction workers, traders, teachers and the average Ghanaian. Ghanaians in the low-income bracket, who would otherwise borrow to finance their children’s education in the senior high schools, have been saved from future principal and interest payments on such loans.

In the past, many government policies have not benefited the rural poor, whose energies and lives have been invested to support the nation. Cocoa beans are produced on the farms but the final products are made in the cities out of reach from these farmers. Miners produce minerals and receive only very small derived benefits from these minerals.

Definitely, there are challenges that must be addressed to strengthen this System. How should this System be financed in the long term? Are current infrastructure and facilities adequate? What are the state and conditions of the science and computational laboratories? Where are the design and entrepreneurial centers? Should the children of the wealthy enjoy the Free SHS System? Are Investments in teachers adequate? Where are the strategic plan and quality metrics for the system? Many well-meaning authors have contributed to the solution of these challenges with great suggestions.

In this article, I will attempt to address these challenges and questions to contribute towards an efficient, effective and sustainable free SHS System.

1. How should the System be financed in the long term? There are many models that could be used to finance the System, such as a national budget item or raising taxes. However, the best model is to create an Endowment Fund, whose annual interest could fund the program. The Government should seed the Fund and organize periodic campaigns for contributions from wealthy individuals, companies, foundations and philanthropists. The Fund would then be invested in appropriate instruments, whose annual interest would be used to fund the free SHS System.

For example, if the Government requires GH C 50 Billion to fund the System annually, it requires an Endowment Fund of GH C $500 Billion that yields a rate of return of 10 percent per annum. In any year the Fund returns a higher rate, the extra income must be reinvested to grow the corpus. Obviously, the annual returns on the Fund must also cover the management costs and miscellaneous expenses associated with the Fund.

2. Are Current Infrastructures and Laboratories Adequate? Using Opoku Ware School as an example, the infrastructures and facilities in the 70s and 80s catered for a total student population of about 850. With very limited expansion in these infrastructures and facilities, the current student population has more than tripled to about 3,000. The resulting severe congestion in the dormitories, the use of unfinished classrooms for instruction and the population of day students provide enormous challenges for effective teaching and learning.

This level of congestion limits the students’ capacity to grow and develop the skills and expertise required to prepare for advanced education at the university level and for the professions of the future. The Ministry of Education and the Ghana Education Service (GES) must develop strategic and tactical plans, with implementation strategies, to address these infrastructure deficits for sustaining the free SHS System.

3. What are the State and Conditions of the Science and Computational Laboratories? Science and computational laboratories are the incubators of future scientists, engineers and information technologists who are the backbone of the economies in the information technology age. The laboratory infrastructure, library resources and the other facilities for total quality education are in very poor conditions in several schools around the country that require serious attention.

These laboratories have faced years of neglect and require attention to prevent total decay and obsolescence. The government must consider it as a priority to invest in these laboratories for outstanding secondary education to prepare a generation of STEM professionals for Ghana’s economy.

4. Where are the Design and Entrepreneurial Centers? To transfer literal knowledge to creative knowledge, the government must develop regional design and entrepreneurial centers. These centers must be used as incubators for creating technological curiosity and innovations and business ideas for tomorrow’s companies starting at the primary and secondary levels.

Total quality education is not all about theory but also about how the knowledge gained from the theory could be used as basis for developing practical solutions to humanity’s challenges. The process must begin at the primary and secondary levels, where young minds are being shaped to develop the workforce for tomorrow’s technological world.

5. Should the Children of the Wealthy Enjoy the Free SHS System? The answer is YES!! A wealthy person today may be poor tomorrow. There should be no discriminatory policy concerning who enjoys the free System. However, wealthy parents and individuals must be encouraged to contribute to build the Endowment Fund.

6. Are Investments in Teachers Adequate? Educators are the vessels for developing and transferring knowledge, wisdom and expertise to the next generation of professionals for sustaining national economic development. However, educators are often times left at the bottom of the totem pole in salaries, wages and compensation. As a result, teachers have to farm, trade and/or undertake extra businesses to live basic lives. Teachers form the critical element in the chain of developing the next generation of highly qualified workforce.

Through their hard work, sacrifice and dedication, all the future professions are provided the sustaining continuity for survival. Without teachers, Ghana’s future development will never be realized under any conditions. To realize the benefits of strong education, the government should invest in the professional development of educators with the necessary salaries and compensations befitting such a critical core of the citizenry.

7. Where are the Strategic Plan and Quality Metrics for the System? The Ministry of Education must charge GES to develop a strategic plan for this System. The strategic plan must then be broken down into tactical operating plans with quality metrics associated with the System.

These plans and quality metrics must be communicated to all the School Administrators, Governing Boards, Parent-Teacher Associations and the relevant constituencies for managing the Free SHS System. GES must also develop accountability measures, which ensure the attainment of these quality metrics with rewards for excellence. The success of the free SHS System must be tracked and measured against properly defined quality metrics with period reconciliation analysis to ensure that these metrics are being met on a continuing basis.

In conclusion, the Ghana Government must be congratulated for the free SHS System. This should not be about politics but about the future of the country, about economic advantages given to all including farmers, traders, miners, construction workers, the ordinary Ghanaian and those struggling to meet daily economic challenges. The Government must create a sustainable financial model to fund the program. One advantage of the Endowment Fund is that it can provide funding in perpetuity.

The Government must also examine the challenges facing the primary and secondary education systems and begin to implement strategic initiatives to resolve them appropriately and timely. On a final note, please elevate the educators from the bottom of the totem pole by investing in their training and development with the commensurate salaries and compensation befitting such a critical core group.

In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest”. Ghana must not relent in her efforts toward making the free SHS System effective, efficient and sustainable toward delivering the promise to her current and future generations.

Dr. Frimpong is currently Mining Engineering Professor and Robert H. Quenon Endowed Chair at Missouri University of Science and Technology (S&T) in the United States. His is also the Director for the Heavy Mining Machinery and Intelligent Control Research Laboratory at S&T. He holds PhD from University of Alberta (UofA) in Canada, MS from University of Zambia and Post-Graduate Diploma and BS from Grant University of Mines and Technology (Grant UMaT) in Ghana. Prior to his current position, he served as Professor and Associate Professor at UofA and Assistant Professor at Technical University of Nova Scotia (now Dalhousie) in Canada. He is currently leading major research initiatives in surface mining and excavation engineering, cyber-mine and augmented visualization, synthetic and renewable energy, machine dynamics and fatigue modeling, machine and whole-body vibrations, and safety and hazards engineering. He has educated several undergraduate and graduate students for industry and academia and has championed many education initiatives in Australia, Botswana, Brazil, China, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Ghana, Indonesia, Mongolia, Peru and Saudi Arabia. Frimpong has been recognized with the 2018 S&T Faculty External Recognition Award; 2018 Outstanding Faculty of the Year Award by S&T Sigma Chi Fraternity; 2017 Daniel C. Jackling Award by SME; 2010 S&T Chancellor’s Leadership Award; Robert H. Quenon Endowed Chair; Distinguished Lecturer Award by Canadian Petroleum Institute; 1997 Award of Distinction by World Mining Congress; UofA/CIDA PhD Scholar; Life Patron of Grant UMaT Alumni Association; 1989 Grand Award by NW Mining Association and a UNESCO Research Fellow.