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General News of Saturday, 28 July 2018


Parents poorly briefed on free SHS challenges - Baako wants government to admit

Veteran journalist, Abdul-Malik Kwaku Baako, wants government to concede that it did not properly brief parents on the difficulties associated with its flagship education policy, the free Senior High School (SHS) programme.

The Editor-in-Chief of the New Crusading Guide newspaper says, had parents been made aware of funding and logistical challenges weighing down the effective implementation of the policy, the controversy that has been generated by the roll-out of the programme would not have cropped up.

Speaking Saturday on Joy FM/MultiTV news analysis programme, Newsfile, Kwaku Baako said despite the current challenges, he still backs government on the education policy that aims at removing the financial barriers to access to secondary education.

“The points about parents not being fully made aware…I am prepared to concede that there might have been a gap in terms of making them understand what the issues were about and what the pressures and challenges would be relative to their children. Perhaps we must concede to that,” he said.

His comments follow suggestions that in the face of funding challenges, government should allow parents who are able and willing to pay for their wards’ education.

Well-read economists, and President’s own Finance Minister, Ken Ofori-Atta, are among proponents of the position to allow some parents to support government.

The government will spend GH¢453 million ($103million) of the country’s oil revenue to fund the free senior high school programme in 2018. The amount is more than twice the figure it spent on the programme last year, some GH¢198 million ($45million).

Free SHS challenges

The implementation of government’s campaign promise in the heat of the 2016 elections to make senior high school education free for all Ghanaians has been battling funding, infrastructural and logistical challenges.

The programme is being impeded by inadequate classroom block and accommodation at many public schools due to huge enrolment figures.

Last year, for instance, first year free SHS beneficiaries at the Vitting SHS and Kalipohini SHS had to sleep to in the open due to lack of space, exposing them to attacks from both reptiles and robbers.

The recent controversy about the policy has been generated by plans to institute a dual-track semester system to deal with ballooning enrollment figures.

The system, set to begin in September this year, divides the entire student body and staff into two different tracks. So while one track is in school, the other is on vacation.

The rotation sequence will depend on the year-round calendar being used. In Ghana, the school calendar starts from September and ends in April with three different terms. The first term is from September to December, the second term starts in January and ends in April while the third term is from April/May to July.

Furthermore, every semester will be 80 days for the two tracks. For one semester, every track will be in school for 40 days then go for a break for 40 days. Teacher motivation has been increased from 20 hours for the year to 70 hours for the year. Teachers will be increased so every group goes on break with the track they teach.

Wrong timing

Despite government’s justification that the double-track system is meant to reduce pressure on infrastructure and admit more students in the short-term, some educationists and the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) see the new initiative as a testament to poor planning by government and a sign that quality education will be sacrificed.

The Finance Minister, Ken Ofori-Atta, recently proposed that in a bid to deal with the funding challenges of the free SHS programme, the government must “begin to discriminate on the Free SHS programme”, suggesting that parents who can afford to pay the fees of their wards should be made to pay.

Many have interpreted the Finance Minister's proposal as a signal that the free SHS budget is unbearable and the Ken Ofori-Atta, having a deeper knowledge of the country's finances has compelled to make the suggestion candidly.

The Education Ministry has since renounced the proposal, stating categorically that the policy will remain free across board.

Speaking on Newsfile, Abdul-Malik Kwaku Baako said the Finance Minister chose a wrong time to make the suggestion that parents should be involved in dealing with funding challenges.

"He [Finance Minister] is not the government. The President is the government. He [Minister] can be reshuffled tomorrow and there will be a new Finance Minister," Mr Baako reminded the Finance Minister.