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General News of Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Source: Graphic.com.gh

Review free SHS policy to favour less-endowed schools — Odike

The leader of the United Progressive Party (UPP), Mr Akwasi Addae aka Odike, has urged the government to review the free senior high school (SHS) policy and develop a system that will make parents pay for their children’s education in well-endowed SHSs.

According to him, parents who would want their children to attend well-endowed schools should have their children bonded so they could pay back when they get employed after university.

He said students who applied for less-endowed schools could be spared the payment of fees.

“The free SHS policy is good but we should review it so that we all have a broader and wider consultation because they hurried into its implementation without consultation. They should come back so we have a clear sustainable implementation strategy,” he told the Daily Graphic in an interview.

Affordability

Mr Addae wondered why parents who paid fees in dollars in private basic schools would want free education at the SHS level.

“My child is in the basic school but I pay GH¢2,500. If that amount is not a problem for me, how on earth should I be worried and expect the government to pay GH¢400 or GH¢800 for me at the SHS level? he asked”

“Those who cannot afford should apply so that the government can pay for them. If you want your child to go to Achimota, Mfantsipim, Prempeh College, it means you are wealthy and a middle-class income earner,” he said of the policy introduced last year.

Educational apartheid

When Mr Addae’s attention was drawn to the fact that allowing only those who could pay to attend the best schools amounted to discrimination akin to an apartheid education system, he said the schools had the same curriculum with the difference being the environment and infrastructure.

He compared the schools to hotels and said: “We have no star to five star hotels and even guest houses. If you want the best, you pay for it.”

“When you go to places such as the United Kingdom (UK), you pay for the best schools. They are not free,” he added.

Campaign promise

The free SHS policy was one of the many campaign promises of the New Patriotic Party (NPP). Although increasing admission to senior high schools across the country, its implementation has been fraught with problems, including congestion, bed bugs invasion and a string of deaths believed to be caused by meningitis.

But Mr Odike said the issues of congestion and its related difficulties could be addressed with infrastructure expansion in schools.

Financing

With the government still struggling with funding options for the policy introduced in September last year and seen as the government’s biggest social intervention, Mr Addae said the policy was draining the public purse and needed to be reviewed before it created crisis.

The government plans to allocate some GH¢1.2 billion to the implementation of the Free SHS programme in 2018.

“As it stands now, funding free SHS is also depriving other sectors of the economy. It seems most of our funds are channelled into free SHS policy. The government should come back again so that all those who matter will go to the drawing table and have a wider consultation as to how to have a sustainable SHS programme.”

“All these are about money. It is a cost to the nation but free to the world. Even though these children would serve the nation some years to come, our economic circumstances do not permit wholesale free. It should be optional. For those who cannot pay, we can support them, so those who can pay can do so,” he said.

The enrolment

According to the Ministry of Education data, 358,205 students have been enrolled on the free SHS policy as of November 2018, representing 83.9 per cent, an improvement of 75 per cent from that of 2016.

WAEC in 2017 released the results of 455,951 candidates to the Computerised School Placement Secretariat including 36 foreign students.

Currently, the free SHS policy covers only first year students.

Past position on free SHS

Interestingly, in an interview granted the Daily Graphic on August 21, 2017, Mr Addae urged the government to expand the free SHS to cover students in private SHS.

He argued that at the junior high school (JHS) level, it was mostly students from public or government schools who gained admission to the private SHSs.