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Opinions of Thursday, 12 October 2017

Columnist: Africanus Owusu – Ansah

The Free SHS has landed

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” - Nelson Mandela

When Neil Armstrong descended the ladder of the spaceship, named ‘The Eagle’ and touched the surface of the moon at Tranquility Base, he became the first man to achieve that feat. Together with his two other colleagues, Michael Collins and Edwin Aldrin, Jnr, they had successfully accomplished the mission of Apollo II on July 16, 1969.

They planted the epitaph signed by the U.S President, Richard Nixon: “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon, July 1969 AD. We came in peace for all mankind”. Bemused with joy, Armstrong declared: “That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind”.

When the President, Nana Akufo Addo, launched the free SHS at West Africa Senior High School on Tuesday, September 12, 2017, he was writing a historical anthology.

It was unprecedented for any Ghanaian government to absolve parents from paying all bills for their wards’ education – admission fees, science center fees, examination fees, utility fees, feeding fees, tuition fees, learning support fees, books – fees, boarding fees – for all first year students. What the President did was as episodic as the Eagle landing on the moon.

Belittling the issue, the Volta Regional Chapter of the NDC asked the second and third year students not to pay any fees. In a statement, the Chapter noted: “The NPP manifesto Chapter 9, page 107 says ‘they will redefine basic education to include SHS covering vocational, agricultural and technical schools and make it available for free on a universal basis to all Ghanaians ‘but what we are currently witnessing is not what was promised Ghanaians.

But Kofi Adams, the National organiser of the NDC has openly declared: “Whoever will openly say he or she doesn’t support this free SHS policy is a witch, I mean a witch with no class”.

Predictably, Kofi Adams adds: “There should be some quality attached to the free. The policy should benefit all including continuing students. It shouldn’t be free only for freshers but to all. If possible needy but brilliant students should have some privileges as well”.

We must thank God for small mercies. When NPP was shouting at the rooftops to introduce free SHS many were the skeptics who criticised it for its impracticability. Some said it was only a political ruse or a gimmick to win votes. Free SHS would not be feasible till the next generation and that free SHS would compromise quality education.

You see how a good plan could fail? The Ho police have arrested the Municipal Supply Officer of the Ghana Education Service (GES), Wisdom Atawiah and the store keeper of Azumah Bookshop for allegedly engaging in the sale of teaching and learning materials meant for free distribution to schools within the municipality. How did they understand the ‘Not for sale’ label?

No matter the criticisms, the free SHS policy can stand the test of time, with good and effective leadership. There must be commitment to succeed and some of us have no doubt about the resolve of the calibre of men and women who are in the Ministry of Education and the Ghana Education Service, notably Dr Matthew Opoku Prempeh (Napo), Mr Michael Nsowah a former Principal of Akrokerri Training College; and Most Rev. J.B Kwofie of the Catholic Bishops Conference to succeed.

The Computerised School Selection and Placement System (CSSPS) may have its problems, but this can be resolved as suggested by Dr Prince Armah, by rolling out a ‘mobile version’ to complement the current desktop platform.

One cannot be happy about the posting of boys to girls’ schools. The parent who lives in the Volta Region having his teenage son posted to a day school in Ashaiman cannot feel enthused about the prospects, especially when he has no relative in Ashaiman. (This is where the jingle on Peace FM with Opanin Kyere threatening to beat up the computer for misplacing his ward comes in as appropriate).

What do we do with the private schools? Daily Graphic editorial on Thursday, September 14, 2017 thinks “…the Government should not ignore the concerns of the private schools, considering their crucial role in the country’s educational system… perhaps it is time to go back to the table and work out a partnership. Private schools are offering an invaluable service and government must tap into it for the benefit of the people”.

Coming pari passu with the free SHS launch was the 2017 International World Teachers’ Day Celebration held at Koforidua on Thursday 5th October, 2017, Faustina Thompson, according to reports deserves the Overall Best Teacher Award for her “hard work”.

Agnes Nutakor of Kpeve Model School and Joseph Abusa of Legon Presec also deserve their reward for sacrificing their energies to deliver quality teaching to their students.

But we would have liked to hear mention of the ‘innovative teacher’ who used a stone to demonstrate how a ‘mouse’ works in a computer. Or what about sacrificing to impart knowledge. We now know that ‘The teacher’s reward is in heaven’ is no longer a truism, but a charade.

Having said ‘nice things’ about the free SHS, let us now see the inputs that will give us quality education and here I recommend the Daily Graphic story of Thursday, October 5, 2017 on “Dagbasu Primary /JHS cries for help – No classrooms, no furniture for pupils, teachers”.

The picture there will definitely arouse the emotions in you and draw you into tears. You may have been born after independence, so you may not have done ‘Picture Description’, but you can see the distraught teacher with his blackboard leaning against a tree.

All the pupils are sitting on blocks with the 14th child on the front ‘pew’ straining her neck to look at the blackboard far from her – very far.

This is a different regime from the one in which the 2nd Lady defiantly told a school head-teacher: “I will not give you chalk”. Chalk too? Let us think about those schools under trees!

In his book ‘Education in Ghana’, Professor Ivan Addae – Mensah notes: “Any serious student of educational development in Africa attests to the fact that Ghana has been the pacesetter in many aspects of education ….

In 1935, Colonial Office records show that the then Gold Coast, a country with a population of about 3 million at that time had about 65000 children in school, while Nigeria, which had more than five times Ghana’s population had only 40000 children in school”.

Indeed, Ghana had been a pacesetter in many aspects of education. The free SHS which has landed is one of such. Let the burly thickset, Herculean Ghanaian who enjoyed selective free education make a mockery of the present universal free education.

The decrepit old cocoa farmer whose sweat produced the wealth of Ghana but whose son did not earn a CMB scholarship knows better.

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