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Opinions of Monday, 6 August 2018

Columnist: Kwasi Ansu-Kyeremeh

Free SHS forever

My compatriots, many of you will find the ideological acrobatics of the motherland politics amazing. One doesn’t know whether to call it hypocritical, comedy of contradictions or plain lack of foresight. This nation was founded upon a principle of ‘education is the key’ – the title of the play the basic school in our community stages from time to time. Both Kwame Nkrumah and Joseph Boakye Danquah thought and practised ‘education is the key.’ Before them, Joseph Emman Kwegyir Aggrey did same.

The amazing thing is that those who shout Kwame Nkrumah in their exploitative attempts are the very people who have always made people pay by inserting ‘progressively free’ into the Constitution. It is rather his fiercest critics who have practised instituting social intervention programmes to protect the poorest and most vulnerable as began in 2001 and is continuing since 2017.

Implementation of the 1951 Accelerated Education Plan in 1952 (when Nkrumah became leader of Government Business), brought school to my village for the first time and, therefore, the opportunity to enrol in school. In 1965, after I had fallen through the crack unable to continue my secondary schooling because my father could no longer pay my fees, the doubling of the number of free teacher training institutions was an opportunity for me to re-enter the system.

What the colonial government left was a fee-paying system that would have permanently cut me out. I don’t remember paying primary school fees but I remember during my middle school (1958-59) we were paying fees. It was not until 1961 that Nkrumah introduced free education.

Generally, in every nation that seeks rapid progress and, therefore, provides free education, the funding is by two basic means. One is through taxation. The other is applying funds from a windfall such as oil. Nkrumah seemed to have been doing the former by taxing farmers by paying cocoa farmers relatively low prices while the larger proceeds were directed towards funding their children’s education.

Tunisia went a similar way with proceeds from its sale of oil. It seems a mix in the Scandinavian areas where Norway funds education for everyone and with oil money. And Sweden taxes heavily to provide similar support for the education of her citizens. I want to believe one of the key reasons behind free education is that it is more expensive for society in the actions of those who don’t get educated than the money that can be used in educating them.

You can sense that I am trying to distinguish between education and schooling. The Tunisian practice is PROBABLY part of what led to the Arab Spring; that is, the syndrome of unemployed graduates. They used to call it planned economy which was bastardised and derided by Bretton Woods and others of the kind that Nkrumah in his socialist approach would align education and economic strategy to ensure school led to work.

The double-intake is planned to take care of the exploding numbers arising out of free SHS. I don’t know who (National Development Planning Commission) is ensuring that when people leave school there will be jobs. Not long ago, I said that if the minister in charge of the Crop Research Institute and the one in charge of ‘Planting for Food and Jobs’ were to meet at the grounds of the Institute, they could come up with the plan that would guarantee full employment for everyone who leaves school.

So, double-track, double-intake or whatever, let us find solutions. The free must stay. We have the brains and resources to make it happen. What shouldn’t be lacking is the will and commitment. I am talking about the will and commitment of all of us to a good course and not someone else’s political will as the cliché goes. Let us not close our minds to anything that will make it work.

It appears candidate Akufo-Addo redefinition of basic as K-SHS, and not just K-9, was heard loudly and not clearly. He doesn’t think anybody should fall through any cracks from kindergarten to WASSCE. At the risk of contradicting myself, there will by all means be what some will say is chaff if we don’t properly organise ourselves. This is because there cannot be chaff; it is about whether we conscientiously discover talent for nurturing or sit by for talent to waste away.

Architects of FCUBE 1986 implementation distorted 1975 curriculum and botched the whole streaming strategy. Let’s not repeat that by ignoring ideas and strategies that would support free SHS forever. By taxation or oil money, cocoa or shea butter money, it must happen. Let CRI create the jobs that will complete its course.