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Opinions of Saturday, 25 February 2017

Columnist: Frederick Larsen

A viewpoint from overseas; Demystifying the Free SHS voodoo

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By: Frederick Larsen

After 60 years of independence, we’re still arguing about the pros and cons of a Free Senior High School education.

An array of comments have been bundled around in the last few weeks since the Chief Executive officer of the land made mention of the introduction of his major campaign message in the last three elections.

Comments that keep me scratching my head. I really don’t care about the arguments watering down the initiative by the One Man Think Tanks.

Moreover, it is alarming when astute senior citizens so-called come out to rubbish such a policy. These are folks who have been around dating back to our independence struggles, passed through our educational system which was free then.

It didn’t make them drug addicts; it didn’t make them armed robbers, and neither did our free education force them into joblessness.

The free education they enjoyed made them diplomats, historians, members of our legislature, ministers, presidents and even captains and senior officers of our once famed Blackstar line.

In that famous or infamous BBC interview (depending on which side of the political divide you sit on) ahead of the 2012 polls, then candidate Nana Addo looked clueless when he was asked about the cost of his headline policy.

In a country where we make political capital about everything including the perceived political affiliation of the skipper of our senior national team (The Black Stars), the naysayers jumped on it, rode on it and practically made it a “useless” joke only to win the polls then turn around to implement what they called a “Progressive Free SHS” with no template.

It was free, yet parents and guardians were paying building fund and PTA dues.
Today, they keep asking how much it will cost us. In effect, they’re saying that a total free Senior High School will drain our coffers. They argue that free Senior High School will dilute the quality of our education. Really?

Last time I checked, we were paying a certain Roland Agambire to teach our youth how to weave basket and how to play drums. Fontomfrom or Atumpan? We are yet to know and see one graduate.

Were they going to be drummers for hire? Interestingly, they never saw that as a joke. Do I have to remind you that a certain so-called financial engineer owes us well over 50 million Ghana cedis?

Throw in SUBA, Construction Pioneers. Oh! And we just committed 14 million dollars; sorry 16 million dollars (when you add VAT) into the construction of an Arabian Sultan’s palace for our vice president and we’re asking corporate Ghana to fund a 4 million dollar budget for our 60th Independence celebration.

Frankly, if we have money for such trivial activities, how dare we question ourselves how much free Senior High School will cost us? For heaven’s sake, we’re sinking money into pretty much useless ventures with no value for money, no work done, we have nothing on the ground to show for and we’re not able to get our money back even when the law is on our side; so why don’t we for once commit into this policy and damn the financial constraint it wil have on our budget?

We’ve had some sort of “wicked” administration in the past, both sides of the political divide regardless of the party in power.

“Six kindergarten pupils of the Breman Gyambra Methodist KG School died painfully after their dilapidated classroom block collapsed. According to an eyewitness, there were visible cracks on the classroom building.” (Citi FM, Jan 31 2017).

Citi FM’s Ebenezer Afanyi Dadzie described another heart wrenching story of “twin brothers in the Ashanti Region, who both graduated with distinction from JHS; but couldn’t further their education because of poverty. The youngest of the twin, Attah, decided to come to Accra to be a drivers’ mate so he could raise money to go to school. But today, Atta is dead.

He died from an accident whiles working on a ‘VIP Bus’ as a mate” … such a brilliant but needy pupil was struggling just to fund his Senior High School education yet we gave out a fortune to Roland Agamberi’s Asongtaba Cottage Industry to teach our youth how to play Atumpan and Fontomfrom.

Will we ever get our priorities right as a country? There are hundreds of similar stories. What has been our reaction as a people, as a community and as a country? We share some crocodile tears and that is it.

Even when I wasn’t a naturalized U.S citizen, my first two years in college was 100 percent free for the sheer reason that my father pays taxes.

Together with my elder brother, we didn’t have to pay a dime till our 3rd and final year.

My two younger brothers just like every high school student in the United States, payed zero in high school.

The 3rd is in his 3rd year in college, whiles the last one graduates high school this summer, but we didn’t have to part with a fortune for our education.

To those who continue to sing the chorus of cost, why can’t we finance free Senior High School when we live in a country that taxation is possible?

My senior brother works with the biggest auto maker in California; I find myself in one of the media houses in San Francisco doing what I love most and probably the one thing that I know how to do best; my younger brother attending California State University East Bay, is looking at graduating with a degree in Sports management next Summer, and our last born is looking at majoring in Sports medicine.

Therefore what’s the basis that a free education system compromises quality? Again, the last time I checked, the U.S treasury Department isn’t broke because of basically free education from elementary to college level.

Before you dismiss my point, remember that the United States is a country of over 350 million plus population and we’re just 1/14th of that size. Why can’t we do same?

This problem of quality can never be addressed even if we charge a Paul Pogba transfer fee just to attend a Senior High School. We must be solving it from the pre Senior High School level.

We need to get it right at the basic level. This business of WAEC conducting BECE must be stopped. Abolish the BECE, and pass laws that will force Junior High School graduates to attend only the Senior High Schools located within their catchment area.

For the effective implementation of the policy, there should be some sort of equality across board. Equality in terms of amenities and human resource in the schools.

Once the BECE system is halted, the boy that attends Abrobe Ano Municipal Assembly Junior high wouldn’t need aggregate 6 to get into ST. Augustine’s college. That brilliant girl that attends the best private School in Shama will be mandated to attend Shama Secondary rather than attending Archbishop Porter Girls Secondary or even Holy Child in Cape Coast.

Besides making Senior High Schools accessible, we need to make a conscious effort to improve the delivery of education in the country.

In anticipation of record numbers of students attending, by virtue of it being free, we have to expand the existing educational facilities and improve the conditions of our teachers.

From my little corner, we can achieve these without spending a fortune. We can easily improve and expand existing structures practically for free.

In my opinion, the era of GETFUND contractors putting up educational facilities should be scrapped. Instead of spending tens of thousands of Ghana cedis on paying these contractors, why don’t we draft in our Technical Educational Institutions both at the secondary and tertiary levels?

Faculties and departments from the Takoradi Technical Institute to Sunyani Polytechnic are churning out welders, plumbers, masons, steel benders, draft-men etc year in and year out.

Should it be a problem to have the students and instructors renovate and build new structures on our Senior High School premises as part of their studies and most importantly project work?

What is the rationale behind taking a bus owned by Kumasi Technical Institute to Suame Magazine for repairs when the school itself is training mechanics?

We can even feed them whiles on the job and still the budget for these projects will be 10 times lower than our traditional ways of undertaking such projects.

If this can’t be the best on the job training then I’m sorry our Technical Education Institutions need to be shut down.

We can literally have labor for free. Let’s expand this to include our National Service personnel.

Instead of posting that graduate who read building technology, construction and civil engineering to a classroom to teach; we can equally have them work on these projects.

When the President talked about the policy covering the total amount of admission fees and other related charges, I hope he knows that will include free school uniforms, outing dresses, house dresses and P.E kits.

Are we going to continue the tradition of importing them from China? I have just one question to that effect. What’s the use of our Vocational schools? There are lot of cost cutting we can do in the implementation of the free Senior High School.

The next necessity is funding. This should be pretty easy at least based on the goodwill of corporate Ghana. During the hearings after our 2014 world cup fiasco, Elvis Afriyie Ankrah was on the record that the Ministry of Youth and Sports raised GH¢4,509,635 from corporate entities and individuals to send supporters to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

Again, in less than a week after the President announced the $4 million budget for the Ghana at 60 celebrations and requesting funding from corporate Ghana, Unibank has made a donation of Ghc 300,000 and more corporate bodies are expected to follow.

It is clear that corporate Ghana never fails us. If VRA in the middle of our worse “dumsor” in 2014, could contribute to funds to take supporters to Brazi,l then Halleluyah “ye nyi problem koraa.”

We can do more of such appeal for fund. However, instead of asking corporate Ghana for the funding for such noble cause, maybe we can ask corporate Ghana to channel the funds directly into these projects.

We can go further than doing these appeals for fund. As part of the tax cut the administration intends to provide to Ghanaian firms like GREDA, maybe we can ask GREDA to build affordable houses for the Ghanaian teacher with flexible mortgage arrangement whiles the government acts as a guarantor.

Instead of encouraging Ghana Oil (GOIL) and other Petroleum marketers to contribute to such trivial activities; why don’t we ask them to keep their funding and instead fuel the Ghanaian teacher’s car for free for a period of time? The options are endless.

Implementing Free Senior High School should never be an issue of money. We’ve dissipated the national coffers, looted the mineral deposits in the form of galamsey operators “we import” from China.

In truth, we have nothing left for the next generation. Even before they’re born, we’ve piled debt on their heads. Debts that they have no idea of.

Honestly, we have no jobs for them. We therefore owe them the implementation of an efficient Free Senior High School education that will outlive our generation and cushion theirs.

We need to do everything in our power to stop the influx of Ghanaian youth on our street selling dog chains and PK chewing gums just because they couldn’t further their education.

This voodoo about the cost of this policy needs to be discarded once and for all, and damn the consequence of the effect it will have on our finances as a country.
After all, politicians have never changed regardless of which side of the political divide they sit.

A stand-up man that ventures into politics is likely to stay true to his conscience and integrity.

A corrupt politician that masquerades around like a wolf in a sheep’s skin will automatically bleed us.

I say let’s take our chances. Instead of spending our kitty on Brazil Akwantuo, Senchi Summit, Ghana at 60 and the potential ones waiting on the wings; I’ll support any administration that wouldn’t mind to sink 50 percent of our GDP into free SHS; after all, besides wasting it on the aforementioned trivialities, public officers will steal, we’ll pay judgement debt and we’ll service loans with it.


Frederick Larsen