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Opinions of Monday, 18 September 2017

Columnist: Stephen Atta Owusu

Free SHS education and its attendant difficulties

President Nana Akufo-Addo is one of the most courageous and visionary presidents after Kwame Nkrumah, to introduce free Senior High School (SHS) education.

Nkrumah however, went further by making free elementary schools through Secondary and Technical schools to the Universities. Fee-free Secondary education came to a halt when Nkrumah was overthrown only to be punctuated by Cocoa Marketing board scholarships for few selected excellent students and, sometimes, through protocol awards (i.e. a draught or a bypass transaction which does not follow any strict rule), to cocoa farmers' children and the children of officials of CMB who probably may be average students.

Nana Addo has taken a bold decision to bring back fee-free SHS education to the applause and admiration of many positive minded Ghanaians but the doubting Thomases feel this vision of free SHS education will fail.

The difficulties, problems and insecurity with the free SHS system have reared their ugly heads. With the implementation of free SHS policy, the top SHS are likely to lose their A-status.

This fear was confirmed by Mr Kofi Bentil, policy analyst and Vice president of Imani centre for Policy and Education, who said that Free SHS policy will put elite schools at risk. According to him, the early introduction of free SHS policy is too bad for Ghana since it was hurried through with the sole purpose of claiming praises and approval from Ghanaians.

This free SHS development will completely destroy Ghana's Ivy League schools. Of course every country needs its Ivy League schools so we should not just sit and stare while schools like Achimota, Legon Presec, Opoku Ware school, Prempeh College, Adisadel Mfantsipim and the likes, lose their status as highly respected Ivy league schools.

These institution of excellence according to Kofi Bentil, need to be protected rather than be destroyed because these Ivy League schools are largely responsible for producing the cream of the society.

The free SHS policy has just been implemented. Few problems have been identified. As parents flock the schools with their children, a particular difficulty arose: Some boys were placed in girls’ schools and in the same way some girls were also placed in boys schools.

They are still making efforts to change them but it has not been easy. During the fee paying years, schools would reopen but very few students who had been admitted report within a week and the rest of the first year students kept trickling in, all because of very expensive school fees.

Many parents took advantage of the free SHS and registered their children who due to their success in the BECE, have received admissions into various High schools. The extreme difficulty demanding urgent solution is the congestion in the school’s dormitories. In fact the dormitories in all the schools are completely full. This is unprecedented in the history of Secondary school education.

Interestingly, a 14 year old girl who has no speech or hearing problems was placed in a deaf and dumb school. The parents who live in Kumasi had to fight it out to change the school. The only alternative given to her was a day school in Assin Fosu.

This will mean the parents will have to rent a room at Assin Fosu. Apart from lunch that will be provided in the school, the girl will have to make her own food in the mornings and in the evenings. A fourteen year old girl! Apart from the heavy cost the parents will incur in her upkeep, it will be unsafe for the child to live alone. She is not alone in this.

Many students have been placed in day schools very far away from their residential abodes. There are 600 senior High Schools in Ghana and about 2,500 Junior High Schools throughout Ghana. In a situation like this, not every student will be able to take advantage of the free SHS.

The private Senior High Schools are on the verge of collapse when the free public SHS education came into force. There are 280 private SHS and they are unable to get students to form one.

All students have turned to free SHS. According to a spokesman for the private SHS, in a radio interview expressed concern about the inability of the private schools to get form one students and if it continues like this, for the next five years, all private SHS will cease to exist. The spokesman appealed to the government to grant the private schools at least thirty percent of the students to each private school.

The public SHS normally charges GHc1300 for the first term and around GHc430 for the second and third term respectively. However, the private schools charge two or three times that of the public SHS. The spokesman was asked whether they will accept the fees charged by the public SHS if the government decides to allot them thirty percent of the students, or they will compel the parents to pay the difference.

The spokesman could not answer. Asem ooo. The aim of the private schools is to make maximum profits, hence this funny joke: Conference of Heads of Assisted Secondary Schools abbreviated as CHASS and Conference of Heads of Private Schools is CHOPS

Due to congestion in the dormitories, some headmasters and headmistress are renting hostel rooms to students who could not get a place in the normal dormitories, and some are charging illegal fees for extra tables and chairs without any approval from the Education service. .

The hostel rooms were going to attract cost from the parents. The inspectors of the Education service got a wind of it and quickly stepped in to put an end to it. For engaging in illegal means to wrench monies from parents, two headmasters have been sacked outright and sixteen others have been interdicted.

In Cape Coast, a student who got aggregate 9 chose St. Augustine as his first choice. However, the computer placed him in a day school far away from where he lived. He wept and embarked on a hunger strike. The Director of Education intervened and granted him his first choice.

There are many students who performed very well but have still not been able to get a place at the SHS. Care must be taken not to allow foreigners who have just completed the Junior Secondary School. Many will attempt to take advantage of our free SHS education. We must be vigilant!

The fee free SHS was made available to those who just completed the JSS. It did not include those who could not pass to Form two. It did not also include continuing students in Form two and three.

In addition to free tuition, boarding and lodging, the new students will be provided with free school uniforms, note books, exercise books and textbooks. Kudos Kudos H.E President Nana Addo-Dankwah Akufo Addo. Just forge ahead and don't mind the detractors.