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Opinions of Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Columnist: Jerry .J. Afolabi

Funding options for the Free SHS program

Introduction

"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world," Nelson Mandela.

As Ghanaians, we must make education of the youth our “Core Value” to develop the fundamental human capacity base of our country. The Free SHS policy is laudable and acceptable but its funding approach by the NPP government has come under serious scrutiny.

Whereas some believe it should be funded through oil revenue, others believe it should be funded through agricultural generated revenue.

The educational system in Ghana has seen some significant improvement in the area of infrastructure even though there is still more to be done. The Free SHS program is believed to be the vehicle to drive Ghana’s growth and bridge the gap that exists in education.

Ghana’s economy can only advance in development, entrepreneurship and be industrialised when we improve her human capital base through education (free, compulsory, universal basic education) by ensuring its Accessible, Quality, Continues, and Sustainable for all.

Article 25 of Ghana’s 1992 Constitution provides for equal rights to educational opportunities for all. The Article also introduces progressively free education of the secondary level for all Ghanaian children. Ghana’s history proves that since 1951, successive governments’ have tried different approaches, methodology and policy directions for the full implementation of this constitutional provision (to ensure free, compulsory, universal basic education for all) but with just varying success rate.

It is worth commending the NPP government for its bold confident step to introduce the Free SHS policy and the commitment to ensure its full successful implementation, however, there are very crucial and mindboggling questions that still remains unclear and has generated several debates and discussions across all political and institutional sections of the country.

An important and crucial issue of contention in Ghana now is how the whole Free SHS program would be funded by government to ensure the program is sustainable and continues. A number of key stakeholders have expressed strong dissatisfaction with the funding options as well as the budgetary allocation for the 2018 academic year but I sincerely believe we have the resources and the knowledge to ensure full implementation and success of this flagship program.

WHAT IS FREE IN THE FREE SHS PROGRAM

• By Free SHS, it means Free tuition, free admission fee, no library fee, no science center fee, no computer lab fee, no examination fee, no utility fee, no boarding fee, free meals for both boarding and days students, no PTA fee, free textbooks for all students and free WAEC fee as well.

• The free SHS also means that all Technical, Vocational, Agricultural Education and Training institutions in Ghana at the high school level is also free.

I would make some recommendations as to how we can fund the program go forward to guarantee its sustainability.

Questions on the Sustainability of Free SHS policy:

• How will government continuously fund to sustain the Free SHS policy?

• Can the Ghanaian economy (Revenue generation) accommodate the full cost of the Free SHS policy annually?

• What is government’s clear blueprint plan to solve the educational infrastructure (classroom blocks, science labs, boarding facilities and availability of technology) deficit?

• The risk of decreasing quality in SHS educational circle as a consequence of the introduction of Free SHS program.

The various discussions and debate across the country have allowed the general public to buy in on how the government plans to fund the entire program and ensure its sustainability.

As a concerned citizen and a stakeholder, I am worried about the current revenue mobilization capacity of our country and whether or not the government has any clear-cut blueprint implementation strategy and funding alternatives to ensure that this Free SHS policy is sustainable, continues, accessible and compulsory for all school going age children in the country.

The full implementation of the Free SHS policy is set to cost Ghana about GHS 3.6 billion annually without the budgetary provision to improve the infrastructural deficit.

Looking at the current economic situation of the country especially with respect to the skyrocketing public debt which currently stands at GHS139 bill and the shortfall in revenue collection, it is very unclear whether sustainable funding can be secured for the FRE SHS program. Especially as the government is yet to make public an official implementation framework strategy for the policy.

RECOMMENDATION TO CONSIDER FOR THE SUSTENANCE OF THE “FREE SHS” PROGRAM

• QUALITY ASSURANCE: The ministry of education must acknowledge the risk of decreasing quality in SHS education delivery and establish what I call the Ghana Education Evaluation Institute (GEEI) to perform the regular evaluation of the Free SHS program and publish the report to maintain and improve the quality of SHS education in Ghana.

• Education is the core value base for the development of any nation. It is very important that we have a bipartisan discussion on the program and have a LEGISLATION from the Parliament of Ghana to back it so that successive governments wouldn’t be able to discontinue the flagship program.

• Again, there is the need for a national stakeholder discussions/involvement and inclusion of all statements, all arms of government and the general public to suggest the best possible ways on how the Free SHS program should be funded which is acceptable to all with a commitment. A policy blueprint must be developed through a coordinated strategy for the full implementation of the program on the funding, planning, implementation, monitoring, examination, review and evaluation to ensure continuity and sustainability of the Free SHS program.

RECOMMENDED FUNDING OPTIONS FOR THE FREE SHS PROGRAM

Create Endowment fund for Free SHS


One of the most reliable and sustainable means of funding education across the world is through ENDOWMENT FUND which is created to support education i.e. tuition, technology, research, books, students, school activities etc. History has it that education has being funded through endowment fund especially in the developed nations like the US, UK, ASIA, GERMANY and this has guaranteed the sustainability,efficiency,quality and continuity of education in all these countries of which we can learn from as a developing country that is committed to bridging the gap in education.

I wish to recommend that government through the ministry of education, Ghana education service, and all recognized education bodies should initiate broader stakeholder discussions on how an ENDOWMENT FUND could be established for the FREE SHS program to guarantee its sustainability and continues reliable funding for it.

The FREE SHS endowment fund when established would be the permanent and most dedicated source of funding for the program that would maintain teaching, feeding, books and all other resources that may be needed for the success of the program.

Introduction of Special levy To Fund FREE SHS

On the other hand, a special levy should be introduced by government backed by Legislation to fund the program rather than the recent suggestions by some individuals that citizens should voluntarily contribute to support the funding the of Free SHS program. How Sustainable would that be? Need I say more, in other jurisdictions high education is funded with a portion of the tax revenue collected annually. The government should engage with all other stakeholders and individuals on a broader discussion to agree and introduce what I call the “FREE SHS LEVY” to support the funding of the program going forward.

Percentage of Return on SSNIT Investment and other Pension schemes

The Ghana education ministry and the government can initiate a stakeholder discussion and debate on the viable possibilities of channelling a percentage of the return on investment generated from all pension schemes and contributions to the funding of the Free SHS program since records and data proofs that it is very reliable and can sustain the program. However, I wish to emphasise the need for immediate registration of all SHS students on a SSNIT scheme or any other pension scheme and with a GRA TIN to ensure that as they enjoy the Free SHS today they would also contribute for other generations to also benefit from the program in that way it continues, sustainable and can be freely guaranteed.

Oil Revenue (ABFA & GHF)

Considering the current economic situation of the country and the fact that the debt stock of the country has increased to GHS 139 bill as at the end of June, 2017 and the fact that the debt to GDP ratio is at 69% which simply means the interest payments of the country annually is about 44%, it is very worrying how government can continuously fund the Free SHS program especially where revenue generation has become the biggest challenge for this country. Some have said the government should readily rely on the oil revenue ie Annual Budget Funding Amount (ABFA) to fund the program whilst others say the Ghana Heritage Fund (GHF) should be used but I ask how reliable is oil-generated revenue with the frequent fluctuation in crude oil prices.

I believe that some percentage of the ABFA & GHF and revenue generated from agriculture can be used to fund the program.

Conclusion

The funding system of the Free SHS program I believe is in a phase of transition. Let no one in this country doubt our capability and resolve to ensure this program is successful and continues because it is within our power as a nation to make it work. More or less all the aspects of the funding means would be reformed in the near future. I believe since we are committed to ensuring the program is sustainable and continues for the benefit of all citizens.

The key point in the debate of the funding options of the FREE SHS is a question of the needed balance on which of them would be agreed upon and acceptable to all to ensure the program is sustainable, continues and with the required quality.

In my concluding remarks, we must acknowledge that competition raises quality so I wish to state that in ensuring that SHS is free for all, we must provide the needed resources and facilities so as to improve the quality, infrastructure and remuneration of the facilitators/teaches in general.