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Opinions of Monday, 23 July 2018

Columnist: Peter Anti Partey

Implications of a double-track school calendar on SHS

Free SHS was launched on September 12, 2017 Free SHS was launched on September 12, 2017

Policies have implications, these implications are either positive or negative, however, at any point in time, it is expected that the advantages of adopting a policy far outweigh the disadvantages. That is the only way that the majority of the people in the society will benefit fully from the policy.

Educational policies also follow the same trend, nevertheless, the negatives of an educational policy should be very minimal since the cost of implementing a negative educational policy can transcend to generations unborn. The implementation of the Free SHS educational policy is one of the policies with long-term benefits geared towards an improvement in the human capital base of the country.

Countries that have implemented free education have seen an increase in the level of literacy among their population. They, however, had to grapple with the problem of an increase in enrolment. The problem of increase in enrolment emanates from the fact that, the financial barrier of accessing education have been eliminated and hence those who will not have been able to go to school can now go.

In all Sub-Sahara African countries that have implemented free education, the challenging issues of enrolment and quality have become a major issue. In Ghana, the introduction of the Free SHS policy in 2017 resulted in an increase in enrolment by 33.2% (GoG Budget, 2018). Civil Society Organisations especially the Institute for Education Studies (IFEST) and other professionals in the field have signalled government on the impending challenges as enrolment continue to increase in our secondary schools.

The Ministry of Education in its own analysis is projecting a gap of 181,993 seats if the system is able to absorb all the 472,730 BECE candidates projected to continue to Senior High School. This is from the 521,710 candidates that registered and sat for the BECE in 2018. Even with this huge number, it is projected that about 24,880 will not be enrolled as compared to the 2017 figure of 62,453 (MoE, 2018). The situation has necessitated the proposal to adopt a double-­track school calendar as opposed to the single-­??track system used over the years. Another option to accommodate the increasing level of enrolment might be the introduction of the shift system.

However, with the experience we have had in the country pertaining shift system, it is not surprising that the ministry is not going on that tangent. This paper basically tries to bring to the fore the policy implications of adopting a multi-­track system. To begin with, year-­??round education is also known by the number of "tracks" it uses. A school using a "single track" year-­round calendar is simply changing the instructional/vacation sequence of the school year; all the students and staff are in school or vacation at the same time.

But a school using a "multitrack" year-­??round calendar does something quite different; it divides the entire student body and staff into different tracks (example, three, four or five) (Kneese et al., 1995). For instance, if a school is using a three-­track system, then at any one time two of the three tracks are attending school while the third is on vacation.

The rotation sequence depends on the year-­round calendar being used. In Ghana, the school calendar starts from September and ends in April with three different terms. The first term is from September to December, the second term starts in January and ends in April while the third term is from April/May to July.

This implies that, if the total capacity of a school is 600, all the 600 students will be in school at the same time and vacate at the same time. That is the current practice. Table 2 shows the proposal from the Ministry of Education.

Table 2 looks at a possible incidence of a double-­track system. This implies that, a school with a capacity of 600 students can now increase its capacity to above 50% to 100% (900 – 1200). This is because at any point in time a different group of students will be using the school facility while the other group is on vacation. It must be noted, however, that, there can be overlapping if there is a decision to reduce the number of vacations into two instead of the usual three.

The question for an education policy analyst like myself is; “what are the implications of such a policy on our educational system?” I will attempt to answer this question in the subsequent paragraphs.

To start with, a double-­??tracking school calendar ensures that the school accommodates above 30% more students than its original capacity. That is, the various secondary schools in Ghana can admit an additional 30% and above students to their original capacity.

Studies have also shown that students retain more of their learning when a multi-­?? tracking system is adopted.

Researchers such as Gnadara (1992), Gorsuch (1997), Heaberlin (2000) and Gold (2002) have all indicated a possible improvement in learning and academic achievement with a multi-­track system.

This is because there are relatively smaller classes and improved teacher-­student ratio. However, I will like to state that, the results cannot be conclusive in Sub-­??Saharan Africa.

Again, a double tracking system implies that teachers who work for both tracks will earn more money as compared to a single-­??track system.

Even though some studies seem to suggest that this seems to put a lot of pressure on the teacher, it is evident that teachers who choose to teach extra sessions or substitute will earn more. This in a way can give a positive perception of teachers in the public sphere since they will be working all year helping the students to excel academically.

In terms of cost per student in a multi-­??track system, the additional burden on the government to build infrastructure to accommodate the increasing number of students will be replaced by putting these students in the same facility in turns, that is, there is a lower cost per student than the acquisition cost of site and building. There is also regular maintenance of the school facilities since its continuous use will exert pressure on it. It can also reduce vandalism at school sites by extraneous people.

Additionally, there is an opportunity for students to enter senior high school all year round without necessarily waiting for the beginning of the academic year. In that case, students may advance academically when they are ready if space permits. Again, intersessions offer time to supplement instruction and remedial measures can be given to students who need extra attention.

To sum up, the advantages of a multi-­??track system in terms of adequate use of school facilities, teachers, reduced cost per-­??student and improvement in students learning and academic achievement are enormous; it even becomes more productive as the number of tracks increases.

However, adopting the double-­??tracking system will imply that maintenance of school facilities must be done at night and on weekends (all overtime). In instances where some maintenance requires more than 15 to 20 days to be completed, it will put pressure on the school administrators and might disrupt classes. Even though there is a reduction in overall cost per student in terms of a multi-­??tracking system, there is a tendency for administrative cost to increase. Again, some sociologists have suggested that putting students from the same family on different tracks can disrupt family unity and planned vacations since, at any point in time, one person might not be available. One important issue to deal with is the challenge of altering the examination calendar for senior high schools.

In conclusion, our current situation will demand that we adopt the multi-­??tracking system to be able to deal with the increasing number of enrolment in our secondary schools. This will require that government recruit more teachers and adequately motivate the teacher to be able to perform satisfactorily since this model can put pressure on the teacher.

Again, there should be a lot of awareness creation for public understanding and interest to grow. Also, school administrators, teacher unions and all other stakeholders should all be brought on board to ensure a successful implementation of the policy. Also, the Ministry should begin consultation with the administrators of our tertiary institutions on possible ways to absorb the growing number of students who will want to access tertiary education.

Our biggest challenge has never been the lack of policy direction but rather the fidelity of implementation of our educational policies. This comes as a result of inadequate stakeholder engagement and involvement of those who will implement the policy, in this case, the teachers and school administrators.