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Opinions of Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Columnist: Bernard Asubonteng

Mr. President, ignore the obstructionist forces; focus on Free SHS

President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo speaking at the launch of Free SHS policy President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo speaking at the launch of Free SHS policy

The republic of Ghana has just experienced a powerful sea change, particularly within the nation’s fledgling education system, whose socio-cultural repercussions will linger on for years to come. Ghanaians of all backgrounds and many other nationals as well know about the unprecedented transformation occurring in the country’s basic education frontier unleashed by the Free SHS. To that end, this writer will not bore the reader by composing an entire teleology on the Free SHS initiative playing out before our eyes.

The outdoor of free SHS by the ambitious Akufo-Addo-led administration is not only first of its kind in the nation’s checkered life story but also it is a policy that should have been launched many, many years ago. So, it will not be out of place to give the current president of Ghana some praises and honors for the display of that level of boldness and political will power to follow through one of his key pre-election campaign promises. Most significant to note is that the Free SHS would have unparalleled relevance regarding its positive ripple effects downstream on Ghana’s progress, including the nation’s embryonic democracy.

It is well documented that societal progress as well as genuine democratic governance thrive in environment with high literacy rate or well-educated citizens. Regardless of some of the potential drawbacks of the Free SHS, any move that attempts to place unbreakable barriers between ignorance and knowledge acquisition via formal schooling is an A-plus to human development and the community as a whole.

Far-reaching policies such as the Free SHS will definitely encounter some powerful temptations that often drain its murky waters into the abyss of obstructionism. If the preceding scenario were to rear its nasty tentacles, a phenomenon already unfolding all over the place, the tendency on the part of the policymakers is to reach out and appease the obstructionist forces massed up along the path of progress. In the face of the constant barrage of obstructionist and negative sentiments, the forces of progress must not waver, but be focused and resolute till the Free SHS is successfully executed.

Since the implementation of the Free SHS, millions of voices—many of them well-intentioned, and others too sinister and bereft of coherent ideas—are trying hard to be heard on the national stage about the Free SHS’ workability or vice versa. The result is that words such as “unsustainable, hasty execution, snail-paced implementation, the free SHS unfairness to private schools” and all kinds of phrases have been throwing around, especially, by the opponents of Nana Addo’s Free SHS policy.

All the ear-splitting background noises characterized by obstructionist energies let loose at the Free SHS program should not push President Akufo-Addo and his policy wonks to bend backwards to placate the “die-hard-against-everything” free SHS crowds in Ghana. “Talk is cheap,” they say; and, Ghanaians like to talk almost about everything under the sun but many can’t match their empty talks with high-quality or creative solutions to pressing issues of the day.

Those Ghanaians who really care and candidly believe in educating the nation’s future leaders, including children from the poor families, must tone down their obstructionist rhetoric toward the Free SHS. They must, rather, retrofit their needless obstructionist tendencies and be open-minded about issues they may have some disagreements with. This is how the nation can collectively come up with imaginative ideas as to how best to help salvage or improve upon the noble but an imperfect free education policy rolled out as we speak.

Constructive critiques are always healthy for national programs of this magnitude, but negative criticisms under the guise of objectivity border on sheer obstructionism. Like the president’s resolve in ending galamsey, the Free SHS’ successful implementation also calls for the same determination, if not more than that of the fight against illegal mining. Once again, Nana Akufo-Addo’s presidency is on the line; there is no turning back on the Free SHS. It is not perfect but the alternative has been far worse.

At this pivotal moment, President Akufo Addo doesn’t have a whole range of menu of options; his only available option now is to focus on the efficiency of the free SHS’ execution, including its sustainability. The program itself is achievable in that Nana Addo as president has already shown the will to succeed in many of his policies already implemented. Plus, Ghana is filthy rich enough to sustain the Free SHS program so long as the revenues from the oil sales are prudently managed, and the leakages from the state kitty are hermetically sealed from corrupt practices.

Many of us hope President Akufo-Addo will tune out to all the cacophonic voices and incomprehensible viewpoints peddling around the Free SHS’ supposed unfeasibility. Instead, the president and his team must seek for and accept innovative ideas only from the vox populi regarding the effective ways to strengthen and make the Free SHS stands the test of time. Anyone, especially, the corrupt and selfish heads of the public high schools who may stand in the way of the free education program must be fired without any regret or apology.

The current government must give its unfiltered support and offer more leverage to the Education Minister and others to signal to all the obstructionist forces out there that Akufo-Addo administration speaks with one voice and determination to cross the Free SHS finish line.

Lest we forget, the Free SHS implementation cannot be held responsible for low enrollment of students or collapse of some of the poorly-run private SHS in the country. In all democratic nations across the globe, Ghana included, there are school choices and parents have options: What type of school they want to educate their kids. If the introduction of the Free SHS is leading to transfer of students en masse from private to public secondary schools, then that should tell any reasonable thinker how badly many of these privately-owned SHS are organized. The president must not be distracted by specious line of arguments, but stay focused and work harder than before for the Free SHS’ triumph.