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Opinions of Monday, 20 March 2017

Columnist: Abdulai, Iddrisu

President Akufo-Addo must reconsider the Free SHS policy

President Akufo-Addo President Akufo-Addo

By: Abdulai, Iddrisu

I say reconsider and then consider suspending or revoking the Free SHS Policy. Politics or campaigning to win power differs significantly from governance. Mr President, you are neither the first nor the last to distant yourself from a campaign promise.

A prize example comes from the United States, whose Constitution and Presidents are models for Ghana and Ghanaian Presidents including you (President Akufo-Addo). Then Candidate Trump promised banning Muslims from entering the US; that was politics. Now President Trump issued an executive order to that effect. And what happened? The executive order, and not the Muslims, was banned.

Trump conceded defeat in a sterile modest manner but re-issued another executive order with the same intent. The second order was even (temporarily) banned before it was to take effect. The reason is that politics and governance differ from each other.

Before touching on the main message, I offer the following congratulatory messages. First, I congratulate Nana Addo and his NPP on their/our victory in Election 2016. Second, I thank the President for appointing an ‘outsider’ and a young man—Hon. Matthew Prempreh—as the Education Minister.

I used the term ‘outsider’ to describe the Honourable Minister because he is professionally a medical doctor and not an educationist as his predecessor Jane Naana Opoku-Agyemang is. Evidentially, Ghana suffers the worst educational setbacks each time an educationists is the Minister. Just think of Christopher Ameyaw-Akumfi and Alex Tettey-Enyo and the brouhahas during their tenure will linger persistently in your mind. For Jane Naana, Ghanaian parents would forever remember her as the Minister who oversaw the sustained failure of successive batches of WASSCE candidates, with the worst being WASSCE May 2016.

The third congratulatory message to the President is his appointing of Prof. Kwesi Yankah as a Minister of State at the Education Ministry. At least we have an academician to channel our academic arguments through to be effected as policies to benefit Ghana’s Education.

Beginning late 2015, I submitted several academic papers, each detailing inappropriate policies and practices by the Ghana Education Service (GES) that led to and will still be leading to the massive failure of our students. These documents landed into the hands of the wrong persons including Mr Alex Kyeremeh (then Deputy Minister), Mr Enoch Kobbina (Chief Director at the Education Ministry), Mr Jacob Kor (to-be retired Director General of GES), Mrs Felicia Boakye-Yiadom (to-be retired Director of CRDD) and Bernard Ayensu (a Director at the Ministry).

For their ulterior motives especially sharing of taxpayers’ and donors’ money meant for the procuring of textbooks, Jane Naana and Alex Kyeremeh rather empowered Mr Enoch to receive and to act on documents submitted to the Minister. Accordingly, the non-academic and/or ill-intended motives of these officers misled them into hiding those documents. Now we have a listening leadership in power and we shall revisit ALL THE DOCUMENTS one after the other. Professor Yankah, I say ‘Welcome’.

We now begin with the key message. The President must consider revoking or suspending the Free SHS Policy because cost of education is NEVER one of the factors that are currently leading Ghana into these educational messes. Rather, money in the hands of our educational authorities is in excess and they are diverting it for personal use.

My first argument that cost (= payment of schoolfees) is not one of the pressing factors militating against Ghana’s Education is the cry, lamentation or regret by the headmaster of Adisadel College in Cape Coast. Last week (12/03/2017), the headmaster Mr Kusi Yeboah announced that the College will reduce admissions for 2017/18 by 50 %. Last year, the College admitted 423 SHS 1 students instead of 920 as it did in the previous year. That is, the school reduced its admission for the last academic year by 54 %.
Concerned teachers and parents such as this writer are happy that the Hon. Samuel Atta Akyea (Minister for Works and Housing) was the guest speaker to hear that well-timed cry from the headmaster. Two important points of about the headmaster’s cry are worth noting. First, Mr William Kusi cried on behalf of all other headmasters in Ghana. Second, Hon. Atta Akyea heard the headmaster clearly on behalf of the President.

What does the cry from the headmaster mean to us (concerned parents and teachers)? Adisadel College is one of the best secondary schools in Ghana. That is, nearly all students who enrol in that school proceed to tertiary institutions. So, if good schools such as Adisadel College are reducing their intake by 50 % or more, we are concerned about where those rejected students will go to.

My dear reader, assume that you are the President of Ghana. You are told that Adisadel College alone will reject about 500 out 920 students placed by GES. Will you allocate money for the College to create (makeshift) structures to enable it admit the extra 500 students or you will allocate money to pay for all the fees of only the 400 students to be admitted? If you choose the first option, which we expect the President to consider, then you are the People’s President. Contrastingly, if you choose the second option, you are a political president and therefore discriminatory.

As said earlier, all the good schools in Ghana are facing similar BASIC infrastructural challenges. I have spoken to several headmasters of Category A schools, who all equally express the need to reduce intake to avoid putting unnecessary pressure on un-renovated or un-maintained school resources such as classrooms, laboratories and dormitories.

From the Headmaster’s cry and from the reality on the ground, I offer the President two suggestions. First, you may re-channel all the money allocated to the Free SHS as spelt out in 2017 Budget to be used for massive infrastructure in Category A schools so that they can increase their intake. Second, allow the Category A schools to charge parents more money to be used for constructing more classrooms and dormitories. With the second option, the President and Ghana at large will have a reduced number of schools to upgrade.

Let’s not pretend about realities in Ghana and let’s not cloud ourselves in thick political clothing that insulates us against sensing the realities. To proof that cost is NEVER one of the factors hindering our education for now, I will send readers back to the Kufuor Regime. Capitation Grant was introduced; the introduction meant that basic education across all public schools in Ghana was theoretically free.

The ‘freeness’ of basic education meant that pupils would have left private schools in droves to join public schools. But that mass exodus never happened. Why? Parents want to educate their children and not that the children should just go to school. Going to school and being educated are different. I explain the differences using my experience as a teacher in both public and private schools.

I teach at Cosmos Basic Schools Ltd (a private school at New Market, Lapaz). Our pupils are children of parents who are mostly petty traders at the Lapaz and Abeka markets; some few parents are gainfully employed and/or are well-to-do businesspersons. Our schoolfees since then and up to date are moderately high; for example, JHS pupils are paying GHC 765 per term, which sums to about GHC 2300 per year for the 2017/18 academic year. I described our fees as moderately high because our academic inputs are one of the best relative to the fees we charge. Some nearby schools charge far higher fees than we do albeit performing at par with us or even lower than us.

We are surrounded by public schools such as Abeka Motorway, SDA primary and JHS, and Salvation Army. As said earlier, the introduction of the Capitation Grant and the freeness of basic education neither decreased our enrolment nor did it prevent the school authorities from upwardly adjusting the fees frequently to meet with rising cost of inputs.

Then, why didn’t the parents withdraw their children from our school to the public sector? The parents want to educate their children and they know that education in the 21st Century comes at cost, which they are SACRIFACING TO PAY FOR. Their motivations are several.

One of the motivations is that placement into secondary schools is based on cut-off points. Therefore, their children are almost assured of placement in Category A SHSs if they (the parents) sacrifice and educate them in private schools such as Cosmos Schools. Conversely, the pupils from most public JHSs perform poorly at BECE and are often admitted into deprived and/or less endowed SHSs.

The medium- and long-term effect is that the students from the ‘expensive’ private schools, who usually gain admission into Category A SHSs, pass WASSCE so well and thereafter gain admissions into universities. Conversely, most pupils from the free basic schools, who usually end up in the less endowed SHSs, fail at WASSCE and must resit for the examinations or have their education terminated.

From the resit or series of resits, the REAL cost of education is higher for those from the free basic schools. As at now, the cost of attending classes and registering privately for one to three subjects at WASSCE in a remedial school in Accra is almost equal to the total cost of the secondary education in the public sector.

Thus, the cheapest ways of educating our children are to resource the endowed schools to enable them admit more students and to transform the less-endowed schools to endowed ones. Either of these approaches requires the President to re-channel his Free SHS money into resourcing existing schools. Building of new schools is a non-viable option for now because such schools are simply avenues for engaging the students for three years and not for educating them. This point explains why the educational policy message of the then Candidate and President John Mahama was least appealing to parents and teachers despite the commissioning several community-based secondary schools.

Another interesting point to note about the excessive but ‘justifiable’ intrusion of politics into Ghana’s Education occurred during the 2008 Elections in Ashanti Region, precisely around Offinso. The political message was and is still that Capitation Grant made basic education absolutely free. Conversely, GES instructs heads never to use the Grant to pay for printing of end-of-term examination papers. That is, pupils must pay monies to be used for that purpose.

The political message became so viral in the run up to the then 2008 elections that schools in the aforementioned townships were prevented (by whom?) from collecting exam fees (as they call them). GES was so timid that it couldn’t act. In return, teachers said they could not write up to forty multiple-choice questions on the chalkboard.

Thus, end-of-term examinations were not taken before the pupils vacated for Christmas holidays in December 2008. That election brought Atta Mills and his NDC to power. Accordingly, pupils were charged the same examination fees in January 2009 which were used to print the papers. That is, first-term examinations were taken at the beginning of second term.

What caused that situation and what is still the cause of these political intrusions into our education? The Ghana Education Service (GES) is deeply sleeping or is totally blind. The blindness of GES prevents it from being able to explain why our education is currently in a mess. For example, when WASSCE May 2016 results were released and every household was shocked by the massive failure, GES was the first to announce publicly that the results were an improvement. An improvement over what?

How could a parent, a taxpayer and/or a donor agency see more 50 % of candidates fail and yet such results are considered an improvement by the only and only education service? Confronted with this situation, we ask ‘Which political party will ever consult educational authorities like GES when crafting an education policy in its manifesto?’

Accordingly, all the education interventions such as the Capitation Grant, the School Feeding Programme, the extension of SHS to 4 years, the reversal of SHS back to 3 years and the Free SHS Policy are political intrusions that solve no educational problem in Ghana. That is, the blindness of GES allows political parties to use their manifestos to amend our educational policies. Therefore, when political parties lose power, their educational policies are either modified or abolished. No serious country runs educational policies that are aligned to political regimes. As at now, it remains unknown whether this Government may re-reverse SHS back to 4 years.

What are real problems or challenges of Ghana’s education? The key challenges are three:

1. Inappropriate teacher training programmes and lack of teacher motivation

2. Incompetent and corrupt Ghana Education Service

3. Inadequate infrastructure

The challenges above are presented in a logical order. In a series of write-ups, I have informed all the major educational authorities about the first two problems. Even in this 2017, I submitted two ‘authoritative’ documents to the Education Minister. Whether Dr Matthew himself read the documents remains unknown to me because I strongly believe that if he did, he would call me for a discussion. That is, the cartel members at the Ministry could once again hide the documents. Further, I went to Parliament twice to hold discussions with Mr Stevens Siaka, the Education Committee Chairman.

During the second visit, I pleaded with his secretary to tell him (Mr Stevens) to call me for an urgent discussion before February ends. The call never came. The discussion was to inform the Education Committee to act promptly by preventing the Ministry of Education and GES from procuring another batch of misaligned and error-padded textbooks. In additional to the unpardonable error-load in these books, I have been reliably informed that each textbook costs the Government between GHC 100 to 120. However, the same textbook on the market is less than GHC 60.

This over-inflated price tells you two things. First, a huge sum of money from the taxpayer or donor is available for corrupt educational authorities to share with the publishers. Second, cost is not a factor militating against our education but rather the monies are misappropriated. The same misappropriation by the same corrupt GES awaits the President Free SHS money.

Until educational stakeholders re-orient GES to play its constitutional and professional role, politicians will continue to invent problems for our educational system and then busy themselves allocating our scarce resources to solving those invented problems.

I will return and when I do, I will continue by describing the inappropriate teacher training programmes that churn out teachers who lack basic pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). The lack of PCK prevents our teachers from detecting the coherence defects in our curricula and the errors in WAEC examination papers and their marking schemes.
Long live practising teachers!

By: Abdulai, Iddrisu
Graduate School of Nuclear and Allied Sciences
Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC)
PO Box LG 80
Atomic Campus