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Opinions of Thursday, 19 July 2018

Columnist: Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.

The boarding system was always optional

This is rather interesting because the idea that the Akufo-Addo-implemented fee-free Senior High School Policy Initiative included the total underwriting of boarding school fees is news to me. You see, the establishment of middle and secondary boarding schools was part of the Christian missionary tradition in colonial Ghana or The Gold Coast. This was later adopted as part of the public -school system, when the Nkrumah-led government of the Convention people’s Party (CPP) nationalized the mission schools and categorized them as Government-Assisted Schools. That was when the central government began to support these schools by the payment of what was then called “subventions.” Under this investment regime, students received financial assistance based on academic performance in the form of full-scholarships and partial ones called bursaries, with some basic tuition fees and learning materials, such as textbooks, fully covered by the government.

In some rare cases, talented athletes were also awarded scholarships; but this was primarily at the discretion of the heads of the various Government-Assisted secondary schools, for the most part (See “Nii Moi Thompson: Scrap Boarding System to Sustain Free SHS” CitiNewsRoom.com / Modernghana.com 7/18/18). This pretty much explains why the otherwise unimpeachably progressive fee-free SHS system appears to be giving the government so much headache, going by published reports. The fee-free SHS system must apply only to tuition fees and the supply of learning and teaching materials. The boarding aspect of public education was always optional and at the discretion and choice of parents and guardians. Historically, as I have already noted in several previous columns, the boarding school system became necessary in the beginning, that is, during the mid-19th century, because schools were relatively more expensive to establish and manage, coupled with a general lack of understanding and appreciation of the significance of modern formal education to a largely preliterate agrarian society.

Over the course of time, as modern education became better understood and relevant to progress and prosperity in a fast-developing modernizing society, many of the older schools came to be seen as “Magnet Schools,” as a result of having acquired the enviable reputation of having turned out or graduated a critical mass of some of the best and brightest leaders in Ghanaian society. This was how the boarding school system became more attractive or appealing. Fortunately, or unfortunately, in our increasingly technological and globalized postindustrial society, at least in the Western sense of the term, whatever advantages the old boarding school system possessed are fast paling into insignificance. For me and my siblings, for example, our parents decided to enroll us in boarding schools, both at the middle and secondary levels, because we had a maternal grandmother whose own relatively wealthy illiterate mother had yanked her out of the third grade because the old woman sincerely felt that a woman’s place entailed domestic training and family making.

The result of the preceding experience was that our grandmother did not fully appreciate the value of education vis-à-vis the upbringing of her own grandchildren, although her own husband, our mother’s father, to wit, the Rev. T. H. Sintim, was well educated and had had a long and successful career as a Presbyterian missionary educator, founder of schools and churches, manager and/or supervisor of Presbyterian schools and an ordained minister or clergyman. In other words, for some of us being able to attend boarding schools was a means of being afforded a conducive atmosphere and/or environment to learn and become successful adults and future leaders at various levels of society. For instance, my grandmother did not appreciate the imperative need to let us, her grandchildren, leave home for school on time, or on schedule, when there were still a lot of chores household to be completed. I would later learn from my mother that Grandma Grace Ateaa Agyeman-Sintim never forgave her own mother, Nana Owarewaa Agyeman, for withdrawing her from school.

Which, in a sense, tells me that the old woman was vindictively visiting the same raw deal that she had been meted by her mother on her own grandchildren. She had done the same thing to my mother who appeared to have long gotten over the hurt and forgiven her mother; but my mother never forgot the unpardonably wicked intent behind such abject maltreatment. It is not only that the cost of the boarding school system is “prohibitive and unsustainable as a long-term objective,” as one critic, Dr. Nii Moi Thompson, the former Director-General of the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC) put it. The stark fact of the matter is that this temporally defined or epochal system was never intended to be set in stone in perpetuity, as it were, or to be fully funded with our increasingly scarce public fiscal resources. Over time, it became a purely voluntary choice left to parents and guardians which was subvented or supported by the central government to the extent that a portion of our national budget could be used to partially support it.

It is also not wholly accurate that the counsel of Dr. Thompson was roundly rejected by the leaders of the unabashedly neoliberal and free-market-oriented New Patriotic Party (NPP). What is incontestably clear is that the Mahama-led government of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), in the throes of an electoral death, primarily due to an abject lack of creative and progressive leadership, established the National Development Planning Commission as a strategic means of sabotaging the incoming Akufo-Addo Administration by imperiously forcing an electorally successful and massively mandated New Patriotic Party leadership to regressively toe the “Command-Style,” “State Capitalist” or faux-socialist ideological orientation of both the Rawlings-fangled National Democratic Congress and the Nkrumah-inspired rump-Convention People’s Party (r-CPP), of which Dr. Thompson is a key operative.

It is also significant to note that Dr. Thompson is one of those convenient or opportunistic crossovers from the rump-CPP to the NDC, who, once it became dauntingly clear that unless they suavely and shamelessly crossed the decidedly insignificantly thin ideological line between the two left-leaning parties, they risked completely losing their political and professional relevance (the other impudent crossover is, of course, Mr. Murtala Mohammed) in Ghanaian society, quickly jumped onto the Mahama-piloted NDC gravy train.