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Opinions of Thursday, 6 December 2012

Columnist: Sallar, Anthony Mawuli

Akuffo Addo’s Free SHS Education, the Trojan Horse of our time!

NPP Presidential Candidate Nana Akuffo Addo’s Free SHS Education, the Trojan Horse of our time!

The Greeks after besieging the City of Troy for 10 years without conquering and entering it came up with a sleek deceptive stratagem. The Greeks constructed a massive wooden horse and hid a crack force of men in it. They then pretended to sail away and the unsuspecting Trojans pulled the horse into the City of Troy amidst pomp and pageantry as a sign of victory. Under the cover of darkness, the Greeks sailed back and their force came out of the horse, opened the gates for the remaining Greek army. They entered and decisively defeated the army of Troy hence the end of the war. Fast forward 3,500 years later into the West African country of Ghana in 2012. Prior to using Free SHS to be the bedrock of his fledgling campaign following the declaration of his now infamous “All Die be Die” mantra, Nana Addo’s campaign never had traction. The “All Die be Die” mantra which, according to unconfirmed reports is emboldened on some cutlasses and machetes in Eastern Region was an imbroglio to the NPP flag bearer as well as a dead wood. Nana’s call to arms fell on deaf ears in the populace and law-abiding NPP members except the fringe elements and associated rental mob factions. Free SHS, Phony Ploy aka Ghana’s Trojan Horse In a crafty way Nana Addo got his groove back, back pedaled on “All Die be Die” mantra and brought in “Free SHS Education is coming your way”. Nana's free SHS is only a phony political ploy aka Trojan Horse. In the early days of winning the NPP flagbearership, Nana began his campaign with the message of transforming Ghana from a colonial and neo colonial Guggisberg economy to a modern industrial economy. This was Nana Addo Danquah’s message around March 2011. It is not surprising that his campaign advisors/strategists/Danquah Institute honchos told him that Guggisberg economy and all that is too tough and too academic for the average voter to understand, so he should find something that is sellable, easy to latch onto, and all that mattered was get into the castle or Jubilee House and deal with the consequences later. This move is classic Niccolo Machiavellian par excellence. After all don’t most people like freebies? And so here comes free SHS (and free boarding too). This is not credible and he cannot deliver on it hence the characterization Trojan Horse. No one disputes the assertion that a modern industrial economy requires an educated population but NPP’s way is not comprehensive and is a prescription for disaster. This phony “Free SHS” unfortunately seems to strike a cord among the probably all trusting average electorate whose children might have been through the public school system and may have been financially strapped with paying school fees for their children at the Senior High School Level. To take it a little further, another aspect of the Trojan Horse manifestation is the printing of free exercise books with a caption of Free SHS on the cover. The unsuspecting school kids and family may be innocently hoodwinked. Just as the Greeks fooled the citizens of the city of Troy so is Nana’s NPP ready to fool Ghanaians to latch up to the Trojan Horse. Just as the Greeks besieged Troy for 10 years, so also was Nana’s ambition to become President since Ghana became a democracy in 1992. Nana could have been in Ghana’s Presidential history books but for his inability to defeat candidate Kufour (who later coasted to victory in 2000) because Ghanaians wanted to give a chance to market oriented party and were tired with President Rawlings’ 20 year rule. As fate would have it Nana got a second chance having been waiting since 1996 (16 years) more than the years Troy was besieged. Hence the decision to devise a stratagem, deceitful or conning though it might be.

Placement into SHS There is controversy about the unit cost of educating the Senior High School (SHS) student. Calculating the unit cost of educating a child is feasible but a bigger challenge to address is the number of junior high school graduates who do not gain access into senior high schools because of the limited places available. That is the crux of the matter and any wonder that the NPP flag bearer is ignoring it? It is a well-known fact that there are more public junior high schools and private junior high schools across the country, than there are public and private senior high schools respectively. The deficit indicates that not all JHS graduates can be placed in the existing SHSs, even if we wish and promise it. Isn’t that where Nana Addo’s campaign should be focusing on in matters of education rather than the jingoistic campaign message of “Free Quality SHS. Your vote will make it a reality”?

Let us look at the most recent figures in 2012. According to the Director-General of the GES, Benedicta Naana Biney, in a news conference in Accra on September 12, 2012 a total of 375,285, representing 99.6% of a registered number of 376,859 candidates qualified for placement, but 245,143, representing 65% had been placed into the over 530 public and 200 private SHSs and TVIs throughout the country, leaving a total of 130,115 representing 34.6% yet to be placed. On the following day, a Danquah Institute research analyst, one Eugene Arhin stated that “The Danquah Institute believes it will be a travesty, if for no fault of theirs, these children are denied access to SHS, when per the results they are qualified to gain admission.” Well said Mr. Arhin, but why is your flag bearer not addressing access but free SHS for only the 65% of the students who are placed? What happens to the other 35%? Please tell the fathers, mothers, and these children will you? To achieve equity of access, therefore, there is the need to expand enrolment in the existing SHSs and build more SHSs to absorb the JHS graduates. In the event of the implementation of a ‘free’ SHS policy what will be the fate of those who are not placed? That is what Nana should be telling the parents of those kids who have not been placed. What happens to them?

Quality The Government of Ghana has a duty to expand access to second cycle education, which according to the 2008 Education Act, embraces the grammar school and the Technical/ Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institutions. In addition, since the country aims at expanding access to TVET institutions, these institutions have to be well maintained and provided with laboratories and equipment so that they can deliver first class training to their students to provide them with the requisite skills to meet the challenges of industry. That is what Nana should be saying not free SHS hence the Trojan Horse characterization of his policy. Prior to this 2012 success, the BECE pass rates had not been anything to write home about. In 1998 only 3 out of 5 candidates presented passed (60.36%) and by 2008 only 62.16%. From 2009 to 2011, the pass rates of BECE further declined. from 50.21% In 2009 only 1 out of every 2 students (50.21%) presented passed the exam and in 2010 and 2011 less than one out of 2 students presented passed the BECE exams, 49.12% and 46.93% respectively.

Lack of coherent assessment: Surrogate 1

Fully aware of the above statistics, as evidenced by the availability of this information in the public domain, and consequent Press Release by a research analyst of the Danquah Institute, an intellectual offshoot of the NPP, it is very surprising that their flag bearer and the campaign team should be inundating the Ghanaian electorate with “Free SHS” education to solve Ghana’s educational crisis. Problem identification, it is said, is the first step in solving a problem. My question is if the NPP cannot simply identify the problem in the educational sector which is so glaring and decides to offer a Trojan Horse approach how can we trust it with the Economy, Energy, Health, Industrial and Environmental and Sanitation policies. It is no wonder that the NPP government without systems analytical process gave us 4 year SHS without providing the $400 million infrastructure that was needed. A conversation with Headmasters of SHS, teachers and other educationists point to harrowing tales of woes the administrators, teachers, parents, and students had to go through for that 4th year. For example, students had to sleep in the dining and classrooms, no furniture, no classrooms to study in, administrators had to run shift system for dining halls, and pressure on sanitation facilities. This collapse resulted into more outbreaks of diseases in the student populations because of this ill thought and unplanned policy devoid of careful analysis ramifications. May be Nana Addo Danquah and his NPP team have not learnt from the lessons of “on the fly decision making” for policies hence his Free SHS education or the as always the Trojan Horse has taken over.

Lack of coherent assessment: Surrogate 2

Nana Addo’s surrogates also contributed in making the free SHS waters murkier than their flag bearer himself. For example Dr. Samuel Amoako, (NPP- MP Abuakwa North) and member of Nana Akufo-Addo’s Campaign Team in an exclusive interview reported by the Enquirer newspaper and published on peacefmonline on December 3, 2012, said the Free SHS would benefit only new comers (September 2013 ) and NOT students already in the system. Dr. Amoako disagreed with his flag bearer and added that Nana Addo made a mistake by stating the cost for his free SHS would be GH¢78 million a year. According to Dr Amoako, the GH¢78 million being bandied around was only for a term. Thus the scheme would cost a minimum of 78 x 3 = GH¢ 224 million per year. As usual, Nana Akuffo Addo and his surrogates are not telling Ghanaians how Nana would pay for his Trojan Horse Free SHS he has built his campaign on. Dr Amoako also threw in freebies such as free SHS uniforms as if parents’ inability to provide uniforms were the causes of students not entering the SHS. This contention by a top surrogate from Nana Addo’s campaign further goes to strengthen the argument that Nana and his people are smart people to know that it is the unavailability of Senior High School buildings and teachers (physical infrastructure and human capital) are the core problems contributing to lack of access and hence inability to absorb more than a 1/3 of qualified students. But they keep on repeating it so that they can ride on it to the Castle or Jubilee House.

According to Dr. Amoako, schools will be allowed to charge additional fees, like PTA levy and other relevant levies, with approval from the Ghana Education Service (GES). So what then is free if one may ask? Adding another layer of bureaucracy to GES to approve those fees is another exercise in futility. All of a sudden the GES is going to be tasked with approving PTA fees for almost 730 SHS and TVETs we currently have? . Dr. Amoako also prophesied that “the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is going to be increased because the economy would be modernized”. In a characteristic Trojanian way, Dr. Amoako added “The GDP in 2013 is going to be higher in 2014. You don’t know how to create jobs and I will not tell you”. How nationalistic!!!!

Crucial questions to ponder

1. Do we have enough schools/classrooms to absorb the qualified children into SHS? The answer is a resounding “no”?

2. Do we have qualified or trained teachers to man these schools Nana wants to provide free education and free boarding to?

3. Why is Nana not addressing other issues like functional illiteracy, pay for teachers to let the service be attractive to others and increase retention?

4. How come Nana and his surrogates did not cost or tell us where is going to get the money to pay for it except some ideas like oil money, cut government expenditure etc.

The above questions are tough to answer but talking about “free this, free that” gets the people’s attention and Nana and his TEAM have decided to do a demolition con job at best on that. That was exactly what the Greeks did to the people of Troy thousands of years ago and we are having a play book of it in Ghana in 2012. Amazing isn’t it !!!!

The SHS Elephant around Nana Addo’s head Thus from the foregoing, voting for President John Mahama, who promised to follow the constitutional requirements of giving quality education from the base and build on systematically with provision of adequate infrastructure, training of teachers, and the incentive system is the way to go. This must be done sensibly and carefully such that our financial heart (the Oil Industry) is not stifled for capital accumulation from the word go as Nana seems to be suggesting. Putting every free project at the door step of the young oil industry is not smart enough and President Mahama’s way is the way to go.

In conclusion can I ask whether Nana Addo will say anything to get elected? Sure he will and his free SHS is one. Industrial parks in every corner of the country are another ploy we keep hearing about. What freebies are next on the plate to be dished out? Any wonder the people call Nana Addo, the NPP flag bearer, the Mitt Romney of Ghana? It seems it is not for nothing that the NPP has the same symbol as the US Republican party…the elephant. The policies enumerated by the US elephant was massively rejected by American people who saw a similar Trojan horse and read through the façade. Come December 7th 2012, Ghanaians will do the same. They will retire Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo Addo and his Trojan horse policies into the shadows of Ghana’s political history.

By: Anthony Mawuli Sallar, PhD