Feature Article of Sunday, 19 June 2011

Columnist: Danso, Kwabena

Capitation Grant Is Flopping

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In 2005, the government came out with a policy of publicly funding basic
education as part of its efforts to achieve its Millennium Development Goals
(MDGs). The purpose of the policy – widely known as the “capitation grant” -
was to support the more vulnerable in society to have access to quality
education. It was also intended to improve the quality of education and
reduce the burden on teachers. After almost 6 years in operation is the
program achieving its aims and making the right impact on our educational
system? Will Ghanaians be able to say that the capitation has actually been
able to achieve its objectives? Has it been a blessing to our educational
system or a curse? These are the issues that will be given attention in this

The capitation grant started with limited education (a worrying feature of
most government interventions) of the general public regarding its purpose
and accountability frameworks. This naturally has led many parents into
thinking that they are not to pay anything for their wards’ educational
expenses. It has furthermore tended to make many parents irresponsible
towards their children's post-classes needs.

Some parents even fail to provide books, uniforms and other basic materials,
not to talk of the increasingly critical extra classes, to support their
children. This, as you might have guessed, has become a headache for many
school heads and teachers in the country.

Following the same pattern, no form of public education was conducted for
the PTAs (Parents –Teachers Association) and the School Management
Committees during the implementation of the grant and yet they are supposed
to sign off on the paperwork before the relevant banks release grant funds
to the schools. Even though this intervention was to support parental
efforts, no opportunity has been created to solicit their input, or to
involve them in the local governance of the program – to the extent that the
vast majority of parents have no idea about how these funds are allocated in
the schools.

In one of my many interactions with PTAs, a PTA chairman said they are only
contacted when the money is to be released and then only because the school
heads require their signatures to facilitate the release. After the money
has been released and they begin to ask questions as to how the funds are
being used, school officials tell them that all outstanding issues are the
school administration and the Ghana Education Service, and thus they (the
PTA) have nothing to do with the ongoing management of the funds.

Indeed, I will suggest that parents are paying more today than was the case
in the days before the capitation grant came on-stream. It is surely worse
now seeing as some institutional heads and their teachers now decide how
much they should levy each child. Things like extra classes, PTA dues and
examination fees are being charged exorbitantly by schools and children who
are not able to afford them are sacked until their parents pay such fees.

I know what I am talking about; my brother is in a public school and I pay
about 16 Ghana cedis every term to cover these expenses. This has made many
teachers more interested in offering extra classes and charging students for
same than focussing on normal classroom teaching. The sad irony is that if
our teachers were dedicated enough to use their normal classroom hours
judiciously, there will be no need for extra classes in the first place,
much less the current situation where without these classes they apparently
are unable to take pupils through the required curriculum.

There is no clear cut guidance from school administrations on what might be
considered appropriate fees for extra classes. Unbridled money-seeking has
been allowed free rein. Most parents pay these monies, though they can
barely afford to do so, and then hope to God that their wards will reap the
results during examinations. Naturally, there are no standards or clear
performance expectations on the part of teachers. It is clear from the
foregoing that the capitation grant has been in anyway useful in addressing
these dire issues on the ground.

In July 2010, CDD-Ghana reported that they have found frightening levels of
leakages in the disbursement of the capitation grant from the GES
headquarters down to the beneficiary schools. This is indeed the fact of the
case as the schools clearly are not benefitting from the full complement of
resources supposedly made available through the capitation grant. The
evidence is littered all over our primary and secondary campuses in the form
of deteriorating infrastructure, malnourishment and declining test scores
across Ghana.

A significant chunk of the capitation grant money ends up in the pockets of
some school officials and their favourite contractors, though it is highly
unlikely that school officials alone can act with such reckless impunity
without cover from some senior civil servants and politicians.

The children for whom this intervention was expected to benefit do not get
to enjoy. Parents are still struggling to pay for their children's
education. In 2008, a friend of mine, a teacher, and I visited her
headmaster to seek permission for her to travel to Cote D'Ivoire. After
having been granted permission to do so, my friend told the Headmaster to
keep her share of the capitation grant until her return. This prompted me to
ask the Head on what grounds the capitation grant is supposed to be shared
among teachers and Heads? All that the headmaster had to say was: “ the
District Director has taken his share and so who are you going to report me
to?”. He said this looking a bit drunk. I was disappointed but not too

What is annoying is how our politicians like to come out and portray things
as if all was on course. Last year, some JHS students sitting for the BECE
paid almost GHC 100.00 for the year and this included:

Registration fees
GHC 23.00

Mock exams (5 mock exams) GHC 20.00
(GHC 4.00 per mock exam)

PTA, Exams fees and Extra classes GHC
48.00 (GHC16 per term)

And we call this an era of “progressively free education”?

I am not saying parents should not spend on their wards’ education but as
can be seen, the implementation of the capitation grant has done next to
nothing to bring significant relief to parents, and pupils are the worse for

The humble opinion of my organisation is that direct subsidies should be
applied at school level to cover these fees and charges if government is
genuinely interested in the welfare of pupils and students.

This should bring clarity to the minds of parents as to what their
responsibilities are. To create the impression that government is
responsible for the upkeep of pupils and students when it is so manifestly
not, and thereby to breed attitudes of irresponsibility on the part of
parents so inclined, is to compound an already dire situation.

Furthermore, the rampant corruption that has beset the implementation of the
policy clearly point to insufficient transparency, which is a mark of the
murkiness surrounding the mechanics of the policy. A direct offset subsidy
should simplify matters by clarifying which fees government has absorbed and
which parents are still responsible for and leave little room for the kind
of corruption that thrives on bureaucratic complexity and lack of effective
public education. Of course, public education is better served by clear
systems and procedures.

A recent report by the Ghana Education Service indicated that, 64% of
school pupils cannot read and write. This is not a problem you can solve by
simply throwing money at. It requires an acknowledgment of failing policies
and the humility and readiness to act to rectify them.

Increasing the capitation grant and reducing funding for High school
education is like robbing Peter to pay Paul. One may even go further and
argue that government should implement program-based subsidies at the high
school level where the costs are really high and not the basic level, where
a simpler free tuition mechanism (with parents being sensitised to their
role to offer material support) is what is required. But that is another

If however government is disinclined to consider such a radical proposal as
scrapping the capitation grant in its entirety, then the least it can do is
order a wholesale review and re-evaluation of the structure and rationale of
the policy.

God bless our Homeland Ghana!!!!

Kwabena Danso

Country Director

Yonso Project