Feature Article of Monday, 12 March 2012

Columnist: Hoedoafia, Gameli Kewuribe

RE: Nana Addo’s Free SHS to cost $150m.....

.... in first year of implementation - The Deceit of NPP

The NPP as a political party has over the years presented itself as the intellectual, competent, being there, done it all, party in Ghanaian politics. Therefore, it came as a huge surprise to me when on the BBC Hard Talk programme recently; their flag bearer was unable to disclose how much it would cost and where the money was going to come from for the implementation of his gargantuan free secondary school flagship campaign promise. To hide his embarrassment, Nana chose shameless bravado, ‘I prefer to disclose that to the Ghanaian people first’- every discerning Ghanaian who head him knew he lied when he said they knew how much it would cost, albeit his demeanour and body language saying the opposite.

As a result of his insistence on telling the Ghanaian people first, I was salivating over the prospect of another major policy statement splashed all over the rented Ghanaian press. To my utter disappointment, even before his arrival in the country, figures are released to the Ghanaian public, without any indication as to how the figures were arrived at and more importantly, detailed projections on how and where the money was going to be mobilized from for such a policy.

The NPP and its flag bearer have been talking about their flagship campaign policy for the past 5 years without giving an indication as to how much it was going to cost the Ghanaian tax payer and yet no Ghanaian journalist or institution had bothered to take them to task? It takes a foreign journalist with a much higher standard of training and journalistic values to force the NPP to come out with any indication as to how much the policy will cost. If only we had just two of such journalist in Ghana, our country will be in a different league.

I agree that, if free secondary education is achievable whether in the short term or long term, we need to be bold to go for it. However, I must say the projections from the NPP are not thought through properly; the figures that have been released are hasty and an attempt to cover up the fact, Ghana’s so called intellectual, big brains party has been caught napping. According to the NPP, their universal secondary education (USE) policy is estimated to cost $150million in its first year of implementation, rising to about $400 million in subsequent years. The initial amount is expected to be for payment of boarding and lodging for the students as well as the expansion of infrastructure in the various secondary schools across the country as tuition fees are already catered for under the current policy.

In rolling out a policy of such magnitude, one would have expected that initial costing will not only be for the payment of boarding, lodging and infrastructure. We need comprehensive analysis which include projections for the above as well as capital expenditure external to the physical environment of a secondary school. Analysis need to include investments for improving quality of education commensurate with the expected increased access. To get the policy right, means giving attention to that which has not been considered, because the policy hinges on first and foremost getting the public realm and human resource challenges out of the way, i.e adequate and professional teachers and auxiliary staff, as well as adequate equipment and furniture to meet the growing classroom populations in the early stages of implementation.

Also, consideration needs to be given from an early stage, to whether coverage needs to be extended to students in private secondary schools, some of whom are there due to limited places in the public schools and what the cost implications are for the totality of the policy. In some countries, private schools have been included to ensure comprehensive coverage as there is bound to be shortfalls in the public provision.

To implement the policy in four years requires significant expenditure in the first three years for the construction of additional classroom blocks and laboratories in all existing secondary schools, at least one additional secondary school in each District across Ghana, at least one additional teacher training college in each region, increased expenditure for the training and enrolment of tutors/lecturers for all existing and new teacher training colleges, increased expenditure for textbooks etc.

Significantly, government would need to find the money for the ‘double spine’ salaries for such new entrants on the government wage bill. These are only pre-implementation requirements for the achievement of the basic tenets of such a policy and rollout in the fourth year. These alone will eat up 150million dollars without paying for board/lodging premiums; unless we go the way we have always done in the past; go for glory, rush to implementation without getting the basics right. To say that implementation of such a policy will add only 0.6 percent extra on current GDP expenditure for education is being frankly impish. One of the areas that I can vouch will receive little or no attention is going to be the acquisition and implementation of computers and related systems which will ensure the seamless and prompt disbursement of government payments to schools and surely any delays in this area is bound to undermine the quality of education and the success of the policy.

According to the guys from IMANI, the initial projections from the NPP are rather “conservative by a multiple of nearly three, if expanded enrolment and the shift of the cost-burden of secondary education from private households to the public purse” is to be achieved. They argue that to cater for 60 percent enrolment, their own projections were comparable to that of the NPP in the first year but subsequently there are significant upwards points of departure in their projections ($1.1 billion) compared to that ($400million) released by the NPP. Comparative data from other countries suggest that realistically, such a policy could achieve close to 80 percent enrolment in the first year; which is 20 percent more than the IMANI projections.

We cannot increase access without increasing quality. It is not enough to introduce a conveyer belt of secondary school leavers who cannot read or write. Our nation will be the poorer and posterity will judge our generation harshly for standing aloof whilst such an injustice is allowed to happen. If our politicians pledge solemnly to do big things, let us hold them responsible and force them to get the basics right. Verily, not getting these basic aspects right poses a real danger of such a policy creating a two tier educational system in the country.

The urban, well resourced schools will attract more students and bring about significant student migration and thereby increase corruption in the enrolment process, inadvertently defeating the intentions of the current computer placement regime. Classrooms in rural secondary schools such as in Yapei/Kusawgu will be empty whilst those in nearby Tamale will be bursting to the seams. We need to get these things right, let us tell the NPP to come again! Come out with the right calculations and how they arrived at them and how they are going to find the money. When there is consensus in Ghana that it makes economic sense to go down the path of universal secondary education (USE), whatever party is in government, most certainly not the NPP; can implement the policy and Ghana will be the better for it.

Gameli Kewuribe Hoedoafia Croydon, UK togbegh@gmail.com