Feature Article of Thursday, 12 April 2012

Columnist: Danso, Kwabena

Does Free Means Quality?

A teacher once advised me not to just “pass through the school but I should let the school pass through me”. What he meant was that I needed to be transformed in my thinking and behaviour, abilities and skills by the educational system. We do not receive education just because we want to call ourselves educated persons but at the end of the day the system should be able to reform and transform us to play key roles in different sectors of the country and ensure its development. But can we say that of our current educational system which is partly free (the basic is claimed to be absolutely free) and produces thousands of unemployed graduates every year and book based professors. Not even our Technical schools are able to provide the required practical skills to make their students more productive. Thousands of basic schools children drop out school because they do not get the required grades to be able to have access to high school education. There are over 1 million children out of the classroom (www.nationmaster.com, Ghana Education Stats on Education). Currently, the Net Attendance rate of children in Rural communities stands at, Primary (56.0%) as opposed to Senior High School of 25.8% (UNICEF, Education Statistics, Ghana, 2008). This means that even though a sizeable number of children in rural communities are enrolled at the basic level, more than half drop out during the transition from basic schools to the Senior High school level.

Ghana introduced the Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education in (year) as a way of helping every child to access education as part of the structural adjustment program. In 2005, the government again introduced the Capitation grant policy to make basic education absolutely free for all children in public schools. The issue of free education has dominated the airwaves for sometime now with some politicians proposing free Senior High School Education. There is no doubt the educational system we have currently has failed and this is the more reason why more parents keep sending their children to the private schools even though the public ones are supposed to be free. In an era of free public school education, many private schools keep springing up to absorb children from the public schools. Almost every parent who is able to have a sizeable amount of income tries to take their children to the private schools. The politicians and the administrators even refuse to send their children to the basic schools which they made free but would rather prefer to take their children to the private schools.

Do Ghanaians need Free Education or Quality Education? Does offering free education make it Quality? The current system failed as a result of poor infrastructure, inadequate resources and poor staffing. Ghana introduced Information and Communication Technology without the Government providing computers and accessories to schools for the teaching of the subject. Some schools are without adequate teachers whilst there are thousands of schools under trees. These are the areas that need massive investment and support coupled with practical policies to bring our educational system on track. The educational system should be able to provide quality training to the people who pass through it to help harness their talents to help with the development of the nation. Ghanaians do not need free poor education that will let their youth sit in the house after passing through it. They need quality education that will make them useful persons to their society and families and that is why after realizing the current public schools are not providing access to quality education, many parents are taking their children out to the private schools.
Many Ghanaians have jumped onto the wagon since the issue of free Senior High Education was proposed by the NPP presidential candidate, Nana Addo (now Followed by Dr. Nduom and the CPP as well) but I don’t think this is what Ghanaians need. Many parents are paying so much at some basic public schools whilst the capitation grant that is supposed to support them ends up in the pockets of officials and authorities. How well has the capitation grant improved our public schools except for it being used to score cheap political points by the two major political parties in the country. The policy makers and the government officials themselves are aware that the system they put in place has failed. Or may be it is a plan to further deteriorate the educational system to be able to deceive Ghanaians and play on their intelligence as they do all the time. The billions of Ghana cedis that have ended up in the pockets of people through the capitation grant could have been used to improve infrastructure and provide educational resources and practical facilities which are lacking in our current educational system.

Instead of thinking about free, we should rather think about quality where people who access it will come out being transformed and reformed in their thinking. Ghana has long produced “theoretical literates” where they hardly produce anything except sitting in offices and most of the times being unproductive. Ghanaians have demonstrated they need quality and not free. Again, there are majority of the people who should not benefit from free education because they have the purchasing power and resources to do so and it will does be unwise to make it free education for all. Government can consider subsidizing the fees of people identified as poor children and this will ensure fair distribution of resources. So for me if you ask me, I will say we need to channel the little resources we have into providing resources and facilities, quality teacher training and infrastructure. Without these issues being addressed by governments, our educational system will continue to be poor.