Feature Article of Saturday, 30 June 2012

Columnist: Pobee-Mensah, Tony

Nana Akufo Addo's Free High School Education

Last March, Nana Akufo Addo walked away after his BBC interview with Stephen Sackur giving himself a pat on the back; or at least his fans seemed to be giving him a pat on the back for a job well done. In the interview, Mr. Sackur asked Mr. Akufo Addo how he will pay for his free high school education for all. Mr. Akufo Addo answered that he will tell his people how before he tells a foreign reporter. The answer so pleased Mr. Akufo Addo's fans so much so that he was hailed as a hero. Since then I have wondered if he gave the answer he gave because he knew that his people won't ask him that question. If anyone asked him and it was reported in the press, I must have missed it. I still don't know how he will pay for his free high school for all. Before I continue, let me say that I do not believe that I know enough about the political parties in Ghana to be an NDC or an NPP or any other political party. Having said that, I still believe that the partisans will proclaim I belong to one party or another and that this opinion article was motivated by politics. I am truly motivated by my love for Ghana and, in my view, the need for those who can to speak up.

Back to Nana Akufo Addo's free high school education: He has said that education will be a high priority for him. This is laudable and I salute him for that. With education a priority, I can only assume that he plans to shift our scant resources around in order to pay for the free high school program. If this is correct, it begs the question, does everyone in high school need free education considering how scant our resources are?

High unemployment continues unabated. Lights continue to go out often, potable water supply continues to elude many in the country, and traffic jams are still rampant not only in Accra, but in many small cities across the country. Meanwhile, the number of people in the middle class has increase no matter how small. Is this the time to give everybody free high school education?

If we must, I am half heartedly for it, but I would rather have a graduated approach. In my elementary school years, I remember a school mate who was quite intelligent. I am a little fuzzy on this but he either passed the "common entrance" exam or didn't take it because his parents couldn't pay for him to go to secondary school. At a time when we were heading for secondary school, my friend was continuing on to the old "standard seven".

Because he was intelligent and hard working, I understand my friend made something of himself later on in life the best he could: hats off to you, J B Addo, wherever you are. I will like to see a commitment to ensure that we do not have stories like this in our education system as a first approach. As far as blanket free education goes, I have wondered if Mr. Akufo Addo made the pledge because other countries have free elementary and secondary education for their citizens. We Ghanaians are known to want to do things because some countries do it. If this is the case then the old saying that we "follow blindly" seem to be in play. I will implore Mr. Akufo Addo to start thinking through the pledge now.

Thinking it through not necessarily mean step back from it, but rather to figure out how you will actually make it happen, if you must and then come out and tell your people how you will pay for free high school education for all, and keep the promise that you made on BBC.

Here is a picture profile to guide the thinking through. I present the following not because I think Mr. Akufo Addo does not know it but because I want to present a complete picture of my thinking. I live in North Carolina in the US. Anyone who owns a house in the state has to pay annual tax some of which goes to pay for the free education that the students of the state get. Anyone who owns a car in my county pays $33 each year. Most of the $33 goes towards the free education that the students of the county enjoy. This $33 is in addition to a tax that anyone who owns a car pays to the state. The state tax on cars is based on the value of the car so some people pay more than others. That state also runs a lottery program the profits of which they use to support education. I believe what I have enumerated here are not the only sources of funding for education; for instance, I have not mentioned the part that the federal government plays in funding education, but I am sure it gets the point across.

Mr. Akofo Addo, your people await your promise to tell us how you will pay for free high school education for all. You have from now until December, before the election, to tell us; that is if you indeed mean to provide free high school education for all.

Tony Pobee-Mensah