Feature Article of Friday, 19 October 2012

Columnist: Sondah, Yirpaale

Will Free SHS now be fair?

I know this
article will not go without insults but I pledge to accept them in good faith
though I wonder if that is the correct way of treating each other. Anyway, I do
not intend to write on insults and media abuse but to contribute to the
on-going debate of Free SHS Education or Infrastructural Expansion of SHS.
Gradually, Ghanaian politics is moving towards policy options than personality
options, which is really positive and I am proud of my country. It is in this
vein that feel, I must be part of this discussion.

The two
divergent views dominating the SHS education are slippery. Putting the vote
hunting motives aside, they are both looking at how to make SHS education
accessible. Two fundamental problems have been identified; Poverty and Lack of
SHS facilities. Here is where I think managerial prowess is needed: two
approaches have emerged one that thinks the accessibility problem is first and
foremost due to financial difficulties and then facilities ranks second. The
other thinks, otherwise lack of SHS facilities is the first obstacle then
follows poverty. Lets be it be clear that both acknowledges the poverty and
lack of facilities however the difference is basically on the ranking. The
argument is almost like the question; A
Teacher and a Classroom which one is needed first?

Taking the
first argument, it proposes that the drawing back element of education is
poverty. Without doubt, it is true.

Poverty continues to be one of the hindrances of education. A lot of young
people would like to pursue secondary and tertiary education but are blocked by
poverty. Taking myself as an example, I come from a poor family, I desired to
study but at a certain point in life, life became so difficult especially when
my father went on pension. During holidays, I had to do construction works and
by-day in order to buy few things for school. At JHS in order to pay my
extra-classes fees, I undertook the work of a cobbler (shoe-shine boy). Slowly,
slowly I am who I am today. In this sense, there is not doubt in my mind that
poverty is a very key factor to tackle as far as education is concern. Based on
this, the proponents of this argument think making education free is the best
option. However, it is claimed that the education in the northern regions are
free, yet statistics, referring to Census 2010, table 18 of Ghana statistical
board, make it clear that in the entire country it is only in the northern
regions have illiteracy rate higher than literacy rate of people above 15 year,
yet in these three regions, they have free education. Hence the question will
free SHS address this problem? On the contrary, all the southern regions
according to the statistics have higher literacy rate compared to illiteracy
rate, even though education is not free in these regions. The question I posed
is based on the fact that, I know a lot of young people from these regions
(northen regions) who would like to have SHS education but can not.

The second
argument, opines that though there is poverty but averagely people can afford
with a certain level of subsidy. For them, the main drawing back element
of Ghanaian SHS education is lack of
facilities and have even gone ahead in the manifesto to promise 200 SHS in
various communities. One of the arguments they make regarding poverty is that,
if there are SHS located in the communities, there wouldn’t be a need for
boarding school which cost so much. Hence children could stay home and have the
SHS education. On another pedestal, they argue that scarce infrastructures have
caused education to be expensive because students have to the travel, even
parents may have to pay some headmasters to have their wards admitted. Etc.
Hence they think once there are enough schools, the rush for admission with the
undercover envelopes being demanded will drastically reduce; there will be less
burden and children would have no reason to say I didn’t get admission. Well,
this also reminds me of a little girl from Atibie-Kwahu who had to stay home
for one more year to try her luck if she will get admission in one of the
schools around. The story of this girl was that the schools she chose were all
full and the computer placement gave her a school in the north. Knowing this
girl’s family, its obvious that even lorry fair to Kumasi will be a problem.

Having looked
at these two options, I still have some observation to make. First, it is
without doubt that the SHS schools in Ghana if they are not full they are 5%
percent empty. Second, it is not new to know that most of the young people are
not in school because the few schools available claim to be full and so to
really get admission one has give an envelop. Third, it is no news to know that
some good number of young people are not in school because there no schools
near-by which they can easily attend while staying at home will less financial
burden: On this point I remember how I had to struggle to buy my students
mattress and at times I didn’t report in school on time because of just lorry-fair,
as for the school feels I could pay it in bits and pieces. Fourth, certainly the
number of SHS we have now can not take quarter more should SHS be free, at the
end it will be the same number or little more. Fifth, those who don’t have SHS
nearby or in their communities will not in anyway be fortunate should SHS be
free. I am raising these issues because one, the proponents of free SHS have
not committed themselves to great infrastructural expansion as far as SHS is
concerned in the manifesto. And two, they claim they will start it next year,
making one wonder when they would expand infrastructure if they have to, which
they must.

Will free SHS
now be fair? This question was inspired by statement attributed to Okyehene: If
ministers have free cars why can’t
children have free education? Besides the fact that the argument could be
logically tricky, the same could be said; If
Amoatia Oforipanyin is a chief, why can’t others be chiefs? The argument could
also be put in a different ways, if some
children have classrooms to study, why can others have the same? Or if some
communities have secondary schools,
why can’t others have? Besides these questions, is principle of equal
distribution of the national cake which all espouse. This principle brings me
to think and question if it will be fair to take money meant for building SHS
facilities for communities that lack them and use it for free SHS program for the
communities that already have them. Let’s
remember that even some communities don’t have JHS.
This is not to
cast doubt of free SHS, it is possible but care should be taken. It should not be
like increasing the number of years for SHS without expanding the facilities.
In sum, there is something I am sure every policy analyst will accept that the SHS
classrooms are not empty
because people can’t pay school fees but they are overcrowded because the
facilities are scarce. A good number of young people are not in SHS not
because they can’t pay school fees but because they didn’t get admission.
Be it free SHS
or more SHS, the fundamental question is not if it is possible, because in
Africa you only need to sign a paper declaring it free like the extension of
the SHS years and the single spine instead the question should be; Is it fair
to further make SHS free for those who already have the infrastructure when
others don’t even have the schools?

Sondah (yirpaale.ssondah@yahoo.com)