Feature Article of Saturday, 17 November 2012

Columnist: Chimbar, Nurokinan

Contextualizing Free Secondary Education

Contextualizing Free Secondary Education: Is there an example in Northern Ghana?

The political lexicon in Ghana today contains nothing much but education. And two opposing schools of thought exist regarding how Senior High education ought to be provided. There are those who think education should be totally free to SHS level beginning from September 2013 while others argue that it should be progressively free depending on our economy as a constitutional imperative. But these ideologies are not for me to take any stance on which one is feasible or otherwise.
The new Patriotic Party’s policy initiative on SHS education is unambiguous, very clear, and pointed. That is, Secondary School education will be free when they are given the mandate to govern again. Indeed, this bold policy initiative has shifted almost every political attention to education. And now, if not free, it is access wherever and whenever these political parties mount platforms for their campaigns.
I have no problem with the Free SHS policy espoused by Nana Akuffo Addo and his team in the New Patriotic Party and perhaps their allies in other political parties. My concern is the contextualization of this free SHS policy within the framework of the so-called tested model in northern Ghana. Many ill-informed politicians and commentators now haphazardly make reference to northern Ghana, arguing there is free Secondary Education in the North. I do not know whether this ignorance or a complete show of laziness to cross check. Could it be termed subsidized education or free education? And even the subsidized education, I would share with you fees paid by students who gain access or admission to Senior High School today in northern Ghana. I will attempt to juxtapose this with the fees paid by students in the southern belt and you would judge whether it is subsidized education, free, or total cost containment by parents. My motive is simple: to diffuse the perception that education is free in northern Ghana today.
Only today October 31, on Metro TV morning show, Mr. Randy Abbay made interesting remarks. According to Randy, host of the morning show, he has been informed secondary school enrollment in northern region is still at 54% in spite of the free SHS education. My difficulty is: what is the source of this information and where in northern Ghana is SHS education free? Many people hold this erroneous opinion without any basic research that SHS education is free in northern Ghana. This is an embarrassing posture and can only be unfair to the people of northern descent. We ought to put the free SHS in perspective.
The NPP presidential running mate, Dr. Bawumia put this rightly when he said SHS education is not free in the north during his visit to Guanbeing in the Bunkpurugu-Yunyoo constituency in September this year. Dr. Bawumia enthusiastically told pupils in Guanbeing that their parents should be assured that beginning from September 2013; education at the SHS level will be free. This alone presupposes that education is not free in northern Ghana as we are falsely induced to believe.
I did not attend secondary school free and it is not free today in northern Ghana. This is a basic fact. Today admission fee in Nakpanduri Secondary School is GHc 390 while that for Bunkpurugu Secondary Technical is GHc 460.5 for 2012/2013 academic year. Continuing students in Salaga Secondary School, Business Secondary School in Tamale and St. Francis Girls at Jirapa in Upper West region, all government supported schools pay an average of GHc300. These are basic facts that can be cross validated from the heads of these institutions.
These fees are collected to cover sports, library, examination, SRC, entertainment, bed user fee, PTA and computer. Others include; science development, staff incentive and teacher motivation, development levy, speech and prize, supplementary and supplementary literature. The rest are: exercise books, note 3 books, NHIS, house dues, etcetera. The only fee missing here is tuition and boarding fees. This is where government subsidizes. Even with government subvention for boarding accommodation, students still pay bed user fee. Somebody should tell me how this can be classified as free SHS education and thus qualify to be a model of a free SHS policy as being articulated by some NPP supporters and pro-free SHS commentators.
Whether the policy can be achieved or not is a different argument but certainly, the reference point cannot be northern Ghana. In fact, the fees paid by students in northern Ghana equal what their counterparts in some southern schools pay if not beyond what they pay. For example, students in Osei Tutu Senior High School in Asante Mampong paid Ghc 441.30 as fees for continuing students which includes boarding fee for 2012/2013 academic year. If this is almost the same fee paid by students in northern Ghana, how then can it be labeled as free?
My point is that pro-free SHS commentators should not use northern Ghana as a reference point because nowhere in Nana Addo’s proposed Free SHS Policy are parents required to pay fees of any sort. And thus, the northern SHS educational system cannot be a model. Otherwise, the object of the NPP free SHS policy is defeated already without any attempt of implementation.

Nurokinan Chimbar