NEWS COMMENTARY ON GHANA’S FREE SECONDARY EDUCATION AND THE AFFORDABILITY QUESTION.
Free Secondary Education in Ghana or anywhere in the world has nothing to do with affordability. President Akufo-Addo once said that, “Whatever we can do…wherever we can find the resources…we should and we MUST do it”. The prevailing national statistics on literacy are disconcerting. Research has shown that an educated population will keep a healthier environment and improve personal hygiene which has a correlation with better health outcomes within the population, especially for women. Thus, Free SHS is a laudable equal opportunity policy which when properly executed will also bridge social status gaps within two to three generations.
Currently, the Ghana’s gross tertiary enrolment ratio is an appalling figure when compared with South Korea’s minimum of 97 percent for both genders. With Free SHS, Ghana can hopefully attain this status within the period of the Education Strategic Plan, 2018-2030.
Free SHS is therefore now part of basic education which means it is compulsory for a Ghanaian child to remain in school until age 18. Since schooling is compulsory until age 18, affordability is out of the question. Therefore the rich cannot be asked to pay when their children attend public schools. Through the compulsory Free Secondary Education, it is our hope that a proper nationalist orientation within a well-planned curriculum will be engendered between teachers and learners. When implemented well in a non-partisan manner, 70 years from now our children will look back and applaud the present leaders for what they have bequeathed them. The affordability question was raised by some people.
In 2018, Ken Ofori-Atta, the Finance Minister, suggested that he could pay and therefore called on other rich people like him to also pay. This clearly means that even some members of government do not understand the philosophical underpinnings or rationale for the Free Secondary Education. Free Secondary Education as we have it now has not been implemented. Critics are justified in bemoaning the lack of proper planning. From the day then Candidate Akufo-Addo stuttered before Stephen Sackur on BBC’s HARD talk programme at least seven years ago, there has been no credible source of information on the actual cost per child per year.
Private schools, if they are willing to follow certain curriculum guidelines should be able to receive funding to enrol some students. Currently, many private secondary schools are collapsing because of poor student enrolment. The Ghana Education Service and other policy makers should never fall into the post hoc fallacy that selection of public funded secondary school and neglecting private schools is an admission of quality education in those institutions. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment has also not helped the nation to properly understand the school’s curriculum.
From the 2019-20 academic year beginning this September, the new Standards-Based curriculum will cover only primary one to six. We can therefore conclude firmly that since the status quo ante has led to massive failures and the yet-to-be implemented curriculum reform does not cover secondary education, the medium-term outcomes of the Free Secondary Education may not be successful. By failure we do not mean exam scores obtained at the WASSCE. We refer to the ideal goals of Free Secondary Education as best practice with direct impact, among others, on health outcomes, STEM education and development of middle level manpower for industrialisation.
With at least 17 oil wells and almost 100 percent control over our natural gas reserves, if we cannot think through and implement funding for the noble goals of quality Secondary Education, then this nation has a long way to go. “We are a failing nation,” Ghana’s Minister for Education has boldly and frankly admitted publicly. He has been courageous in the midst of the perennial doublespeak that we get from our elected leaders and their paid hirelings. What else are we waiting for?
Let us work to properly implement the Education Strategic Plan and the free secondary education to the benefit of the present and future generations. Without that the desire for development will elude the nation.
BY ISAAC ATO MENSAH OF WRITERS’ GHANA.