From Sebastian R. Freiku, Kumasi
Kumasi-based Public Interest Research and Advocacy Network of Ghana (PIRAN-Ghana) has recommended a review of the implementation plan of the free Senior High School policy in the next two academic years to guarantee its sustainability.
The central government has taken up the responsibility of absorbing all fees, with the intention to make SHS education accessible to all Ghanaians, irrespective of one’s social standing, thereby, lessening the burden of payment of fees at this level.
Almost a year after the introduction of the new government’s educational policy, the “FREE SHS” has faced numerous challenges including accommodation challenges, overcrowding in schools and non-release of funds to suppliers of the various Senior High Schools among others.
But Messrs Felix Djan-Foh and James Kweku Dumenyah, President and Acting Coordinator respectively of PIRAN-GH, has recommended a review of the implementation plan, following observations of the teething challenges with the new Free SHS Policy.
The signatories to the statement noted that the initial wholesale idea of free SHS for all should be done away with to give way to a new system of experimental two to three academic years that makes the prestigious schools in the regional and district capitals fee paying for those whose parents can afford, as determined by a mechanism that is foolproof, while the less privileged in society are made to access the schools freely, based on the same mechanisms.
“This arrangement, we believe, will save the country billions of Ghana cedis to help improve infrastructure and logistics in the education sector and other sectors and also help to secure the ground firmly, for a possible future wholesale implementation of the Policy, if at all necessary”, it stated.
It said funding for Senior High School education in Ghana has not reached ‘a crisis situation’ that should compel any Government to implement a ‘wholesale’ and blanket Free SHS Policy for both the rich and the poor.
PIRAN said the payment that will be made will help, to a large extent, in the management of the schools, thereby, making some savings to government to help in securing more infrastructure and logistics in the education delivery in the country and sufficiently lessen initial financial challenges of the policy.
It said the free SHS Policy should not be made wholesale and that we must avoid instances whereby even those who can afford to pay for their wards education at the SHS are captured in the free SHS Policy.
The NGO said the needy should be identified and supported while those who have the means are made to pay, otherwise, there will be a looming danger of its sustainability.
It noted that the cost to the state will run into billions of cedis if we get the full complement of students from SHS 1 to 3 under the policy in its current form and suggested that the government should allow the PTAs to continue to take care of Teacher motivation fees, since government will always delay in honouring some of these promises which will definitely defeat the purpose for which it was instituted by the PTAs.
This will also help government make some savings which can be channeled to other uses to help in the education delivery.
Regarding the free meals, PIRAN suggested the government to set up irrigated farms which will serve as sources that the schools will be getting most of their foodstuff they will need to feed the students and even generate some income from the sale of some of the excess produce while the farms could also be used as training base to train future farmers in general.
PIRAN-Ghana also suggested to the Government to secure land banks from chiefs and land owners for the irrigated farm projects which should not necessarily be located in and around the schools.
The Research and advocacy group believed if serious and urgent attention is not given to some of these issues with the view to addressing them sooner, they will pose a great threat to the sustainability of such a good policy, in the foreseeable future.
According to PIRAN, the ‘wholesale free SHS education’ to both rich and the poor Ghanaians is not at all sustainable, because it is very difficult to accept for instance that a parent/guardian who sent his/her child/ward to private basic school and paid an average amount of between
GHc3, 000 and GHc4, 000 and even more in some cases and less in others a term, be asked not to pay any fees when his/her ward gets to SHS.
“This, we (PIRAN) believe is unacceptable in view of our scarce resources as a nation,” it noted, and said “a well thought through policy of this nature should make mechanisms available to identify those Ghanaians who can really not afford to send their wards to access senior high school education due to financial challenges.”
We are also aware of orphans of either one or both parents among others who are in great distress preventing them from getting senior high school education.
“These are the people we believe should be the target groups for the Free SHS Policy” and called for mechanism to be put in place to enable ‘the rich parents’ to pay for their wards’ education at the SHS level as they did previously at the basic level in the private system, while ‘the poor’ are made to access the Free SHS Policy.
PIRAN mentioned some of the major challenges of the Free SHS implementation Policy as the undue delay in the release of ‘the little’ (20%) operational funds to the schools by government, compelling managers/heads of the schools to rely solely on the fees paid by the Second and Third year students to make payments for supplies.
The case of overcrowding in most classrooms in the schools was also mentioned and described as very appalling, thus making teaching and learning difficult, as most teachers struggle through the overcrowded class to supervise and inspect the learning process.
On the government’s decision to absorb the Teacher motivation fee, which hitherto was being paid by Parents, PIRAN said its checks have revealed that the government is yet to pay the teacher motivation fee component to the schools, since the implementation of the new policy at the beginning of the 2017/2018 new academic year