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Let’s embrace free SHS as Nana fulfills human rights obligation

botchway September 11, 2018


David Fianko-Okyere

(opomeabakwabena@gmail.com)   .

Ghana is a democratic country with more than half of its constitution dedicated to ensure the human rights of its people and whoever finds him or herself within the territorial borders of the country. However, most of the citizens though, are aware of their human rights and would not allow anyone to violate any of them, though many have agreed to the free Senior High School (SHS) as a way to ensure the fulfillment of education as a human right and as an attempt to empower people to overcome poverty, yet some section of the citizenry still thinks paying of school fees at the secondary level should be attained.

It is an undeniable fact that paying school fees has served a major obstacle for many to access secondary education for years, denying most Ghanaians, especially, the majority poor, the opportunity to receive education, thereby violating their human right to education.

I, therefore, can’t agree with those who believe the argument that because a few rich people can pay the fees for their wards in secondary school even when it’s tripled, the free SHS policy, which affords all the opportunity to enjoy the right to education, should be scraped, delayed or varied till such a time they deem fit.

This belief that fee paying at the secondary level of education should be maintained to ensure quality of education is wrong, since human rights are like the adage ‘time and tide waits for no man.’ We cannot wait to wait for quality before access to all. Let’s make of what we have as we work towards perfection by removing the fees to give access to all.

Working towards the right to education by the Akufo-Addo-led government for Ghana can’t wait for a second, because it’s long overdue as it’s a matter of human rights, just like our right not to be tortured by the police or military. Let’s not allow any thinking that may violate our right to education to stop us from accepting free SHS now!

In as much as I agree that there are challenges with the implementation of the free SHS policy, including overcrowding, resulting in the double track system, inadequate teachers, due to an increase in the number of students and other factors that go to ensure quality of education, I think with the commitment of the President, all we need is our support.

Let’s us support him, irrespective of our orientation, because education as a human right is the best any president can give to his or her people, as is the case of Ghanaians who believe education is the key to success.

If for nothing at all, Ghanaians should be informed to appreciate that the free SHS education is one of the human rights, which its realisation transcended to the fulfillment of all human rights we can think of as enshrined in the 1992 Constitution of Ghana, article 25, and in article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR 1948).

In fact, the free SHS policy, which has seen the removal of fees, with efforts to ensure facilities are available for teaching and learning at the secondary school level, deserves international recognition as a duty-bearer.

For this reason, I join the university in Rwanda, which openly commended the President of the Republic of Ghana, His Excellency Nana Akufo-Addo, for committing words into action to implement the free SHS policy he promised Ghanaians during his 2012 and 2016 campaigns – that when voted into power, he will ensure no child will be deprived of secondary education because of school fees.

What is left is for us, as Ghanaians – major stakeholders in the fulfillment of the right to education, is for the students to make time to study, parents to give necessary support for the upkeep of children, and teachers to make use of appropriate pedagogy in the classrooms to ensure students get the best out of the policy.

Such a brave human rights policy, which, hitherto, has been a major obstacle for many citizens like me to attend secondary schools for years, needs no further argument than that which can ensure its sustainability, instead of its doom.

Nonetheless, some level of the opposition view is manageable in multi-party democracy where a contest of ideas is the acceptable practice, and the other side is implementing a laudable and all-important free SHS education policy that the opposition thought was a mere campaign promise.

Those who were in disagreement in the campaign days, and saw it as too ambitious, should come clear with how they wish Ghanaians could enjoy their right to education, other than starting with the free SHS policy.

An addition to the Free Compulsory Basic Education (FCUBE) programme and the affirmative action on education has been in operation in the north since independence.

I think those opposing the free SHS policy in the open, but embrace it in the closet by pushing  their own wards and those of their constituents to enjoy this facility, should revise their stands and say free SHS ‘wei dee eye ma oman mu No yinaaa’.

In fact, if I knew education was my right then, and not because it was just important for me as a child, my parents and the government functionaries representing my constituents who were the duty-bearers to ensure there are available schools, accessible, acceptable and adaptable in my community, would have ‘met their meters’, as I would have insisted for that right just as I now insist no policeman tortures me.

I nearly missed secondary education because of fees, so you can understand why, at any given platform, I will support free SHS, and for that matter, access to education as a human right.

We must hail Akufo-Addo for the free SHS initiative, and urge him not to politicise the matter, as that is when the opposing views will counter and may delay the speed at which he wants to fulfill such a human right obligation.

Fellow Ghanaians, there is no need for politics in human rights obligations of any kind because they are rights we have by virtue of being human. Education is also a human right just like our right to exercise our vote.

The fact is that the free SHS can be seen in the access to education of the right to education, as recognised in a number of international conventions, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which recognises a right to free, compulsory primary education for all, an obligation to develop secondary education accessible to all, in particular, by the progressive introduction of free secondary education, as well as an obligation to develop equitable access to higher education, ideally, by the progressive introduction of free higher education.

“The right to education also includes a responsibility to provide basic education for individuals who have not completed primary education.” Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least, in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available, and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

The fulfillment of the right to education asserts that for education to be a meaningful right, it must be available, accessible, acceptable and adaptable.

I, therefore, think that if there are any concerns on the free SHS, it should be how we can strengthen the Free Compulsory Basic Education, which has been in existence over a decade now, and yet, most Ghanaian children at the basic education level, though need not pay fees, are still not in schools and are seen begging or idling both in the cities and rural areas.

I, therefore, entreat the opposition to propose to Ghanaians that, when given the chance, they will make free SHS compulsory.

Again, I am surprised a number of local and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and charities, who work to realise the right to education using a rights-based approach, are not advocating for all Ghanaians the acceptance of free SHS policy.

I believe that there is a lot to do to ensure Ghanaians become aware of education as a human right, and not a privilege by any political party, yet, I feel Nana Akufo-Addo and his New Patriotic Party (NPP) government should be commended for the bold decision taken to ensure Ghanaians are educated as a matter of human rights, particularly on the free SHS.

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