Ghanaian Chronicle

The NDC on NPP’s free SHS

Date published: November 7, 2012

By I. K. Gyasi


President John Dramami Mahama himself, his government, and his party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), do not seem to know how to handle the prickly issue of free education, as enunciated by the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) and its presidential candidate, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo.

If President Mahama, his government and party appear to have pinned themselves into a corner, it is largely their own doing.

At the bottom of “Self-Government Now” by Kwame Nkrumah and his Convention Peoples’ Party (CPP), and “Self-Government as soon as possible “ by Dr. J. B. Danquah and his United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), lay the key, common desire for self-government.

The Election 2012 manifesto of the NPP states: “We are fully committed to making secondary education free for every Ghanaian child.” (p. 23)

The Election 2012 Manifesto of the NDC states, “The NDC education programme seeks to address these challenges of the FCUBE, and continue the programme for the progressive introduction of free secondary education.” (p. 14).

At the bottom of “Free Senior High School now” and “Free Senior High School tomorrow” is the desire to ensure that our children enjoy free senior high school education.

To me, the most serious initial blunder of the NDC was to talk and behave as if the idea of free senior high school education was so utopian that even Sir Thomas More (author of “Utopia”) would have found it unrealistic.

First, they ridiculed the idea as impossible to achieve. They ridiculed Nana Akufo-Addo by saying that when the BBC interviewer asked him to state a figure regarding the cost of that policy, he could not, saying that he would tell fellow his Ghanaians at the right time.

They said he had failed to do so subsequently, when he had the platform of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA). They said a question on the subject posed by a little girl floored him.

Mr. Lee Ocran, the current Minister of Education, raised some eyebrows when he also authoritatively said that the free senior high school policy was unattainable. He added that if it was attainable, Kwame Nkrumah would have done it, and that, in any case, it would take as much as 20 years to implement.

Thus, the idea was implanted in the minds of the members and supporters of the NDC that the NPP and Nana Akufo Addo were living in an utopian world, instead of facing reality.

The NDC then asked where the money for the programme would come from, and whether any costing had been done. When the NPP provided figures, once again, the figures were ridiculed as unrealistically low. The NDC provided estimates that contradicted the figures by the NPP.

President Mahama also laughed at the NPP and Akufo Addo by saying that they were promising so many things, and that they would soon promise free air for Ghanaians.

Another stage in the NDC campaign against the free senior high school idea was the statement that instead of implementing a free senior high education as an immediate top priority, the NDC would rather provide access to senior high school education.

The NDC would build more schools and train more teachers. At first, the impression was created that the teacher trainees would be deployed to the senior high schools, until it was pointed to the President that in these modern times, products of Colleges of Education do not normally teach in Senior High Schools.

The hard-core message of the NDC seemed to be that the kind of free senior high school education being espoused by the NPP and Nana Akufo Addo was simply impossible to achieve.

That is when the NPP also stated that the idea of free education was not new or utopian, and that President Mahama himself, as well as a large number of Ghanaians, had had the benefit of free education, from the primary level through the second cycle level to the tertiary level.

At Tamale on Tuesday, October 30, 2012, the IEA provided a platform for four of the presidential candidates, namely President John Mahama (NDC), Nana Akufo Addo (NPP), Mr. Hassan Ayariga (Peoples’ National Convention), and Dr. Abu Sakara Foster (Convention Peoples’ Party), to state their respective party’s policies that included education.

Interestingly, the day before the Tamale event, an individual or group of people had put in the public domain tape or disc purported to contain the voice and views of Pastor Mensa Otabil, General Overseer of the International Central Gospel Church (ICGC), on free education.

Listeners were made to or expected to believe that it was Dr. Otabil, very recently, condemning free education and even debunking the very idea that what a government provides from the tax payers’ taxes cannot be viewed as free when taxes pay for them.

A statement issued from the IGCC did not say that it was not the voice of Dr. Otabil. On the contrary, Rev. Kofi Okyere, a Senior Associate Minister, who signed the statement, said that the tape was nothing but a collection of thoughts edited from a message shared by Pastor Otabil several years ago, and pieced together to create the impression that he was taking a stand on the current political debate on the issue of education.

As far as I can tell, no individual or group has claimed responsibility for piecing together various speeches by Dr. Otabil on the matter of education, or for putting the tape into the public domain.

The interesting thing is that, according to Mr. Abdul Malik Kwaku Baako, citing, Mr. Johnson Asiedu Nketiah, General Secretary of the NDC, was full of praises for Dr. Otabil for allegedly condemning free education. This means that as far as Mr. Asiedu Nketiah was concerned, Dr. Otabil had taken a position espoused by the NDC.

You know something? On the IEA platform in Tamale, President Mahama made it clear that the idea of free education was not the vision of an individual or a political party, but a constitutional requirement. That means that Nana Akufo-Addo and NPP should not claim any credit as the originators of the idea of free education.

What seems to rattle or unnerve the NDC is that the idea of free education, all the way to the senior high school, seems to have caught on with the people hearing the message.

At least, three parties, namely, the New Patriotic Party (NPP), the People Progressive Party (PPP) and the Convention Peoples’ Party (CPP), have made clear their intention to immediately start implementing the constitutionally-mandated policy of free education.

The announced gradualist approach of the NDC does not sound as attractive as the free SHS policy of the other parties. In its own interest, the NDC should stop sounding as if it is opposed to a policy that promises bread now instead of a “pie-in-the-sky” tomorrow, to quote the President’s own words.

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