Almost a year after the introduction of the new government’s educational policy; the “FREE SHS” which seeks to make SHS education accessible to all Ghanaians irrespective of ones’ social standing thereby lessening the burden as far as payment of any fees at this level is concerned. The central government has taken up this responsibility to absorb all fees in exception of very few insignificant ones.
It is common knowledge that within this one year, the free SHS Policy implementation 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. We believe that if serious and urgent attention is not given to some of these issues with the view to addressing them sooner rather than later, they will pose a great threat to the sustainability of such a good policy, in the foreseeable future. Hence, we feel compelled to draw the attention of government and all stakeholders to these developments and the need for a concerted effort to salvage the situation from becoming worse.
It is our considered view that the ‘wholesale free SHS education’ to both the rich and the poor Ghanaians is not at all sustainable. It is indeed very difficult to accept for instance that a parent/guardian who sent his/her child/ward to some private basic schools and were paying an average amount of between GHS3, 000.00 and GHS4, 000.00 and even more in some cases and less in others a term, be asked not to pay any fees when his/her ward is going to SHS. This we believe is unacceptable in view of our scarce resources as a nation. 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. We wish to state that 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. Mechanism should rather be put in place to enable ‘the rich parents’ to pay for their wards education at the SHS level like they already do at the basic level in the private system while ‘the poor’ are made to access the Free SHS Policy. 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.
One of the major challenges of the Free SHS implementation Policy like we have already intimated above, is the undue delay in the release of ‘the little’ (20%) operational funds to the schools by government, this has been a major problem to the managers/heads of the schools who are the immediate implementation agents of the policy. These heads are compelled in some cases to rely solely on the fees paid by the Second and Third year students to make payments for supplies. In effect, pressure is most often brought to bear on these 2nd and 3rd year students to pay their fees because that is what is used in running the school in a good number of situations if not in all. Whereas the direct beneficiaries of the Policy, the 1st years are left to enjoy their space no matter how long it takes for government to release funds for their upkeep. Many heads of schools are in distress but for fear of victimization, demotion and punitive transfers among others, they prefer to remain tight lips. However, this turn of events is making managing and administering of the schools a herculean one which used not to be the case prior to the implementation of the Free SHS Policy.
The case of overcrowding in most classrooms in our schools is very appalling and makes teaching and learning more difficult as most teachers struggle through the overcrowded class to supervise and inspect the learning process. A situation which calls for additional classrooms in most schools to reduce the rate of congestion and overcrowding in our senior high schools.
The government’s decision to absorb the Teacher motivation fee which hitherto was being paid by Parents. Our checks reveal that 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 new academic year, 2017/2018. The teachers are not happy about this and they are always grumbling. They say the policy is not even taking care of exactly what they used to be given by the parents. There is a reduction yet that one is not even coming.
In view of the teething challenges here and there with the new Free SHS Policy, we wish to recommend 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 free based on the same mechanisms. 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. This will lessen sufficiently initial financial challenges of the subject policy.
The free SHS Policy should not be made wholesale going forward. 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 needy should be identified and supported while those who have the means are made to pay lest there is a looming danger of its sustainability. The cost to the state will run into billions of cedis if we get the full complement of students from SHS 1-3 under the policy in its current form.
Government should allow the PTAs to continue to take care of Teacher motivation fees since for sure; government will always delay in honoring 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, government should 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. The farms could also be used as training base to train future farmers in general. Government can secure land banks from chiefs and land owners for the irrigated farm projects which should not necessarily be located in and around the schools.
Felix Djan Foh
James Kweku Dumenyah
Acting coordinator. PIRAN-GH