Review Or Not: Government Must ensure Free SHS Policy remains Accessible to Poor and Vulnerable

The FSHS policy, since its implementation in 2017 has been lauded as one of the significant social intervention policies in Ghana.

The last couple of months has witnessed debates and calls for a review of some key components of government’s Free Senior High School (FSHS) Policy. The calls have been necessitated by the current economic challenges in the country including revenue shortfalls, cedi depreciation, high inflation, the seeming non-performance of the Electronic Transaction Levey (E-Levy), COVID-19 crisis and the Russia Ukraine war, compelling government to seek International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout.

The FSHS policy, since its implementation in 2017 has been lauded as one of the significant social intervention policies in Ghana. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that the introduction of the policy has to a larger extent relieved parents and guardians (especially the poor and vulnerable) of the burden of financing their wards education. The policy has also made it possible for many young people in rural communities to access secondary education.

Reading the 2022 mid-year Budget Statement on Monday July 25, 2022, Finance Minister, Ken Ofori Atta, indicated that “since 2017 government has invested ¢5.3 billion to enable 1,261,495 Ghanaian children to access secondary education under the FSHS programme at the end 2021 to improve access to education” and reiterated governments’ commitment to continuously fund and improve the FSHS in the midst of the calls for review.

However, since the announcement of an IMF bailout programme, government has been under immerse pressure to reconsider its signature Free SHS policy as it consumes a substantial (about 2% allocation since 2017) portion of the nation’s resources and threatens quality, even though access to education has significantly increased. For instance, the feeding component of the policy currently at 97 pesewas per student, costs GH¢900 million a year excluding costs for tuition fees, uniforms, exercise books, textbooks, infrastructure. This has triggered strikes by the School Feeding Caterers for payment of arrears and call for an increment in feeding allocation from ¢0.97 pesewas to ¢3.

Indeed, government’s decision to seek an IMF bailout has triggered fears that IMF conditionalities could propose a discontinuation of the Free SHS policy. Some critics say government has been reluctant in reviewing the policy because it does not want to jeopardize its political fortunes and track record. Other Critics however strongly propose a review of the policy is crucial in the face of the current economic crisis to allow parents and guardians who can afford to do so while greater attention is paid to the poor and vulnerable thereby safeguarding the policy against IMF conditionalities.

While the debates and calls for review of the policy lingers, the Foundation for Security and Development in Africa (FOSDA) calls on government to ensure that whatever be the case, the educational hopes of the poor and vulnerable are not sacrificed. In Ghana currently, rural areas/localities continue to contribute more than 60% of income poverty; experience wide infrastructure gaps and remain vulnerable in terms of health, climate change among others which affect livelihoods and further deepen inequality. The poor and vulnerable, especially young persons, can easily become targets and be exploited to commit terrorist activities which can in turn jeopardize the security of the country. It will therefore be appropriate to ensure that young persons of school going age are supported to stay in school and that excesses are not created for terrorist groups to take advantage of these groups and perpetrate their activities.

Again, government must engage key stakeholders on appropriate ways to improve the FSHS policy. This is because the free SHS policy continue to have a great potential to reduce inequalities within the poor regions and districts as well as reduce the north and south multi- dimensional poverty dimensions.

Theodora W. Anti Executive Director Contact No. 0205336268

Email: [email protected]

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