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Free SHS sustainability, the way forward

BY: Dr Kwaku Yeboah Kese
Mr William Dakwah, National Coordinator — Free SHS
Mr William Dakwah, National Coordinator — Free SHS

Recently, a publication in the Daily Graphic seemed to suggest that the rich should pay for the free senior high school (SHS) education to make it sustainable.

This makes interesting reading, considering the fact that it is in sharp contrast to my earlier article in the same paper (ref Daily Graphic, October 18, 2018, page 10), where I suggested that it should continue to be free for all.

All the responses I received, following the publication, were in favour of the rich not having to pay.

If there is the problem of financial sustainability, the solution is not for the rich to pay which, in my estimation, will be an uphill task and which will bring about a lot of problems.

The solution must include the cutting down on the freebies, including the supply of clothing and even free boarding facilities.

In my article, I opined that what prevented many bright people from entering SHS in the past were, in the main, high school fees and nuisance charges, as well as poor geographical access.

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Once these obstacles are addressed, SHS enrolment will increase naturally.

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I am not in any way suggesting that the government should by all means cut down on expenditure pertaining to the free SHS.

I am only referring to availability of funds.

If the government has enough funds, perhaps, I may be the first to even suggest that in addition to what it has done so far, it should also make funds available to day students, at least to cover their transport needs.

This will go a long way to bridge the inequality and inequity gap that exists between day and boarding students, as far as the provision of free SHS education is concerned.

As the day student travels daily to and from school, and supposedly gets only one free meal, his or her counterpart in the boarding house enjoys free boarding facilities and also takes three square meals daily.

The student in the boarding house does not spend any money on transport. This makes the day student disadvantaged.

Recommendations

If the boarding aspect is separated from the free SHS, the rich who can definitely afford to put their wards in the boarding house will do so naturally, and the government will save some money.

Those who cannot afford boarding, can still access quality day education from nearby schools as they will pay next to nothing. The boarding aspect can be made optional and payable, albeit affordable.

This is by no means to suggest that only the poor will become day students.

Experience has shown that there are many rich people who will prefer their wards to be day students.

Similarly, a lot of the so called poor people may choose boarding to being day.

Indeed, the system must be day-student biased to encourage more people to opt to become day students.

The story is told of a man who did not have any formal education.

When he was asked why he did not go to school, he said it was because his teacher died early.

In our case, with free tuition, and adequate geographical accessibility, nobody will complain that he or she did not get SHS education because he or she did not get a boarding house.

Even though the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) is a government policy, there are a lot of private health facilities that have been accredited to provide services to clients at the government’s own rules and regulations.

In the same vein, the government can liaise with available private SHSs that have the capacity to take more students, in the spirit of private-public cooperation, to reduce the burden inherent in the double-track system, even as the government tries to expand and build more schools.

The establishment of a free SHS fund will be a step in the right direction.

Well-meaning Ghanaians and organisations, including churches with free SHS at heart, may have the chance to contribute into the fund on regular basis.

From time to time, sporting or football events can be organised and proceeds sent into the fund to ensure that enough revenue is generated to sustain the scheme.

In summary if the government has enough funds, then the sky is the limit, as to the level of incentives and freebies that can be provided, including transport allowances for day students.

If it does not have enough funds, then cost cutting measures must be pursued.

In the long term the government must devise practical measures to generate enough revenue and build more schools to ensure sustainability.

*The writer is a Medical Director, Royal Medical Agency & Clinic.

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