COCOBOD Education Trust without equity considerations may diminish impact

The COCOBOD Education Trust aims to replace the cocoa scholarship scheme, but equity-focused alternatives such as tertiary scholarships and apprenticeships are crucial for greater impact.

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The recent abrogation of the cocoa scholarship scheme has garnered considerable media attention. Amid varying opinions, COCOBOD, in a press release dated May 22, 2024, argued that the scheme, which "was established to support wards of cocoa farmers to pursue secondary education," had been rendered redundant by the Free Senior High School (FSHS) Policy.

In place of the defunct scholarship scheme, COCOBOD asserts it has established the COCOBOD Education Trust to provide resources and infrastructure for basic schools in cocoa-growing communities.

While this is appealing, it raises several questions. Firstly, who or which communities will benefit from such interventions, and upon what criteria will they be prioritised to ensure fairness?

Secondly, what will be the nature of these investments, and will they represent the best allocation of resources that accrue to the newly established trust, essentially taxes levied from poor cocoa farmers?

Both questions concern equity, involving who gets to participate in decision-making regarding resource allocation and who derives (dis)benefits from the outcomes of this process.

Situation?

Having researched cocoa-growing communities for over a decade, I have witnessed first-hand the plight of these communities and written extensively about them. While basic education is problematic for many children in cocoa-growing areas, advancing beyond high school is an even greater challenge.

Each year, many cocoa farmers fall into debt and poverty. This is because they are forced to take on high-interest loans to pay the fees and pocket money for their wards in tertiary institutions.

Those who cannot afford such loans cannot help but to watch their children stuck in "waithood." Many high school graduates return to their parents’ cocoa farms, labouring to raise funds to further their education and deferring their dreams year after year.

I will never forget the words of Agyei, a high school graduate I met in Sayerano, Juabeso District: “My brother, things are knocking things, if not, I am not supposed to be here. I should be reading Pharmacy or Electrical Engineering but where is the money?”

While improving investment in basic education is commendable, it is not a viable solution to the “waithood dilemma” faced by Agyei and many others like him. Instead, more imaginative solutions are needed to make the resources from the COCOBOD Education Trust have an even greater impact.

Reinvent scheme

In addition to supporting infrastructure for basic schools in cocoa-growing communities, the COCOBOD Education Trust could achieve further impact in at least two ways. 
Firstly, the Board of COCOBOD should consider establishing a tertiary scholarship scheme to help post-high school wards of cocoa farmers escape the derisive waithood.

Lessons from the successes of the Cocoa Scholarships administration and the unfolding shortfalls of the GET Fund are relevant to making such a tertiary scholarship scheme more equitable.

Secondly, formal education is not the only path out of poverty. Investing in paid vocational training and apprenticeship schemes for technically gifted but resource-underserved wards of cocoa farmers could boost productive capacity in cocoa-growing areas.

Exploring these options could help extend the impact of resources from the erstwhile cocoa scholarship, making it better to serve the needs of people in cocoa-growing communities. The cocoa scholarship scheme is dead: long live the cocoa scholarship.

The writer is Research Scientist, Leverhulme Centre for Nature Recovery, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, UK. 

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