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Free SHS, but cracks are widening

Did you know that while the Minister of Education was in Parliament this week justifying the December 4 reopening date for first year Senior High School (SHS) students, many schools had not received funds for perishable foodstuffs for feeding Form One students?

The social media headline summary of the Minister’s presentation to Parliament was that the House was unable to convince the Minister to reconsider rescheduling the reopening date.

I have a different conclusion.

First of all, Parliament could not have ordered the reversal of an Executive decision.

Secondly, our current Education Minister does not change his mind: he is always right.

Thirdly, and unfortunately, Parliament itself approached the education issue on the wrong premise.

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 For me, it was not whether “more than 96 per cent of students had already reported to school, hence it would be unwise to ask them to return home.”

In Ghana, parents are so harassed and desperate that they will, at the drop of a hat, and without a whimper, rush off their children to school. 

Attitude

Ghanaians’ attitude to SHS admission is like our attitude to funerals.

We would borrow, sacrifice everything, to get a relation a “befitting” funeral, come hell or high water.

Everybody wants their child in school in a system where you are lucky that your child has got a school at all.

The issue at stake could not have been what a rep of the Ministry (or was it GES?) said in a radio interview during the week, that it was “better for the children to be in school for the two weeks than to be with their parents at home.” Ei!!

Does it make sense that parents break their backs, strain every sinew to send their children to school for two weeks, namely December 4, only to return on December 22 for Christmas?

Remember, the first week does not count since that will be for getting acclimatised to an environment they are not familiar with.

That leaves one week in the classroom! Learning what?

What percentage of the syllabus would have been covered that was so critical that it could not wait?

Meanwhile, a direct result of wrong policy decisions has been that we still do not have a hang of this so-called computer placement, since its introduction in 2005. 

School placement

This year, as always, since 2005, school placement centres were crowded and chaotic: officers from the Free SHS Secretariat were deployed to attend to parents and guardians, “with a heavy police presence”.

Can you imagine!

What type of public education system could we be practising when a child from the Volta Region is placed at the Presbyterian Senior High School, Osu, to be a Day-student?

Meaning, children aged 14 or 15, should be staying by themselves in hostels, their first time outside the home.

I attended a boarding school so I know they are not evil.

 The reality of sheer numbers and financial hustle, however, tilt the scales in favour of day schools.

In the US, while about 35,000 students attend U.S. private schools as boarders each year, some 48.1 million are day students.

If economic planning is about cutting our coat according to our cloth, and if the ability to know the size of your cloth is a measure of your wisdom, I can conclude that the Ghanaian educational system is not the work of very wise policy makers.

It simply does not make economic sense that the most strident debates on education have had to do with how many E-Blocks were completed “by the end of the year 2016”; that is, when we are not otherwise engaged in deciding between four-year/three-year SHS.

If the Education Minister needed to be dragged before Parliament, it should have been to answer why the production of E-Blocks to facilitate the day school system has not progressed in the expected numbers.

In 2014, Government of Ghana and the World Bank signed a $156 million financing agreement to help expand access to education through the construction of 23 four-storey classroom blocks dubbed ‘E-Blocks’, complete with laboratories, toilets, teachers’ flat, head teacher’s bungalow.

The then government awarded 101 contracts for E-Blocks between 2014 and 2016 on the accounts of GETFund, aside from 23 other projects from the World Bank.

Construction continued in 2018. 

By the end of 2020, 30 more E-Blocks were completed.

The last time the E-Block project took centre stage, it was a debate on how many of them were completed by the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and how many by the New Patriotic Party (NPP).  

Totally needless debate, if you ask me.

Free SHS is great, but we would only be mass producing students who have little knowledge, if we don’t shift the focus from getting students to go to school without a guarantee of learning and teaching facilities.

In Day-schools, feeding is not government’s headache.

That is the issue over which Parliament should summon a Minister of Education.

The writer is Executive Director,
Centre for Communication and Culture.

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

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