Scholarship Secretariat lessons for Free SHS

Scholarship Secretariat lessons for Free SHS

On the of the fiercest criticisms mounted against the Free SHS policy introduced by this government in September 2017 has been in its universality for every child in public senior high schools.


The argument has been that it is manifestly unfair for the children of the rich to have their fees paid for by the state. “Let those who can afford to, pay!”, has been the chorus. 

Fourth Estate

The recent public discussion of the issues surrounding the Scholarship Secretariat following an expose by the Fourth Estate media platform has cemented, in my view, one of the arguments some of us have made over the years against means-testing.

The Fourth Estate’s release indicated a number of beneficiaries related to or associated with some major players in the political establishment under this government, fueling the narrative that scholarships have been hijacked by connected persons to the detriment of those who genuinely need them. 

If my understanding is correct, the number of foreign scholarship beneficiaries published pales into quite some insignificance relative to the total number of foreign scholarship beneficiaries.  But in the same breath I appreciate that even a few beneficiaries who do not merit it displace a few of others those who do. Most certainly some of the names published have no business anywhere near a government scholarship. But I hope the secretariat publishes its full list of beneficiaries.

SHS systemic abuses

Fundamentally, an argument some of us have made in support of the universality of Free SHS has been that as soon as you make it the exclusive preserve of poor children, those who do not need it are likely to muscle in and elbow the deserving out. History offers a useful guide.

The Cocoa Marketing Board (CMB) scholarships of the 1980s’ quickly became a farce, where the rich and the elite effectively hijacked this scheme through their various networks for their pampered children to the detriment of the poor children of cocoa workers who could not afford secondary education.  

Again, until 2018, the 30% catchment policy by which communities in the catchment areas of the top SHS were guaranteed a percentage of admissions into those schools was grossly abused and hijacked by connected parents, influential alumni, traditional rulers, clergymen and politicians, among others, to admit their children or wards who had failed to get into those schools on merit, to the detriment of the children from the poor and disadvantaged communities in which these schools are sited and for whom the policy was meant.  

Even with the shift from 30% catchment in 2018 towards a 30% equity policy targeted at children from public JHS who invariably come from disadvantaged backgrounds anywhere in the country, many elites rushed to register their children in public schools to write the BECE so they could benefit from this policy which was targeted at the poor and marginalized. 

Fundamentally, therefore, a rather undesirable streak pervades our public space where the little that is meant for the poor is hijacked by the elite and the connected, using their various fancy networks. Make Free SHS only available to the poor and many of those who can afford will elbow them out of that space and keep the poor out, especially in our top schools. 

Pre-tertiary education is hugely central to a country’s development and a basic amount of education for every citizen is vital. When the child of the rich or those with means becomes a medical doctor, teacher, policeman or civil servant, the whole of society stands to benefit. After all, the rich also pay taxes (indeed more taxes) to fund public education so I see no gross injustice with their children benefiting from same. 

Poor mechanisms

Historically, whenever access to a valuable thing (for instance places in top senior high schools and recruitment into plum public establishments) has been understandably limited, the connected tend to invade and occupy these spaces through ‘protocol’. It was the same during the ‘kalabule’ times of the late 1970s with respect to ‘chits’ for import licences as well as ‘essential commodities’ in the face of shortages. The famine years of the 1980s saw no difference to this phenomenon. 

We have not yet put in place sufficiently robust mechanisms to ensure that if means-testing is introduced in FSHS, it will not go down the route the CMB scholarships and other facilities took. The poor will therefore have a fighting chance of accessing senior high school education only if it is kept universally free.

It is impossible to make foreign scholarships available to everyone who seeks it and qualifies for same, as we have done with Free SHS since 2017.  To address some of the issues around this, it should be a matter of standard practice each year for the Scholarship Secretariat to publish a list of its beneficiaries on its website. We should know exactly who and who have benefitted from scholarships in our names.  

That is the first of several possible steps towards transparency. 

Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng,
Head, Communications & Public Affairs Unit,
Ministry of Energy.
E-mail: [email protected] 
([email protected])

Connect With Us : 0242202447 | 0551484843 | 0266361755 | 059 199 7513 |

Like what you see?

Hit the buttons below to follow us, you won't regret it...