Should the rich pay for their children under the free SHS?

BY: Dr Kwaku Yeboah Kese
Both the rich and the poor are enthusiastic about the policy. Sustainability of the scheme is however important.
Both the rich and the poor are enthusiastic about the policy. Sustainability of the scheme is however important.

Opinions vary as to whether or not the rich should pay for their children under the free Senior High School (SHS) programme. Obviously, those who are advocating that the rich should pay for their children are worried about sustainability which, no doubt, is a genuine concern that must be addressed realistically.

 I did not have any answer until I attended a seminar.

 After the programme, it was time for refreshment. One could see so many people joining a long queue for just a bottle of soft drink and a piece of bread.

 I realised that both the rich (in my estimation) and the poor waited patiently for minutes to get their share of the freebies.

I thought the rich would declare that this was food for the boys and not worth the wait.

 But that was not to be. The first lesson here is that even the rich appreciate and enjoy little handouts which may come as a great relief.

Uphill task

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Since the introduction of the free SHS, I am yet to hear of any rich person who has offered to donate the school fees which he would otherwise have paid for the child to the school, on a termly basis.

This implies that many of the so called rich people are not ready to pay.

 Those who are ready to pay may rather send their children to private or international schools.

In Ghana, a lot of people may not declare realistic incomes and so it would be difficult categorising the rich and the poor.

A friend of mine told me about a man who had expressed interest in buying his car.

 The man walked on foot and had not used any car before, so when he showed up to buy this latest BMW car, my friend thought he had been sent so he decided not to discuss the price of the car with him until the man brought his master.

My friend soon learned that the man was his own master.

He paid cash for the car without even asking for any discount.

 Later, it was revealed that the man used to do petty trading including the purchase and sale of metal scraps.

Any attempt to identify a rich person must also take into account the person’s assets and liabilities.

I have talked a lot to seemingly rich people who disclosed that they were heavily in debt, their liabilities exceeding their assets.

At the moment, it will be a difficult task trying to differentiate between those who can afford to pay for their children and those who cannot.

Without quoting figures, I can say that a high percentage of government revenue is from taxation of the rich.

In the formal sector, the higher you earn, the more you pay by way of taxation.

Even if your salary exceeds a certain threshold, the tax rate applied to the excess amount is increased several fold.

So why should people who have contributed so much to the economy be left out if the government is to use the same resources to enhance social programmes such as free education?

The Akans have a saying that the one who has helped prepare the meal is never exempt from tasting it.

In my opinion, both the rich and the poor must continue to benefit from the free SHS programme as is being done now.

This is in the spirit of fair play.

Ensuring sustainability

There is no doubt that the benefits to be derived from the free SHS are numerous.

That is why, as said previously, sustainability is at the heart of many.

Tuition and boarding fees, as well as geographical access were the main factors that made secondary school education inaccessible to many people.

For government to address this aspect, is not only appropriate but also adequate.

Parents must be encouraged to also take care of the rest, including the provision of exercise books and clothing for their children.

After all, the parents take care of their children when they are on vacation.

When this is done, a lot of money can be saved to improve upon the programme.

Students whose parents cannot afford these petty requirements can be identified and assisted.

Community day schools must be made readily available and accessible in an effort to reduce boarding intake, which costs more money to operate.

In the short-term, there will be the need for the government to engage existing private schools that are strategically located and not receiving enough students because of the free SHS, to bring education closer to the people in the community.

If this is done well, the untoward effect that the so-called double-track system may bring will be reduced.

In the long-term, the government is expected to build more schools to cater for the increasing number of student enrolment to senior high schools.

The writer is the Medical Director, Royal Medical Agency and Clinic.

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