United Nations, free universal education

BY: Larweh Therson-Cofie
The high cost of enabling qualified Ghanaian children to attend free SHS has become a problem for the economy

It was because of the perceived weaknesses of the League of Nations, founded in 1920 after the First World War, that proposal for a new organisation was accepted and the United Nations conference met in San Francisco, United States, from April 25 to June 26, 1945.

It was during the conference that the Charter of the United Nations was drawn.
On June 26, 1945, the original members, 50 of them, signed the Charter.

Poland, also an original member, signed the Charter on October 15, 1945.
The Charter came into force on October 24, 1945 when it was ratified by the UN Security Council members and other signatories.

Why was the UN founded?
Realising that the League of Nations was not the appropriate organisation that could help to maintain world peace and security after the Second World War, its replacement, the UN, was tasked with a number of responsibilities.

Besides maintenance of international peace and security, the Charter requires the UN to develop friendly relations among nations and to achieve International Corporation in solving economic, social, cultural,and humanitarian problems.

It was also charged with the duty of promoting respect for human rights and basic freedoms.
On December 10, 1948, the UN General Assembly, by Resolution 217A, proclaimed the UN Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR) as ‘’common standards of achievements of all peoples and all nations.”

For the first time in human history, an international organisation, the UN, proclaimed fundamental human rights that must be protected, defended and observed by all member nations of the organisation.
Since its promulgation, the UNDHR has served as the basic source of reference and the bedrock for the human rights charter of the member states.

Section One of Article 26 of the UNDHR states: “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary Education shall be compulsory.’’
“Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.”

Section Two of the UNDHR stipulates: ‘’Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
Section Three states that “parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.’’

According to the UN, “education is the basic building block of every society. It is the single best investment countries can make to build prosperous, healthy and equitable societies”.
To the UN, “education is not only a right but a passport to human development that opens doors and expands opportunities and freedoms”.

Goal Four of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations is directed at “ensuring inclusive, equitable and quality education and the promotion of life-long learning opportunities for all”.
Framers of the 1992 Ghana Constitution relied very much on the UNDHR when drafting Ghana’s Charter of Human Rights which constitutes Chapter Five of the constitution, titled Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms.

Article 25 of the Constitution states in Section One: “All persons shall have the right to equal educational opportunities and facilities and with the view to achieving the full realisation of the rights:
(a) Basic education shall be free, compulsory and available to all;
(b) Secondary education, in its different forms, including technical and vocational education, shall be generally available and accessible to all by every appropriate means, and in particular, by the progress introduction of free education;

(c) Higher education shall be made equally accessible to all on the basis of capacity by every appropriate means, and in particular, by progressive introduction of free education.
Basic education had been made free since Ghana attained independence in 1957.

The 1992 Ghana Constitution makes basic education up to junior high school free and compulsory.
It was in the area of Senior High School that the Ghana Government had delayed in implementing, fully, provisions of Article 25 of the constitution.

Senior high school (SHS) was made partially free in the past by way of free tuition and supply of a few textbooks to the students on a use-and-return basis.

However, various school charges, including Parent-Teacher Association dues, sports, cultural and extra classes fees and others, made it difficult for poor parents to afford SHS education.
In 2017, the Akufo-Addo government introduced, for the first time, free SHS education for boarders and day students.

The advent of free SHS in Ghana has enabled 1.6 million children to benefit from the programme as of the middle of 2022.

Free SHS has come with a cost. It cost the government GHC7.62 billion in five years (2021).
The high cost of enabling qualified Ghanaian children to attend free SHS has become a problem for the economy, the government and Ghanaians.

Should free SHS be abolished?
Should it be reviewed to enable rich parents to pay while poor children get “scholarships”?
Those are very difficult questions.
They are difficult questions because they have legal, economic, financial and moral implications.
Article 25 of the Ghana Constitution and Article 26 of the UNDHR are big obstacles to any attempt to abolish free SHS in Ghana.
Article 25(1) (b) is being fully implemented and it is not lawful to abolish it.

It needs a national referendum to amend Article 25 because it is a highly entrenched provision.
Because it is a right, it appears that it is not lawful to review the free SHS adversely, that is, to do so to the disadvantage of Ghanaian children who are entitled to it.

Article 25 (1) (b) states that free SHS must be “made generally available and accessible to all by every appropriate means”.
Presently, SHS is generally available.

How can Ghana continue to make it accessible to all by every appropriate means?
What are the sources of government revenue?

Taxes are some of the sources of government revenue. They include income tax, company tax property tax, domestic goods and services tax and value-added tax.
It is out of such revenue that the government finances all programmes, including provision of social amenities and facilities.

Education is one of the programmes that the government finances out of the total national revenue.
Under free SHS, it is not constitutional to review the programme to enable wealthy parents to pay for their wards.

The Constitution states that SHS should be free for all.
What should be done when free SHS becomes difficult for the government to finance?
There are other ways by which the State can make wealthy parents contribute to the costs of free SHS.

One way is taxation
By taxing the incomes of the rich in the country, the government can get enough money to keep the free SHS functioning.

Many developed and developing countries apply that method to finance free SHS.
In the United States, for example, State government aid and taxes, especially property tax, form the largest sources of funding for free basic and secondary school education.

It is an economic and moral principle to tax the rich to help the poor and the disadvantaged in a country.

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