The dream of Rapheal Kuunianaa was to be one of the medical doctors in his village in the Upper West Region.
This was after he was attended to by a medical doctor at the Nandom Hospital when he accidentally forced a bambara bean into his nose and had to be taken to the hospital.
He admired the professionalism with which the doctor attended to him and how he was able to save his (Raphael’s) life.
However, Raphael, who was one of the third batch students of the then junior secondary school (JSS), had to abandon his dream, following the sudden demise of his father while he was still in JSS Two.
When he wrote the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE), he came out with flying colours, but could not proceed to the then senior secondary school (SSS) because his mother, who had to fend for him and his six other siblings, could simply not get money to help him pursue his dreams.
Today, that potential doctor is a caretaker of a palm wine tapper’s swine in the Western North Region.
For the Minister of Education, Dr Yaw Osei Adutwum, if the government’s educational flagship programme, the Free Senior High School (SHS) policy was operational at the time of Raphael, the possibility of realising his dream to be a medical doctor would have been on course, in spite of his unfortunate situation.
Last two decades
Over the last two decades or so, government after government has made changes to our educational curriculum all in a bid to reform the system and make it better. The newest system that the New Patriotic Party (NPP) government is championing is the Education Strategic Plan 2018 - 2030. (ESP).
The free SHS policy is a campaign promise by the then candidate of the NPP and now President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, which ties in perfectly with the government's education plan, dubbed ESP 2018-2030, which revolves around equitable access and improving the quality of “education for all”.
Dr Adutwum explained that the idea of the flagship programme was to carry everyone along without leaving anyone behind, irrespective of one’s state or financial position, including persons with disability (PwDs).
He further explained that it was with such an idea that the management of education in the country had since 2018 been embarking on sweeping educational reforms aimed at repositioning the sector to meet the strategic plan.
The free SHS is, therefore, one of those reforms, which also include curriculum reforms, teacher reforms, pre-tertiary education reforms as well as the public university bill.
But in a reaction, the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT) said the ESP would mean nothing unless there was a determined and a concerted effort by the government and the management of education in the country, starting with the curriculum, to improve education delivery.
Speaking to the Daily Graphic, the General Secretary of GNAT, Mr Thomas Musah, said if the country did not get the curriculum right then it was doomed forever.
“In the 2017 budget, we told ourselves that we are going to produce 1,171 kindergarten blocks. The 2018 budget was silent regarding the number of classrooms we have been able to put up,” he said.
Mr Musah said although the ESP was like a road map to guide people, it was like having a curriculum without resources.
He said although the content was good, until the requisite resources were provided to implement it, all the fine policies and programmes would not be realised.
For the National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT), its concern was about commitment and all-inclusive implementation of policies, and that if there were commitments, then the nation would make the resources available for the implementation of the document.
The President of NAGRAT, Mr Eric Carbonu, said he had not seen the ESP document yet and so teachers were not consulted on it.
“The problem is that we feel instead of involving the teachers, they take decisions at the management level only for them to have difficulty with implementation,” he said.
When the objectives were read out to him, he said they were attainable if there were commitment and consultation with all stakeholders.
According to him, the consultation with practitioners - teachers - was very low, citing, for example, that “when you talk of inclusive education, it can be seen from various aspects; making sure that all manner of persons, irrespective of status, religion, physical ability or disability, are brought together in an educational environment without discrimination.
But giving further insights into the education policy, the Minister of Education explained that the introduction of the free SHS programme led to the massive infrastructural development in almost all the public SHSs in the country.
“This is because the programme came with huge numbers of students who would have otherwise missed out on secondary education because of the cost factor and also the lack of infrastructure,” he explained.
Dr Adutwum said, for instance, in 2016, only 800,000 candidates could gain admission to SHS either because of financial constraints or the lack of space, but with the implementation of the free SHS policy, the student enrolment went up to 1.2 million.
“So, as part of effort to improve secondary education infrastructure stock in the country, the government embarked upon an unprecedented infrastructure expansion programme to complete classroom blocks, dormitories, science and computer laboratories in senior high schools,” he said.
The minister said as part of the reforms, the government was also focusing on skills development as key to accelerating the industrialisation of the country.
“Consequently, the government is set to create an agency for skills training known as the Technical and Vocational Education Services (TVES) as part of efforts to revamp the mainstream technical and vocational education and training (TVET),” Dr Adutwum added.
He said the expectation of government was that with the establishment of the TVES, more attention would be focused on skills development to create the critical manpower for accelerated development.
To start with, he said, all the skill development centres under the various ministries were now brought under the Ministry of Education for proper coordination.
He explained that it was in recognition of the fact that even though TVET had the potential to transform Ghana’s economy, governments, over the years had paid little attention to the sector.
The creation of the Ghana Tertiary Education Commission (GTEC) is part of the creation of the new Education Regulatory Body Act 2020, Act 1023, which is a merger of the National Accreditation Board (NAB) and the National Council for Tertiary Education (NCTE), which is mandated to regulate the tertiary education space.
Major aspects of the GTEC is the scrapping of the mentorship programme under which private university colleges had to undergo mentorship from a public university or a privately chartered university for at least 10 years.
The Act 2020, Act 1,023, also gave birth to the National School Inspectorate Authority (NaSIA) to oversee the running and operations of all pre-tertiary institutions in the country.
For Dr Adutwum, the focus and direction of the sector was to see an educational system that transforms the fortunes of the nation and so a lot of premium was placed on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Consequently, the government is constructing STEM centres across the country to be operational the next academic year to ensure that every student has access to a STEM-related programme.
“We want to make sure that we are not just producing the students but quality learning environment for socioeconomic development, after we make available the access,” Dr Adutwum told the Daily Graphic.
He said the government was establishing Open Universities with campuses that would use online learning to bring tertiary education to the doorstep of every community in the country and expressed the hope that it would improve enrolment in the existing universities in the country.
This is particularly important, considering the scramble for tertiary education by products of the SHS, particularly under the current free SHS era, which affords every Ghanaian JHS student the opportunity to access senior secondary education.
Dr Adutwum said the ultimate goal was a move away from the current way of learning where students were encouraged to memorise facts, which, he said, did not mimic 21st century learning.
He explained that a 21st century knowledge economy was where students became the centre of learning and could think critically, saying, “Students with critical minds do not feel shy or afraid to bring ideas to their boss for the transformation of their places of work.”
Dr Adutwum said his vision was in line with the mandate of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo to see an education system that “produces graduates who transform their world”.
The wish of the President, according to the minister, “is to see an educational system that transforms the fortunes of the nation”.
The plan, which is aligned with the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Four, is aimed at making Ghana a learning country to spur its developmental agenda.
The SDG Four seeks to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
The ESP 2018-2030 has three key objectives: improving equitable access to and participation in inclusive education at all levels; improved quality of teaching and learning and the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at all levels; and sustainable and efficient management, financing and accountability of education service delivery.
The minister further explained that the free SHS sought to create access for every junior high school (JHS) student to go through secondary education without any inhibition, “thus the policy seeks to ensure that financial consideration is no longer a barrier to accessing secondary education.”
“The policy has led to massive infrastructural projects being undertaken by the government in most of the senior high schools in order to open them up for many more students to gain admission.
“This led to the introduction of the famous double track system to ensure that although the schools still have the same facilities; they are able to admit double of the number they would have ordinarily taken, while the infrastructural challenges are being addressed,” he explained.
The hope being that in the not-too-distant future, every child in Ghana would have had at least a senior secondary education as minimum educational qualification.
Free SHS Secretariat
A statement from the Free SHS Secretariat said until the introduction of the programme, the burden of paying fees to move from one level of education to another was unbearable and caused a high drop-out rate from junior high to senior high.
“Parents in the country for the past years have benefitted immensely from the introduction of the Free SHS policy, with some having more than three children in SHS and senior high technical vocational schools,” the secretariat said.
It said one significant thing about the free SHS was that it provided equitable access by giving students from less endowed schools an opportunity to enter into category ‘A’ schools “and these students are performing tremendously well”.
Touching on what the GES had done so far to support the reforms, the Director-General of the Ghana Education Service (GES), Professor Kwasi Opoku-Amankwa, said the service rolled out various reforms for the delivery of quality education outcomes in the country.
He said, for instance, “We undertook an analysis of the manpower inventory and re-designed the structure of the GES.
“This included competency modelling, job profiling and job descriptions at the school, district, regional and national levels,” he explained.
He said the GES had drawn a deployment and transfer strategy document, focusing on the equitable distribution of teachers by deploying them to fill specific vacancies in schools.
Prof. Opoku-Amankwa explained that the overarching aim was to ensure GES was well positioned to deliver on the government’s education transformation agenda.