A management consultant, Mr Laud E. Freeman, has expressed strong reservation about the sustainability of the government’s decision to use a large chunk of proceeds from natural resources and oil to fund the Free Senior High School (SHS) programme.
“The oil and natural resources commodities are subject to fluctuations based on world market prices and they are finite exhaustible resources which the government cannot bench the funding of the free SHS policy on,” he stated.
While that decision was a good move,he said, the government must critically consider more sustainable sources, particularly agriculture, that could provide more sustainable funding source for the programme.
Addressing the Mfantsipim Old Boys Association (MOBA) annual engagement series II in Accra last Thursday, Mr Freeman said: “Agriculture has the potential to provide a more sustainable source of funding for the programme.
As it stands now, Ghana’s import bill on eight basic commodities stands at $2.2 billion for a year alone. Apart from wheat, all the seven other basic foods can be produced locally and some exported to earn foreign exchange,” he said.
The event, themed: “Delivering quality secondary education in Ghana: A paradigm shift needed,” brought together experts to discuss topics on academic programmes, governance, funding and SHS products. It was moderated by Mr Anis Haffar, a renowned educationist.
In a presentation on the topic: “Funding senior high schools,” Mr Freeman, who is the Chief Executive Officer of Nexus Capital Limited, said the free SHS policy, as a government flagship educational programme to transform secondary education, was a giant step in the right direction but it was not entirely a panacea.
Quoting statistics from the Ghana Education Service (GES), he said 40 per cent of junior high school (JHS) graduates who passed the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) were unable to continue to the SHS due to lack of funding.
“Last year, 110,000 JHS students passed and were placed by the computer placement system but they could not continue to SHS because there was no funding.
“Now, with the intervention of the free SHS policy, that roadblock is removed, which means we are going to have an increase in student enrolment and there is a source of motivation for students to pass their exam.
“So clearly, having an increase in the number of students proceeding from JHS to SHS means other cost funding centres will go up in addition to the existing cost funding,” he said.
He noted that per the President’s statement, if all day students were to get a meal for free, second cycle schools that were traditionally day would require infrastructure such as dining halls, which would be additional cost.
Mr Freeman said in the 2015/2016 academic year, there were 562 SHSs that were run by the state.
He added that the education sector performance report that year indicated that without free SHS, the senior secondary sub-sector consumed the largest portion of government expenditure earmarked for education.
“For 2015/2016 again, the education performance report showed that the annual recurrent expenditure funded by the government was GH¢2,144 per student and the students’ population in 2016 stood at 1.6 million.
He added that the estimated average annual percentage increase in students’ enrolment was six per cent, according to the Ghana National Education Coalition Campaign.
“So with this average annual percentage increase in enrolment, it is estimated that the intake for the 2017/2018 will be about 432,780 students.
“Even if we desire to assume a zero inflation and use the 2015/2016 state-funded recurrent expenditure amount of GH¢2,144 per student, this gives an expected expenditure of GH¢916, 896, 920,” he said.
The management consultant said the contributions of parents towards the enrolment of their children in SHS was paramount since the government could not single-handedly sponsor the Free SHS programme.
“For the same reason of finding sustainability and quality delivery, the government is shifting towards private-public partnerships in all major sectors of the economy. So why should a critical sector such as education be any different?” he asked.
He, therefore, called for a collaborative contribution of the government, parents and other stakeholders towards the Free SHS policy.
Time for shift in outlook
Addressing the topic “SHS curriculum”, a lecturer from the University of Ghana, Legon, Prof. Paul Yankson, blamed poor delivery of education on the continued reliance on irrelevant curricula, dramatic increase in enrolment, recruitment of inexperienced teachers and stagnant educational funding.
“All these challenges have warranted inappropriate allocation of resources, high teacher to students ratio, the use of inexperienced teachers, the reproduction of textbooks content in teaching without practical or scientific backing, the shift of occupation by teachers to other sectors of the economy,” he said.
For his part, Dr John Manful, who spoke to the topic, “The SHS graduate”, suggested the need for teachers to pursue further studies to upgrade their knowledge, effective utilisation of resources such as technology to enhance teaching and learning, as well as reliance on retired experienced teachers to ensure the delivery of quality education.
A private legal practitioner, Mr Ekow Amua-Sekyi, who delivered on “SHS governance system,” said currently all second cycle schools, including mission and private ones, were under the ambit of the GES which employed, paid, disciplined, transferred, dismissed, promoted and demoted teachers.
However, he suggested the need for the government to bear the responsibility of paying the salaries of teachers while the churches exercised some responsibility over the governance of their schools, through their regional managers of their education units to maintain a balance.