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Conduct extensive consultations on Free SHS Bill — Stakeholders

Stakeholders in the education sector have raised concerns about their non-involvement in consultations before the drafting of the proposed Free Senior High School (SHS) Bill, 2024.

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One of the stakeholders rather proposed a Funding for Pre-Tertiary Education Act to generate resources and finance such institutions to create a level playing field for schools in urban and rural areas.

They said once the bill proposed some far-reaching educational reforms, their inputs were necessary before putting together a draft bill to be presented to Cabinet.

The stakeholders who shared their views in separate interviews with the Daily Graphic are the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT), the National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT), the Africa Education Watch (Eduwatch) and the Minority Caucus in Parliament.

Their refrain is that due to the importance of the bill and the new initiatives it contained, broader consultations were necessary to solicit inputs from stakeholders in the education sector to ensure its fine-tuning, buy-in and ownership by all, instead of it being dumped on them.

For GNAT, the Free SHS Bill was needless since no one was against the policy, while NAGRAT called for its suspension until further engagements on it, with the Minority also calling for a serious national stakeholder dialogue.

Eduwatch, for its part, called for a Legislative Instrument (LI) for the Pre-Tertiary Education Act which had already made basic and secondary education free. The stakeholders explained that chiefs in areas where schools were cited, the religious bodies which established schools, members from academia and teachers who also implemented policies, among others, had to be made part of the drafting of such a bill so as to help address all the concerns.  

Overall, they said the involvement of stakeholders in the drafting of such a bill was to ensure its effective implementation when passed.

GNAT

The General Secretary of GNAT, Thomas Musah, said what was needed now was funding for the Pre-Tertiary Education Act in order to address the challenges at that level of the educational system across the country.

“Technically speaking, the bill is needless, nobody would come and say that Free SHS should be abolished. I have never heard anybody saying that it is bad, never”.

“The consensus is that we need to review and see how we can make it sustainable; the debate now on the policy is sustainability, not the continuity and we need to make that distinction,” he said.

Mr Musah said what was important was a sustainability analysis of the Free SHS to identify how funding could be secured for the running of institutions at that level in order to create a level playing field for all and not create a class society.

“This would have been an input and proposal of GNAT if it was invited to any stakeholder engagement,” he said.  “The bill we need now is Funding for Pre-tertiary Education Bill and not Free SHS Bill,” he said, and cited the Capitation Grant which has been in arrears for about three years now.

Mr Musah said it was quite surprising to hear about the bill, adding that when a policy was run for at least for five years, there was the need to go back to the drawing board to listen to the major stakeholders within the space the policy had been implemented.

NAGRAT

The President of NAGRAT, Angel Carbonu, said any educational reform in any country should have the input of stakeholders. He said the government needed to come out with a concept of what it intended to do, the new path it wanted to take in education, engage stakeholders at all levels, including parents, teachers, professors of education in the various universities, chiefs and religious bodies.

“What is being done is a little bit obtuse and strange to me. We are, therefore, calling on the government to suspend the sending of any such bills to Parliament and we are also calling on Parliament to ensure that even if the government brings it, it should not accept it,” he said.

Mr Carbonu asked whether what had been implemented under the Free SHS so far was illegal because there was no law backing it. He said the junior high school was already part of the high school system and that it was only called “junior” to differentiate it from the senior high.

NAGRAT also expressed shock that there was such a bill that went beyond the Free SHS to the recalibration of the structure of the entire second cycle school system. “If the government wants a continuous six years curriculum, all that it had to do was to recalibrate it, “so that when you start some Mathematics in Form One in JHS, it builds up all the way until you get to Form Three in SHS. So why do we need to put this in a bill,” Mr Carbonu quizzed.  

Eduwatch

The Executive Director of Eduwatch, Kofi Asare, expressed disappointment that civil society organisations (CSOs) were not involved in the drafting of the bill. He said CSOs were partners of the Ministry of Education based on its position that they should always work together.

"One would have expected that the Ministry of Education would have engaged CSOs in the drafting of this bill,” Mr Asare said. He also maintained that the proposal for six years of secondary education was already captured in the secondary education strategy.

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"We don't need a law to do these things; they are policy implementation frameworks, not legal issues. What we need now is a free basic education policy to support the free SHS policy”.

"Then, we need an LI for the Pre-Tertiary Education Act, 2020 (Act 1049,) which has already made basic and secondary education free in sections 2 and 3," Mr Asare said.

Minority caucus

For his part, the Deputy Ranking Member on the Education Committee of Parliament, Dr Clement Apaak, in a statement on behalf of the Minority Caucus in Parliament, stated that removing the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) and combining JHS and SHS into a six-year secondary system was a major undertaking that should require a serious national stakeholders dialogue.

“Sadly, no consultations have been carried out and there is no indication of input from key stakeholders in the educational space as far as we know. 
“Our position as a party and a caucus remains the same.

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Any bill or legislation intended to address the FSHS policy implementation challenges and to make the programme sustainable is welcome,” he added. He explained that the concern of the caucus had been and remained the implementation challenges such as inadequate academic and residential infrastructure; inadequate furniture, inadequate and poor-quality food; erratic academic calendar and obnoxious double track system, among others.

“We will continue pointing out these implementation challenges with the hope that they will be fixed,” Dr Apaak, who is also the Member of Parliament for Builsa South, said.

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