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Free SHS policy not sustainable — Minority

Author: Musah Yahya Jafaru
Mr  Haruna Iddrisu addressing the press
Mr Haruna Iddrisu addressing the press

The Minority in Parliament says the Free Senior High School (SHS) policy being initiated by the government is not sustainable as there is no guaranteed funding to support its implementation.

Besides, it said, the policy was not equitable as second and third-year students were exempted from enjoying free education.

At a press conference in Accra on Monday, the Minority Leader, Mr Haruna Iddrisu, said the Free SHS policy in its current state would affect the quality of secondary education and make the students poorer.

He said what the government had presented was simply another version of progressively free SHS, and described it as an expanded programme for SHS students entering first year.

"The Free SHS policy is not sustainable, equitable and will jeopardise the future of secondary education in the country," he said.

He, therefore, asked the government to build consensus with stakeholders on how to increase its coverage and make it sustainable.

President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo is to launch the Free SHS policy today that will see first-year students enjoying free education till the end of their three-year secondary education.

Not sustainable

Mr Iddrisu said the Minority had discovered that the New Patriotic Party (NPP) government disingenuously refused to adjust this year's Ghana Education Service (GES) approved fees as had been the tradition every year.

"This tradition in fixing fees annually factors inflation and ensures that quality is not compromised," he said.

The Minority Leader said the government used last academic year's GES approved fees of GH¢1,022.20 for boarders and GH¢560 for day students in order that it could beat down the actual cost of Free SHS.

He said a trend analysis conducted over the last five years revealed that this year's approved fees should not have been less than GH¢1,320 for boarders and GH¢715 for day students.

Mr Iddrisu said the Minority had also discovered that contrary to its public posture that the government did not intend to leave any child behind, the projection of the Akufo-Addo Cabinet was that only 85 per cent of SHS students would accept their placements and turn up for school. 

"In other words, the NPP government has made provision in its budget for only 362,781 SHS students entering first year.  Therefore, per current placement figures, the government has made no arrangements for 62,711 students.

"The above conduct by the NPP government, coupled with their inability to identify a clear and reliable funding source for their progressively Free SHS, clearly undermines its sustainability and the survival of quality SHS education in Ghana," he said.

No equity in free SHS

Mr Iddrisu said according to the current data, there were 285,450 students enrolled in second year, while 279,954 students were enrolled in third year, which meant that a total of 565,404 students had not been captured. 

He said the irony was that the second and third-year students were the group then candidate Akufo-Addo campaigned to and promised free SHS.

"By its inability to roll out Free SHS to cover those in second and third years, the NPP has only successfully vindicated those who said Akufo-Addo’s Free SHS promise was a hoax. What we have been presented with by the NPP is simply another version of progressively free SHS.”

Free SHS for some first-year students

"We make bold to predict that if care is not taken, what will emerge in our SHSs is a category of fee-paying students for the wards of parents who can afford to pay fees for their wards and another category of so-called free SHS students, thus introducing a class system into our public SHSs," he said.

Quality education

Mr Iddrisu said the National Democratic Congress (NDC) hoped that quality would not be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency and asked the government to spare a thought for those in the second and third years as they promised. 

"It is our considered view that the GH¢400 million being expended on only some first—year students in SHSs should rather be targeted at vulnerable students at all the three levels from form one to Form three instead of this current lazy propaganda approach,’’ he said.

Mr Iddrisu said it was clear that the government was struggling to find resources to fund its free SHS programme, which was the reason for the delay in releases of the funds and the reason why instead of the entire allocation being released for the term, the government had told the Conference of Heads of Assisted Secondary School (CHASS) to expect only 20-50 per cent of the term’s allocation.

"This piecemeal approach will compromise quality and create difficulties for school heads in terms of planning. It is important for the government to cut down on its  expenditure on giant Free SHS billboards all over Ghana and transfer the full allocation of funds to the schools to ensure a smooth take-off of the programme. Anything short of this will be compromising quality and shortchanging the parents, the students and the people of Ghana," he said.

Measures needed

The Minority Leader said the government had no Free SHS policy to serve as a blueprint or an implementation manual.

He said the absence of those crucial documents had not only exposed the government, it had left key stakeholders such as (CHASS), Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT), National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT) and the Coalition of Concerned Teachers (CCT) bewildered as they struggled to implement the policy.

Mr Iddrisu said CHASS had also noted with deep concern how several promises made to it by the government that releases for the Free SHS policy would get to it two weeks before schools reopened had not been kept.

"One wonders how the NPP government expects heads of schools to secure supplies for food, uniforms and house clothes for boarders under the current unacceptable circumstances caused by a government that has a long tradition of poor planning and weak policy implementation," he said.

The NDC’s foundation

Mr Iddrisu said the NPP’s free SHS would not have been possible but for the solid foundation laid by the NDC government in providing infrastructure, teaching and learning materials, equipment and general logistics.

He said at the time the NDC came to power in 2009, access to the secondary level was severely restricted, and indicated that the SHS gap compared to students in junior high school (JHS) three at the time was 40 per cent.

Mr Iddrisu said by commencing the construction of 124 community SHSs, the NDC government made history by providing the biggest access to secondary education ever witnessed in Ghana.

"It was also the biggest investment ever recorded on any one intervention in the sector, costing more than GH¢700 million, far higher than what the NPP is spending on its free SHS. These 124 community SHSs guarantee access for 148,800 students," he said.