- Amidst these reduced costs, the policy has been critiqued for lowering the standard of education and reducing academic quality at the secondary school levels.
Written By Fred Awaah - Article 25 of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana states that quote ”Secondary education in its different forms including technical and vocational education, shall be made generally available and accessible to all by every appropriate means, and in particular, by the progressive introduction of free education. ‘Unquote.
This constitutional provision has witnessed efforts by successive governments to progressively fulfill the mandate. These efforts seem to be triggered further by Goal 4, Target one of the Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs which states that; by 2030, all boys and girls should complete free equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes”.
Based on the above and anchored on Removal of cost barriers, Expansion of infrastructure, Improvement in Quality and Equity, and Development of Employable Skills, Ghana’s current policy of free SHS was introduced in 2017. This policy as stated by government means that the provision of free tuition, admission fee, textbooks, library fees, science center fees, fees for ICT, examination fee, payment of utility fee, boarding and meals. True to the above, the government has since the inception of the policy tried to live by the promise made to Ghanaians.
The policy has seen high enrollments at the SHS level with many parents seeing a physical reduction in the burdens of funding the education of their wards. Amidst these reduced costs, the policy has been critiqued for lowering the standard of education and reducing academic quality at the secondary school levels. One key factor that has undermined the policy is inadequate classroom space to accommodate students. This has led to structures originally not suitable for classroom studies, converted for such purposes.
Considering that classrooms are built for studies, other environs that are created for different purposes when used for studies may not achieve the expected objectives. This has led to students’ inability to study within the required environments that guarantee successful teaching and learning. While this glaring deficit in infrastructure abounds, there are other evidences suggesting that the previous government had built classroom blocks for the same purposes which have been left unused even in the midst of the current classroom deficits. This situation is compelling school authorities to accommodate students in structures not meant for classroom work. The inadequate classroom infrastructure negatively undermines teaching and learning especially in the case of the free SHS.
Hitherto, feeding in the Ghanaian boarding house system was the responsibility of parents. Within the ambit of the new policy, government has absorbed the cost element, making its educational budget bulgier. This has witnessed some levels of struggle by the government on feeding students in the boarding houses; with the pressure trickling down to the management of these Senior High Schools. The case of management of Sefwi Wiawso Senior High School as reported by the Public Interest and Accountability Committee, PIAC, as part of its 2019 District Engagement and Project Inspection is worth noting – quote, the delay in the release of funds and untimely supply of food items is forcing the school to buy some food items on credit, unquote.
Decent accommodation has also been a bane on the quality of education within the Ghanaian free SHS system in recent times. With the increased enrollments as a result of the free SHS, many students have been compelled to share spaces that are meant for a few. This crowding of students has witnessed several consequences including disease and rape, affecting performance of students. Also, the quality of education in any environment is largely related to the caliber of Teachers within that educational system.
With the enrollment of large numbers as a result of the free SHS, many schools especially in the rural areas either lack or have inadequate teachers in a number of courses leading to compromise in the quality of education. A study conducted by the Ghana National Education Campaign Coalition in 60 schools, showed that some classrooms were packed with as many as 160 students, with inadequate teaching staff to handle the numbers. This is rather unfortunate. Education is such a delicate commodity and its policies must be carefully thought through before implementation.
Arguably, the policy in itself is a fine idea but the necessary resources and mode of implementation seem problematic. It is the opinion of many watchers of the educational space that implementation in phases would have given government enough space to carry out the policy in an orderly and stress-free manner. A continuation of the policy would be hinged on resource, thus the government should consider complementary funding sources for the policy or revert to tasking parents to honor their fee responsibilities for Ghana to execute decent, respectable and globally acceptable senior high school education for Ghanaians.
The script was by Fred Awaah, a lecturer at UPSA