- Even though touted by many as useful, a number of concerns have been raised against the Free SHS especially what has become known as double track. Under the double track system, ...
Written By Justice Mingle - The Institute of Economic Affairs, IEA, seems to have stirred the hornets’ nest with its call on government to re-examine the Free SHS policy to determine how to reduce government’s expenditure.
According to the Institute, government could use means testing scheme to get financially capable parents to pay for their wards instead of covering the fees to their wards in the Senior High School. The Economic Think Tank believes government should agree on a cost sharing arrangement with parents whereby government pays for say academic fees and charges, books and boarding while parents pay for feeding and uniforms. This suggestion in fact is not new as it has been said several times by a number of people including the Finance Minister, Ken Ofori Atta and Kwame Addo Kufuor.
Free SHS is a major campaign promise of the NPP and a flagship programme aimed at ensuring Senior High School education for all eligible students. Under the policy, government would remove cost barriers, expand infrastructure, improve quality and equity and develop employable skills. Since its inception, thousands of Ghanaian children have gained access to school, children from deprived communities who hither to could never dream of enrolling into the so-called known prestigious schools mostly located in the southern sector of the country.
Even though touted by many as useful, a number of concerns have been raised against the Free SHS especially what has become known as double track. Under the double track system, Senior High Schools run sessions known as the Green and Yellow tracks to enable them to accommodate more students within the same facility. This has brought in its wake a number of teething problems relating to infrastructure and other logistics which government says it is working to address. Some critics say government did not think through the Free SHS policy before implementing it adding that the rippling effect will not happen today but in about five years. When the children have completed tertiary education. This is because the children do not get the requisite contact hours with their teachers. The IEA for instance believes it is costly for government to offer a whole range of free things under the policy including the fees, other academic charges, books, accommodation and uniforms adding that the mounting free SHS cost will put immense burden on the budget to the detriment of capital projects.
A number of people have also lashed at government for using oil money to fund the free SHS. According to government, there was no better way to ensure the entire country benefitted from the oil than to use some of its proceeds to invest in the education of its children who would lead the country in the near future. Whatever it is, there is the need for more consultations on the free SHS policy to enable the right thing to be done.
Whether we like it or not, Free Education at the Senior High Level has come to stay. In a recent statement, the World Bank Vice President Dr. Hafez Ghanem lauded the policy and pledged the banks support toward its smooth implementation to ensure quality education for all children of school-going age. He challenged other African countries to emulate the success story of Ghana saying quality education was the most important thing and not just access to education. It is important for government to rally round all stakeholders to fine tune the Free SHS policy.
The question is for how long would government endure budget deficits and lack of infrastructural development just because monies have been spent on catering for children whose parents could conveniently fund their education. Reviewing the Free SHS to include cost sharing is not defeatist and must be considered. It is said things done by half are never done right so government must hasten slowly by ensuring the requisite resources are in place before going full flight. The situation where some schools lack the requisite accommodation forcing students especially girls to rent places outside the school is proving risky and expensive. It is time government smoothen all the rough edges of the free SHS policy to enable the full benefits to emerge.
All things being equal, the IEA’s suggestion must be given a thought for the betterment of the country’s education system.
BY JUSTICE MINGLE.