The election motivated New Patriotic Party (NPP) Free Senior High School (FSHS) policy has come to stay despite the huge challenges that confront it. Withdrawal is impossible as it would amount to political suicide for the party. Going forward too is hard and the proposed “double track” intervention, if not re-worked, would spell disaster of massive proportions for education in Ghana.
The concept of free education is not new to Ghana. Right after independence, the visionary leadership of Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah, in search of rapid and transformational development for the entire nation, decided to implement the free education policy in the northern territories to bridge the development gap between the north and south of the country.
The Progressive People’s Party (PPP) in its ten-point agenda for transforming Ghana proposed the policy of Free Compulsory Continuous Education from Kindergarten to Senior High in 2012. The PPP subsequently went to court to compel the previous National Democratic Congress (NDC) administration to implement the basic school level aspect of the policy as prescribed by the 1992 constitution.
The court declined to order saying the provision was not justiciable. The party nevertheless continued to propagate free basic education as a right and equaliser that would provide the needed human capital for national development.
Cost of implementation:
The PPP envisioned that it would cost a great deal of money to implement and indicated how it was going to rely on savings from fighting corruption and wastage in government estimated to be about 3billion USD per annum. The PPP also indicated how it was going to run a lean but effective administration with just 40 ministers of state. It talked of reforming the public sector to make it effective and efficient not only in responding to private sector needs as a development partner, but applying good corporate governance principles in its own operations, where state owned enterprises would be taken off government subvention and begin to pay dividend to government for its investments in those SOEs.
When the NPP realised how the policy had resonated with the electorate, they latched onto it without thinking how they were going to fund and sustain it. When the BBC asked then presidential candidate Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo what the cost of the policy would be, he declined to answer insisting he had to mention it to the Ghanaian people first. Obviously, candidate Akufo-Addo had no idea how the policy would be funded. And that is why we are where we are today.
As the opening of the new academic year approached in September, it became clear that there would be close to 180,000 additional students to be enrolled on the FSHS policy, with no corresponding infrastructure, logistics and personnel to accommodate the increase. In response, the ministry of education, proposed four possible solutions to the problem namely;
- Appeal to development partners for support
- Partial securitisation of GETFund Receivables for infrastructure development
- Capping GETFund at 25% and
- Double-track school calendar
Of the four options, government settled on the double- track school calendar, as it appears to be the most cost effective way of resolving the problem now. But analysis after analysis, indicate that the double-track calendar intervention could lead to disaster in terms of the overall lack of quality in teaching and learning. But government is not prepared to listen.
As the FSHS has come to stay, we must find the money to develop the needed infrastructure and the logistics required to ensure the policy is implemented to its logical conclusion. As a crisis management measure, the double-track must be operated for at most one year with special arrangements made to fill whatever gaps might arise in the quality of education at the SSS level during the period as a result of the intervention.
The double track is not and cannot be a permanent solution to a temporary problem, if we are minded to solve it. If we care about the future of our children, then we must do everything possible to build the infrastructure, find the logistics and personnel to return the system back to the normalcy of a single-track system.
Government can choose to cut down cost by reducing the number of ministers of state from 110 to 40 and make some savings there. It can also decide to recover the amounts lost to corruption and wastage in the system to save at least 50 percent of the USD3billion lost to corruption annually. Last but not the least solution, is to take public sector reforms and good corporate governance seriously. Government must demand of the boards of state owned enterprises (SOEs) to get off subvention and insist they make profit and begin to rather pay dividends to government for their operations.
Public Private Partnership (PPP) remains a viable option. The private sector SHS managers, have indicated their preparedness to be part of the solution by making their programmes and facilities available at the same cost to government and as it relates to the public sector schools. Government must consider the private sector’s offer and make the most out of it. There is no point in experimenting the double-track system for seven long years when the entire problem can be resolved with 12 months at most.
By: William DOWOKPOR