Pressure mounts on gov’t to review free SHS

Story: Yaw Takyi

There is an increasing pressure on the government of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo to, as a matter of urgency review the free Senior High School (SHS) policy. 

The latest to  add his voice to the countless calls by  the stakeholders to have  the policy reviewed  is the former  Rector of the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA), Prof Stephen Adei.

According to him, although the policy had  served the nation and enabled underprivileged individuals to access second-cycle education, it was  time for the policy to be reviewed so it could  bring out the best in individuals.

Speaking on Joy News which was monitored by Today, Professor Adei  who served as the board chairman of Ghana Revenue Authority(GRA) in the current administration mentioned that President Akufo-Addo should not delay this review until another political party assumes power but should initiate it promptly.

“In any case, one of the studies that has been done shows that even for free SHS, for every one cedi the government spends on a student in the secondary schools, the parents spend about three cedis.

“So, these are the realities we must look at. The government has done its best. I think we should not reverse it, but how can we improve it?” he said.

Professor Adei proposed that the government must focus on establishing quality day schools instead of boarding schools.

He suggested that while boarding schools should not be entirely eliminated, parents should bear the cost of boarding while the government provides scholarships to underprivileged students.

“So that it is not only the rich that goes to boarding, there are ways we can treat the free SHS now that he has opened the way,”he said.

The Free SHS policy, which is the flagship programme of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) administration under President Akufo-Addo, has remained a major talking point since its inception in September 2017.

While many have welcomed the policy for removing the financial impediment that made it impossible for children from poor homes to attain secondary education, others believe it has not been properly implemented.

There have been challenges with inadequate infrastructure in many senior schools, leading to the double-track system. Parents have expressed concern about the inadequate food given to their wards, as well as the struggles school heads face in running the schools due to the government’s ban on some additional charges as a result of the policy.

For the critics of the policy, the belief is that the programme has reduced the quality of education at the SHS level, a claim the governing party has downplayed on the basis that the SHS candidates churned out since the policy came into being, have emerged with better pass rate.

The NDC’s 2024 flagbearer and former President John Mahama has repeatedly stated that his party will review the policy to ensure that quality education is not affected at that level.

But the NPP and President Akufo-Addo have interpreted that to mean policy cancellation should the NDC return to power. Following the president’s call for an improved Free SHS during his last State of the Nation address, many have pointed out that the President is now making a U-turn to agree with the NDC’s call for a review.

“Mr Speaker, I believe the success of the Free SHS has answered its critics and the arguments about it should cease, and we should simply concentrate on finding ways to improve it,” the President stated.

But speaking to the media  after the president’s address, the NPP’s Director of Communication, Richard Ahiagba, said Mr Mahama’s call for a review and the president’s call for policy improvement was not the same.

“On the Free SHS, I think we need to also make the point that the NDC has never in principle been for the Free SHS. They have in principle been in support of the progressive; which is different from Free SHS, so that point must be made.

“And also the point must be made that there is a difference between the review the NDC promises and the improvement the President is talking about. They are not the same. Their review will aim at cancelling Free SHS in the form we have it,” Mr Ahiagbah argued.

Improvement will not do that. Improvement is to enhance and continue to invest in the Free SHS to ensure that it actually addresses the cost barrier which is its primary objective, and to ensure that access is given to people like myself and people who come from my background to be able to access education. That’s the value of the improvement the President is talking about” he explained.

When he was asked about the improvement plan, Mr Ahiagbah further explained “the plan fundamentally will be to intensify investment and ensure that we build a considerable amount of infrastructure by continuing to invest in that, invest in teacher training, and now we see there’s expansion with TVET [Technical and vocational education and training] which is also being included in the Free SHS component to ensure that we are expanding opportunities to our young people to access education.”

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