General News of Thu, 18 May 201718

Government's pass BECE and qualify for free SHS mantra is counter-productive - IFEST

The Executive Director of the Institute for Education Studies (IFEST) formerly VIAM Africa has said government's 'pass-BECE-and-qualify-for-free-SHS' mantra could be counter-productive.

Dr Prince Armah says while the government remains committed to helping vulnerable groups and making Senior High School education accessible to all, it will be shooting itself in the foot if it goes ahead with the pass/fail grade description in executing the free SHS policy.

The policy is set to take effect in September 2017 in fulfilment of a long held campaign promise by the New Patriotic Party.

However with barely four months to go for the implementation, Dr Armah is worried about the seeming lack of information and engagement with stakeholders on how the policy will be executed.



Anyone who has carefully listened to H.E. President Akufo-Addo throughout the 2016 campaign and after assuming office will understand that the free Senior High School (SHS) programme is intended for all Ghanaian children regardless of their academic abilities, and family backgrounds.

Consistent with this view, government intends to seek constitutional amendment to redefine basic education to include secondary education so that every child of school going age would have access to education from KG to SHS. As a prelude to this monumental structural change, Government has demonstrated its commitment to begin implementing the free SHS policy in September, 2017. Whilst the policy intention appears laudable, I have consistently advised the Government, through any medium possible in Ghana and abroad to hasten slowly and give itself at least 1-4 years period, comprising 1-year inception phase and 2-3 implementation phase.

The Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Coast together with several other notable education professionals have made similar observation. My advice was borne out of my professional knowledge and understanding of previous education reform agendas from 1957 till date; why they failed to meet reform targets and my genuine concern for addressing widespread disparities in education access across the country, especially among vulnerable group.


On Tuesday 16 May, an online news portal quoted the Minister for Education as saying “only brilliant students will have the opportunity to enjoy the government’s Free SHS policy in September”. Of course the Hon Minister has denied ever using the adjective "brilliant" in the interview he granted compelling to retract, and accordingly replaced “brilliant” with “students who pass the BECE”.

This will be the third time the Minister has had to deny a news report, or complained of being misquoted by the media, a situation he needs to appropriately address. Nevertheless, I am still clear in my mind what exactly the Hon Minister meant with reference to the quotations attributed to him in the story. Save the use of the adjective “brilliant” the underlying contentions of the news report has not been denied.

Mr Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng who is the Executive Secretary to the Minister in attempting to clarify the matter on Facebook confirmed my understanding of the Minister’s thinking. As he aptly puts it: “Sit the BECE, pass, get placed in a public SHS and you benefit from Free SHS”. For the purpose of those who have not read my previous publications on this BECE system, I will attempt to explain briefly and make a strong case that any implementation of free SHS on the basis of BECE “grades” is elitist, selective and undermines the President's vision of universal basic education from primary to SHS.

The purpose of BECE


From Grades (pass/fail) to Raw Scores

Following years of criticism against pass/fail system of selecting JHS graduates into SHS, the Ghana Education Service has now ignored the use of grades in the SHS selection, in favour of students’ raw scores where the cut-off point appear to be dependent on the number of factors including the number of declared vacancies in the SHS/TVIs.

This has resulted in an expanded access to secondary education in recent times. In the 2016/2017 academic year, for instance, GES is reported to have placed 95% (437, 962 out of 461,013) of the BECE candidates in the 512, 114 declared vacancies at SHS/TVIs across the country. This means that students were placed in secondary schools (SHS/TVIs) regardless of whether they obtained the “qualifying grades” or not, given that it is theoretically impossible to obtain 95% “pass” under the BECE’s stanine system as explained earlier.

Wide disparities in the “Pass/Fail” grade description


Way forward

Clearly, Government’s vision for free SHS aligns with helping vulnerable groups by removing financial barriers and improving access to SHS together with addressing inequalities in opportunities to transition from JHS to SHS. Achieving this developmental goal lies at looking critically at the data sitting at the Ministry of Education to identify which categories of people are gaining less access to secondary education. If Government proceed with the “pass BECE and qualify for free SHS” cliché in September, 2017, the programme will remain selective and will benefit students who attended relatively good private JHS, more than the large majority of young people in the rural areas, especially girls from disadvantaged backgrounds who attended public JHS, and could not meet the high stake cut-off point.

In allocating financial support to our secondary schools in September, Government must acknowledge the inequalities in funding options for schools particularly contributions of the Old Student Associations and PTAs, and how that widens the quality inputs gaps in schools (e.g. teaching and learning resources, pupil- teacher ratio and infrastructure deficit) and achievement gaps, as we work towards equal quality education for all by 2030.

Dr. Prince Armah is an Education Consultant, Researcher and Qualified Teacher (QTS and GTCS) of mathematics and mathematics teacher education, with professional experience in UK and Ghana contexts, spanning a period of 15 years. He is the Founder and Executive Director of The Institute for Education Studies (IFEST) think tank, Accra-Ghana.

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