The widely reported problems with the Akufo-Addo government’s Free Secondary education policy boil down to a lack of preparation and consultation, former President John Mahama has said.
Speaking at Tarkwa in the Western Region during the National Democratic Congress’ Unity Walk, Mr. Mahama urged the government to start a national dialogue and set up a stakeholder conference on the Free SHS policy to save the programme.
“…for this to be the just the first year, and we are seeing such problems, then it means these problems are going to be multiplied by three,” the former President warned.
The Akufo-Addo government wasted no time in implementing the Free SHS programme after winning power in the 2016 elections. The policy was a promise the party had trumpeted as far back as 2008.
It took only seven months for Free SHS education to begin, with the first years, numbering about 400,000 starting school in the 2017/18 academic year. The policy has seen the government absorb the full cost of public secondary education, with beneficiaries not having to pay admission fees, examination fees, and utility fees, among others.
The opposition NDC has already chided the Free SHS policy, saying it is unsustainable, following unflattering images and reports of secondary school students sitting on floors and blocks for studies, seemingly fueling the NDC’s claims.
In the NPP’s time in opposition, the Mahama administration in 2014, started what it called the progressive introduction of free secondary education after consultations with stakeholders, and this brand of free education was to start primarily with only day students.
Implementation must be progressive
Mr. Mahama, during his address, noted that Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education took 15 years to implement, and he observed that implementing Free SHS in less than a year was not pragmatic.
He also noted other national interventions like National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), which took years to implement.
The NHIS was touted by former President John Kufuor, in his bid for power ahead of the 2000 elections, and fully implemented in 2003.
“For the National Health Insurance Scheme, we underwent a long period of consultations before Kufuor established National Health Insurance. So when you are bringing something like Free SHS what do you do? You do broad consultations,” Mr. Mahama said.
“They needed to do some broad consultations [on the Free SHS]. They need a stakeholder’s conference where they bring people with experience within the education sector for input so all Ghanaians can decide on the way to implement the free SHS.”
He stressed that the constitution said secondary education should be implemented “progressively… bit by bit. But the government has come and has said it wants to implement Free SHS within three years. This is what we have now.”
Free SHS committee
A national committee was set up to oversee the implementation of the Free SHS, but the extent of its consultation has been questioned with the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT) notably saying it was not effectively part this committee.
GNAT is noted as having the largest teacher population in basic and second cycle schools.
The only teacher union that had a representative on the committee was the National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT).
Mahama ‘abandoned’ progressively free SHS beneficiaries – NAPO
Despite promises by the Mahama administration to champion what he called a progressively free Senior High School initiative, no student received a scholarship for the 2016/2017 academic year, according to the Minister for Education, Matthew Opoku Prempeh.
The Minister said the government at the time did not fulfill its promise to award scholarships to some 100,000 students in boarding schools who were to benefit from the progressively free senior high school initiative.
“Till President Mahama left, not a single student had been given that scholarship. I am speaking on authority. Not one student,” he stated to the media after making a similar assertion on the floor of Parliament on Tuesday.
“The records are there, and the facts are speaking for themselves. Not a single student in a secondary school had been awarded scholarship… We met the headmasters and we met the scholarship secretariat and the question was have you sent anybody to receive a scholarship; the answer was no,” Dr. Opoku Prempeh stated.