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A great piece of art and a great deal of free SHS frenzy

Freeshscartoon Artwork by Tilapia

Mon, 18 Sep 2017 Source: Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa

Whoever the artist who styles himself as Tilapia is, it is obvious he's got talent and is most certainly making quite an impact.

Like many Ghanaians, I found his latest cartoon on Free SHS particularly fascinating and even more I am intrigued by the quintessential Ghanaian sense of humor and wit that accompanies it's further circulation. And by the way, as for the pikin inno fine koraaaa...lol!

Kudos Tilapia.

Now the Free SHS frenzy continues. NPP members appear to gloat and bask in the euphoria of Free SHS even though this is not exactly what they promised Ghanaians but we can understand - the Constitutional article 25 terminology; "Progressive" has become like the forbidden apple in the Garden of Eden.

Obviously, condemning the NDC's Progressively Free SHS only to implement another type of Progressively Free SHS inconsistent with NPP's page 107 manifesto promise must be causing our Kukrudu friends sleepless nights.

Nevertheless, we can safely predict that more giant bill boards will be erected and President Akufo-Addo will continue to be ranked above Nkrumah, Rawlings, Kufuor, Mills, Mahama, Castro, Lincoln and Lee Kuan Yew by the ever vociferous NPP traditional and social media communicators who believe they have struck gold. I guess we should all prepare our ears and eyes for an escalated onslaught in the coming days.

Integral to that strategy, here in New York, I expect Free SHS to dominate President Akufo-Addo's interactions at the UN side meetings. I do not need the prophetic calling to prophesy accurately that Free SHS will most likely take centre stage when he addresses the United Nations General Assembly shortly. Well, if he so chooses, one cannot fault him.

However, last week's launch of Free SHS by President Nana Akufo-Addo conveys a rather significant message that appears missing in the narrative so far. Let's consider the following:

1) Instructively, President Akufo-Addo launched his Free SHS Programme at the West African Secondary School (WASS). WASS was established in 1946 at Tudu and later relocated to its more befitting and better resourced current location of Adentan in 1986 during the era of President Rawlings.

2) President Akufo-Addo was welcomed by a high number of WASS students because of expansion projects and other interventions carried out by the Governments of President Rawlings, President Kufuor, President Mills and President Mahama over the years.

3) Many of the about 424,000 first year students expected to benefit from Free SHS would not have reached this point but for the help they received along the way in addition to what parents/guardians offered. President Rawlings' FCUBE agenda, President Kufuor's Capitation Grant and School Feeding Programme, President Mills' programme to eliminate thousands of Schools Under Trees (SUTs) and his Free Uniforms programme, President Mahama's expansion of the SUTs programme and his introduction of Free Computers and Free Sandals initiatives.

In addition, President Mahama's expansion of the SUTs programme and his introduction of Free Computers and Free Sandals initiatives. In addition, President Mahama's investment in quality led to BECE candidates smashing all the records that ever existed when over 3,900 candidates obtained a score above 500 in six best subjects. Before this, only 11 candidates had achieved this feat. (Pls refer to WAEC records). All these must have helped our precious young ones come this far.

4) It is possible only this year much to the displeasure of the Conference of Heads of Private Schools (CHOPS) for the CSSPS to place all qualified students (92%) in public secondary schools so they can benefit under Free SHS simply because of President Mahama's programme to expand access. The 124 Community Day Schools estimated at a cost of 700 million Ghana Cedis remains the biggest and boldest effort to address the challenge of inadequate access at this level. As the EMIS data reveals, it would not have been possible 8 years ago to place all qualified applicants in public secondary schools as there was not enough space at the SHS level for transiting JHS students.

Armed with this knowledge, it is the reason the NPP wisely dropped it's promise to build 350 Senior High Schools as was contained in its 2012 manifesto. This promise was removed in its 2016 manifesto obviously because of President Mahama's achievement in this department. Already, the current Education Minister has confirmed that it placed students in 50 of these Community Day Schools. With an average placement of 600 students per school, some 30,000 students have secured what they deserve.

5) The Secondary Education Improvement Programme (SEIP) rolled out by President Mahama in 2014 selected 125 low performing Senior High Schools for what was termed "Quality Improvement and Facilities Upgrade." This programme expanded access in these 125 Senior High Schools by 20,000.

6) Additionally, through the NDC Government's prioritization, hundreds of other existing Senior High Schools witnessed infrastructural expansion funded by the GETFund to make it possible for public Senior High Schools to meet demand for the first time in many decades. An analysis of EMIS data reveals that the previous NDC Government cumulatively expanded access by 393,866 in 8 years.

7) That SHS enrollment almost doubled under the NDC Government from 393,995 in the 2007/08 academic year to 787,861 in the 2015/16 academic year confirms this fact and is great testimony of the solid foundations laid.

8) The Free SHS era would have to rely on the 110 Science Resource Centres President Rawlings initiated, the 300 Science Resource Centres President Mills and Mahama built under the ITEC programme, the 500 buses and pick ups President Mahama provided last year and those President Kufuor provided in 2008. The ibox and iCampus innovation President Mahama launched last year and the millions of text books and dictionaries inherited by this Government just to highlight a few.

9) Before the current Free SHS Programme for First Years, the previous NDC Government implemented a targeted Free SHS for the most vulnerable 10,400 students and in addition implemented Progressively Free SHS under which 458,700 students benefited. Indeed but for the NDC's Progressively Free Programme, the current Second and Third years would have been paying higher fees this academic year as the current Government has continued with the package for which I must commend them.

So the missing narrative, which happens to be the incontrovertible fact is that the story of Free SHS must be the story of our collective efforts right from the foundations provided by successive Governments to the vision of the framers of our 1992 Constitution of Ghana. As our talented cartoonist Tilapia depicts in his work - President Akufo-Addo appears to give birth to a Free SHS baby - we all know that God in his infinite wisdom did not conceive baby making a one man affair.

The story of secondary education in Ghana reminds me of Paul the Apostle's exhortation to the Corinthians when he told them "I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase". May we learn to acknowledge those who planted and watered and may God increase our collective efforts and good intentions.

As for the analysts, connoisseurs and prophets who make the claim that Free SHS marks the end of the electoral viability of the NDC and other political opponents of the NPP, they should remember that many thought same when the NDC Government implemented the Single Spine Pay Policy. Others became even more convinced when the NDC Government rolled out rather impressive infrastructural interventions in the health, roads, aviation, ports, communications, energy, water, housing and educational sectors but in all these, here we are; in a comfortable lead.

The Ghanaian voter is clearly more sophisticated than we seem to give them credit for.

All I say to the doomsday soothsayers - Let's see how the future pans out for it is early days yet.

God bless our Republic.

Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa (MP)

Columnist: Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa
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