Free SHS: A Gimmick Replaces Thinking Up Solutions

Tue, 4 Mar 2014 Source: Pobee-Mensah, Tony

It is very sad. For many years we have had leaders after leaders presenting themselves as messiah for the future fortunes of Ghana. Year after year, our country has for the most part stagnated. The worse of it is that this permeates just about all of Africa. It brings to mind a question that Sam Donaldson, a former ABC News (an American TV network) reporter asked, “Is Africa capable of self governance”. That question angered me so much because to me the answer was a resounding YES and it angered me that such a truculent man would ask. Year after year of failure sometimes shakes one’s confidence and Mahama’s free SHS shakes my confidence even more.

When Mr. Akufo Addo first suggested the free SHS, a BBC reporter asked him where the money to pay for it was going to come from. To this day, Mr. Akofo Addo has not answered that question. If it was a well thought through idea, he would have figured out how to pay for it and thus have an answer to the question rather than leave his critics still wondering to this day. Mr. Mahama has masterfully taken that free SHS issue from Mr. Akufo Addo and the NPP whether it is a good idea or not. Somehow he has found the money to pay for it while he advocates taking money from teacher trainees. I guess that’s where the money is coming from; at least part of it, it seems.

At the time Mr. Akufo Addo was going around preaching free SHS, I wrote an opinion article suggesting that the best policy should be to identify those who have the need and assist them rather than pay everyone’s fees including rich people. I know of a man who sent money from Ghana to the US to buy a 2011 Mercedes Benz GL450 and then sent money to buy a windshield for it. He later sent money to buy four new tires at $450 a pop. He also paid for these items to be sent to Ghana. I am sure there are many like him in Ghana. If such people chose to send their children to public schools, the Ghanaian tax payers will pay their fees. Why?

Beside the above, it is not a wise move to pay for people’s education only for them to leave school and have no jobs. I personally know two people who have graduated from our universities and don’t have jobs to go to; one from Legon and the other from KNUST. Won’t it be more productive to invest such money in job programs? Did the President think and evaluated the pros and cons of this move or was he just motivated by the taking of the issue off the table? Did he give thought to job programs? Is this what Ghana is reduced to?

If we won’t spend the money in job programs, can we invest it in improving the quality of our education? Can we spend some of the money to make sure that more people qualify to go to the university rather than giving them free SHS while we dismiss others as maybe urchins who are “beyond help”? Remedial programs which we don’t have can help and it cost money. And yes, giving stipend to teacher trainees is part of improving the quality of education in Ghana.

If the President can actually say that he made a careful analysis of this move and decided that it is better than a jobs program, then I am ashamed of him. I continue to look for a leadership move that I can applaud. So far it has been lacking. Despite the shame, I will continue to pray for leaders who can think of sound policies and talk about them and defend them. Where did you go Dr. Kwame Nkrumah?

Tony Pobee-Mensah

Columnist: Pobee-Mensah, Tony