Opinions Fri, 7 Dec 2012

Free SHS: A Policy for women, our development, and our nation

*O*n October 9th 2012, in the small Pakistani valley town of Swats a young

Pakistani girl by the name of Malala Yousfzai, was shot in the head at

close range by members of the local Islamic extremist group known as the

Taliban for simply advocating a woman’s right to education. In Afghanistan,

amidst threats of violence and cultural pressure, Razia Jan remained

focused on a quest to bring education to women in rural areas, with a

bustling all girls school that educates over 300 students every year. These

women understood the true meaning and purpose of knowledge, and have shown

to the world that despite societal constructs, cultural limitations and

even faulted infrastructures cannot deter them from their goals to bring

education to the less privileged.

* *

*W*omen in developing nations have (over the years) been mistakenly

classified as incompetent, unskilled and intellectually inferior in

comparison to their male counter parts. Aside from being relegated to

domestic responsibilities (cooking, cleaning, mothering) the education of

women has been viewed by some parents as a risky financial investment,

deliberately sidelining the ability of women to acquire an education.

Cultural impediments coupled with the government’s failure to put in place

a national structure to support women’s education has further restricted

women from acquiring the abilities, knowledge, and skills necessary to

finding jobs in the formal sector.

* *

*A* 2006 study conducted by the Ministry of Planning, Economy and

Empowerment of Tanzania pointed out a strong correlation between population

growth and the level of education acquired by women. The population of

Tanzania has grown from 6 million people in 1961 to 45 million in 2011

(Carrington, 2011). Of all the factors contributing to this population

explosion, the Tanzanian government cites education among women as one of

leading causes. “A third of Tanzanians over 10 years old without any

education have an average of 6.9 babies. Women with a primary school

education have 5.6 babies, and those with secondary and higher education,

just 3.2 babies.” The problem of young girls dropping out of school is not

peculiar to Tanzania alone. Currently Ghana’s population is growing at a

rate of 1.8% per year, which is not very far from the growth rate of 2.8%

seen in Tanzania.

* *

*I*n Ghana, many young women (particularly those in rural areas) drop out

of school because of financial constraints. In a study conducted by Kwaku

Twumasi-Ankrah in Odumasi, Ashanti, Ankrah states that “in other

predominantly rural communities, family financial exigencies and social

custom[s] induce girls to stay out of school and enter into early sexual

relationships, most of which are exploitative (Twumasi-Ankrah, 1999).” Most

of these young women are cajoled by older men who promise them financial

support but yet most of these girls will never find their way back to

school. Instead they are relegated to the informal sector, and further

burden the government’s welfare system. Dr. Kwegyir Aggrey summed it up

well when he said, “The surest way to keep people down is to educate the

men and neglect the women. If you educate a man you simply educate an

individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a family.”

* *

*L*ike Tanzania, Ghana cannot afford to have women fall into the informal

sector. Ghana must engage women in the developmental process as a means to

not only curtail high growth rate, but more importantly, no girl should be

left uneducated because of financial constraints. The benefits of doing so

do not only make sense within theories of population control or education

but also economically. An empirical study done on poverty alleviation

confirmed that improving a person’s education by one level could increase

his income by as much as 30% (Aikaeli, 2010).

*T*o ensure efficient use of the potential of our human resources, we must

wholeheartedly believe that, we cannot transform Ghana’s economy without a

competent and skillful workforce that includes the human capital that women

can provide. I believe Nana Addo’s free SHS policy will serve as the

gateway for more women in Ghana to gain access to education and learn new

skills, necessary to the development of said capital.

* *

*I*t is understandable how circumstances surrounding the free Senior High

School (SHS) policy may seem blurry from afar; but one significant

potential of the free SHS policy that remains unacknowledged is how the

free SHS policy could benefit women and in consequence impact the economy.

A careful critique of the proposed SHS policy shows the intellectual

prowess of Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo. If for nothing, Nana Addo’s

ingenuity in turning the focus of our nation from politics of pettiness to

that of a substantive value must be commended. The topic of education has

gained roots in Ghana’s political terrain, and Nana Addo’s policy now has

Ghanaians asking questions as to how the free SHS policy will be funded.

Unlike the NDC however, Nana Addo and the NPP have provided a comprehensive

4 year financial plan for the SHS policy.

* *

*N*PP’s free SHS policy will make sure that at least every child can read

and write. Those who do poorly in grammar schools will be identified at an

early age, and then placed in a vocational or technical school where they

can access the needed skills to run their own business. In the NPP we

believe that every child should have access to quality education. Not only

that, but women’s education should be encouraged, not only for the purpose

of economic prowess, but to safeguard our young and ever growing democracy.

“*T*here is an old saying that the course of civilization is a race between

catastrophe and education. In a democracy such as ours, we must make sure

that education wins the race.” (John F. Kennedy) We cannot afford to deny

our people of education, because a nation that refuses to place value on

its people will eventually fall. We must all come together as a nation,

find solutions, and ensure that free quality education is provided for all.

Kofi Tonto

Columnist: Tonto, Kofi