Member of Parliament (MP) for Builsa South, Dr Clement Apaak has sent a strong signal to the government to deal with the many challenges of the Free Senior High School (Free SHS) policy.
Asking the Vice President, Dr Mahamadu Bawumia, to focus on addressing the numerous challenges facing the programme, Dr Apaak stated that the policy in itself was not bad but rather how it was implemented.
Many Ghanaians including some academics have raised concerns on the free SHS policy and drawn the attention of the government to the challenges which hinge on infrastructure.
In 2018, the Free SHS programme was able to enrol almost 400,000 students onto the ‘double track’ system, a number that exceeded the normal intake capacity of the schools.
Currently, the programme is running on a shift system known as ‘double-track’ school calendar system. The new programme creates a calendar of two semesters in a year for the SHS 1 class containing 81 days per each semester and 41 days of vacation for a sandwich class. Some students belonging to a particular track stay home for two months while the other track remains in school – typically different from the three terms the country has known for years.
The situation is expected to end in some years after the government is able to provide enough infrastructure and other teaching and learning materials for the schools that run on the double track system.
Government has said the double track is to absorb more students who hitherto would not have had access to senior high school education for lack of adequate logistics.
But Dr Apaak who expressed worry over the free SHS on Inside Politics on Radio XYZ disclosed that stakeholders had been fed up with how the policy was run across the country.
“I am a rural MP and I know what I’m saying,” the former University of Ghana lecturer noted. “Old folks in my constituencies are complaining. They say this thing [double track] is not helping at all. And these are the people who are uneducated. They say the double track has not helped at all.”
The academic mentioned that his constituents had been raising serious concerns on how the free SHS had negatively affected their children since the introduction of the double track system.
He asked, “What is the point when it is supposed to be free and the parents have to pay for extra classes for their kids when they are vacation?” and continued that parents had complained about the long vacation period for the double track pupils.
“Because the parents can’t pay for the classes [when the kids are home] they engage in all kind of bad things,” he added and mentioned that the teenagers have resorted to excessive betting and the abuse of tramadol.
His comment comes on the back of Dr Bawumia’s backlash on former president John Mahama over his recent remark on the policy.
The Vice President who was speaking at a rally in Kwahu in the Eastern Region last weekend heavily criticised Mr Mahama saying, “I hear somebody says that we are spending too much on free SHS… That we are spending too much on free SHS so we won’t have money to do other things… “I am from the North and I benefited from the free SHS and I think it is good for the people from the North and the entire country. There will be no room for hypocrisy on this matter… the NPP does not want to listen to the NDC who tell us free SHS is not good and saying other bad things with regards to the policies of the NPP’’.
But reacting to the remark, Dr Clement Apaak expressed surprise at the posture of the Vice President, stressing that former president John Mahama had “not said anywhere that he would collapse the free SHS.”
He said the assertions of Dr Bawumia were “against the realities of the ground” because the free SHS was indeed facing challenges which he claimed the President, Nana Akufo-Addo and Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta had attested to.
“I don’t know why he [Dr Bawumia] will come and attack the former president…when free SHS issues are mentioned they [NPP leaders] feel jittery…Mr Mahama only said he would review the policy. And reviewing policy isn’t bad,” The MP said and questioned, “Has this government not reviewed almost everything that happened under the previous government including contracts?”
Dr Apaak further urged Ghanaians not to believe the “propaganda of the NPP” clarifying that the opposition NDC is not against the free SHS but its deficiencies that is marring the policy.