Free senior high school: Essential but not sustainable!

Students Free Shs Senior high school will soon be free in Ghana

Mon, 20 Feb 2017 Source: Osei, Nana Yaw

Lofty rhetoric of a kind like the free Senior High School (SHS); although essential in my opinion, risks setting unemployment situation in Ghana so high than my ability will allow me to articulate. Education is an indoctrination to be aware of indoctrination. We have been brainwashed in the British grammar-oriented system of education and we are now aware of the imperative need to deconstruct the myth surrounding such an educational system, and concentrate on technical and vocational or career focus education.

Come to think of it, is it not economically preposterous for a manufacturing company to keep on producing in large quantities, goods that have no or less demand on the market? There is the need to de-escalate the high graduate unemployment level in Ghana.

There is also an urgent need to include those who did not receive formal education on the national employment planning programs. Free SHS is not a suitable solution to the challenges facing Ghanaian youth now.

If the current educational curriculum cannot produce graduates with employable skills, why then must students continue to live within this kind of miseducation? To borrow from General Ignatius Kutu Acheampong, operation free career/technical education and operation employ your graduates/youth now must be pursued to the letter.

Youth unemployment is a global challenge and the 2016 employment report of International Labor Organization (ILO) states that “The global youth unemployment rate is expected to reach 13.1 per cent in 2016, an increase of 0.2 percentage points in comparison to 2015 values (and the number of unemployed youth is projected to rise by half a million to 71 million). The upturn in the youth unemployment rate represents a return to a level close to the 20-year peak of 13.2 per cent, which was observed in 2013.

However, a closer look at the global picture reveals considerable heterogeneity in youth unemployment trends across regions, in terms of both rates and levels. In particular, much of the increase in the 2016 global figures appears to be due to growing youth unemployment in Latin America and the Caribbean, Central and Western Asia and South-Eastern Asia and the Pacific.

In most of the other regions, youth unemployment rates have remained relatively stable, with some evidence of a decline in rates in Europe and Northern America” (http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---dcomm/---publ/documents/publication/wcms_513739.pdf ).

The ILO report went further to reveal that “The youth unemployment rate in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to continue on its downward trajectory, which began in 2012, reaching 10.9 per cent in 2016 and decreasing slightly to 10.8 in the following year. However, the unemployment outlook for youth in major countries of the region remains quite mixed. In South Africa, more than half of all active youth are expected to remain unemployed in 2016, representing the highest youth unemployment rate in the region.”

Notwithstanding the downward trend of youth unemployment in the sub-Saharan Africa, the foregoing source went on to assert that “The region continues to report the highest youth working poverty rates globally, at almost 70 per cent in 2016. Although this rate has declined by some 10 percentage points since 1991, it is important to bear in mind that the number of poor working youth has increased by as much as 80 per cent since that date.

This is coupled with the fact that young workers in the region have one of the highest probabilities of living in poverty in comparison to adults.”

Coming home to Ghana, the World Bank reported in 2016 that about 48% of the youth between 15-24 years do not have jobs. “In Ghana, youth are less likely than adults to be working: In 2012, about 52% of the people aged between 15-24 were employed (compared to about 90% for the 25-64 population), a third were in school, 14% were inactive and 4% were unemployed actively looking for job…Ghana has been able to increase access to education, now the issue is how to go to the next dimension and ensure that, there is quality education. Because the skills you have at the end of secondary education, is not maybe such a big problem, If you don’t have labor market relevant skill then you need to be able to acquire it” (Source: citifmonline.com, Thursday, May 12, 2016 ). Curious readers can check the following link http://citifmonline.com/2016/05/12/48-ghanaian-youth-jobless-world-bank/

Good things are not cheap and cheap things are not good. Needless to say, not every child in Ghana needs free SHS. Parents who can afford to pay for their kids must be encouraged to do so. High School Education must be free for the needy. The government can focus on free technical and vocational education rather to lure more students into that sector.

The resources for free SHS for all could be used to focus on technical and vocational education as well as job creation. Only God knows the type employments 90% of the adults between the ages of 25-60 have. We must put politics aside and think of Ghana as a unitary state with a common developmental agendum. Inasmuch as free SHS is essential, the current graduate unemployment escalation, calls for urgent need to arrest it. We need free factories now!

Free SHS is not a panacea to quality education and literacy development. The Northern, Upper East, and Upper West Regions of Ghana have Free SHS to a very large extent. One would expect the literacy rate in the aforementioned regions to be higher than the remaining regions without free SHS. However, contrary is the case, per 2010 literacy census data of the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS). According to the above data “A large proportion (67.1%) of the population can read and write in English.

About one-fifth (20.1%) can read and write in the English language only while 53.7 percent of the population can read and write in at least one Ghanaian language. In terms of sex, males (80.2%) are more likely to be literate than females (68.5%). Regional variations exist in literacy levels, with the three northern regions having less than 50 percent of the population aged 11 years and older as literate while the other regions have at least 69 percent of their population being literate.”

This is an evidence-based report indicating that the most trumpeted free SHS has a little or no correlation to literacy development in Ghana. Discerning readers can check this link http://www.statsghana.gov.gh/docfiles/publications/POVERTY%20MAP%20FOR%20GHANA-05102015.pdf

Without further ado, let me remind ourselves of how governments had struggled to release funds for the running of free SHS in the Northern Region and the two Upper Regions. “Second cycle institutions in the Northern Region of Ghana are to be closed down because feeding grants have not been released to the schools.

The scholarship secretariat is yet to release the feeding grants for the second and third terms even though the academic year will end next month. The situation has compelled heads of the various schools to purchase food on credit. The food contractors have however refused to supply them with more food on credit due to the inability of the schools to settle their debts. The schools have therefore run out of stocks.

The decision to close down the schools was arrived at by members of the Heads of Assisted Secondary Schools (CHASS) in the region” (Source: ghanaweb.com, July 18, 2001). The same source reported a similar case on Tuesday January 10, 2017. “Reports reaching DAILY GUIDE indicate that the reopening of the second cycle institutions in the Northern Region has been postponed until further notice over feeding grants.”

Albert Einstein once said that “whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.” The truth is if governments had struggled in the past to support free SHS in the three Northern Regions, can we sustain the full implementation of such a policy throughout Ghana? A fall of the prices of cocoa, gold, oil and other resources at the World market has a rippling effect on the economy.

Let us eschew politics and be honest, can a country that cannot support in 100% her own budget sustain free SHS in the next 20 years? I think educational introspection from the three Northern Regions must goad us to think of a sustainable and a doable policy in terms of quality education delivery. Government can fast-track the National Identification System to ferret out those students who really need help. No free SHS for the children of beneficiaries of huge ex-gratia.

The Free SHS is free for parents but not free for Ghana as a country. Even for parents it cannot be totally free as government, out of desperation to sustain it can embark on high taxation spree. The policy is not bereft of proclivity to increase enrollment and Teacher-Student ratio. Social psychologists or sociologists will argue that it can lead to laziness and parental irresponsibility.

Even though I concede that laziness and irresponsibility relative to parenting, per the structural functionalist theory are integral parts of society. It can lead to a rapid population growth. It can increase the anxiety level of couples without children. It will put pressure on the government revenue and slow down developments in other essential sectors such as health, security, roads, transportation, agriculture and the economy. The government wage bill and capital expenditure will be high since more teachers, infrastructures are needed to meet the expected increase in enrollment.

If the policy does not cover students in the private SHS, the enrollment in that sector will decline, meaning limited employment opportunities for employable Ghanaians in that sector. The owners of private SHS will be put out of business. It will be an affront to the contemporary Ghanaian political cliché “private sector, engine of growth.”

In sum, the idea of Free SHS is not a bad one, however, the government will face challenges in sustaining it. The population of Ghana will not be the same in the next 30 years as against the natural resources which can be depleted. Government must be mindful of sustainability of free SHS especially in a country where about 40% of the budget is supported by the donor partners.

Government must rather focus on creative and technical education to offer the youth requisite employable skills. No company in the world will increase its product while it is valueless in the market. Graduate unemployment situation in Ghana must be prioritized rather than the Free SHS. The imperative need of shifting from our current educational curriculum must be maximally encouraged. Create Job for the citizens are they will foot SHS bills for their children. God Bless Our Homeland Ghana. And Make Us Cherish Fearless Honesty.

By Nana Yaw Osei, USA N_yawosei@hotmail.com

Columnist: Osei, Nana Yaw