By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
Saturday, October 27, 2012
Some commentators responding to my opinion piece challenging the feasibility of Akufo-Addo’s promise on free Senior High School education have rightly explained the benefits of education and why they think that promise is laudable. I don't doubt the fact that formal education is a necessity.
To clarify my stance, let me say that I value education in all its forms and stages (from the informal to the formal one, low-level or higher) but not what Akufo-Addo is making noise about. I am guided in principle by some concerns, which Akufo-Addo’s pronouncements haven’t allayed so far:
• What made him think that the country’s problems are caused by lack of free education at the senior secondary school level to produce the expertise needed for national development?
Why has he skipped the lower levels, where formal education begins from? I know the Rawlings administration introduced the Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE) whose implementation isn’t being done seamlessly. We can tell from the results of the BECE exams what the challenges are.
We won’t even talk much about the wordy warfare between the NPP and NDC governments concerning the duration of the Junior Secondary School level; nor about other major problems that detract from efforts to make education accessible and excellent. So, if the lower levels aren't strong, how can they support the upper level (SHS) that Akufo-Addo is concentrating on?
• Why is he not going beyond the SHS level to let us know how the students will be catered for after completing SHS? Will they be abandoned or will the free education package carry them through the tertiary level too?
• In any case, do we have enough institutions at the tertiary level to absorb all those beneficiaries of Akufo-Addo’s free education?
So far, Akufo-Addo hasn't told us anything about this aspect nor is he even sure of how the system will absorb these products. Of course, we don't expect all SHS products to move on to the tertiary level; but there should be a safety net for them, which is missing from Akufo-Addo's equation.
Again, we assume that after getting the free education, the SHS products will not be left on their own in terms of using their knowledge to "pay back" to the country. Where will they go to do so when the job market is persistently shrinking? Or do we assume that completing SHS will equip the students with the requisite skills that they need to stand on their feet as entrepreneurs to grow the national economy? Where will they go after the SHS for the country to gain from them? Let’s remember that education is expensive and the country needs to reap whatever it sows.
We expect Akufo-Addo to go beyond merely bawling, howling, and jowling about this free SHS education promise. He should give us specifics. His supporters shouldn’t substitute specifics with insults at those of us who continue to criticize him. It’s not the solution to this credibility problem.
Do you know how long it took him to even come out with tentative figures on how much the country might spend in the first year of supporting free SHS education? He dodged the BBC interviewer only to come out with figures that were more alarming in their being cooked up on impulse than reflecting reality.
We are still not persuaded that Akufo-Addo knows what he is talking about; hence, our suspicion that he is just engaging in political jingoism to bamboozle the gullible electorate.
We are not persuaded at all that he is being sincere. He is just taking an undue advantage of the plight of students and their parents/guardians who are reeling under the weight of high education costs.
I will definitely expect more from Akufo-Addo than what he has given me so far. He will do himself a world of good if he addresses issues in a better manner than this flippant one. It seems he simply wants to take chances by throwing in such a promise, adding more to it, and sitting back to hope that Ghanaians will swallow his bait and then..... SNAP!!... he will be at the Osu Castle when the elections are over. Electoral victory doesn't come that easily, especially when very serious questions hang around him and his promises raise red flags all over the place.
We want our children to get the best of education, but we don't have to buy into anything that comes from anybody, especially those we can prove to be too desperate for political power either because they consider the Presidency as their entitlement or because they think that they are altruistic enough to become Messiahs to Ghanaians.
Having once been bitten, Akufo-Addo is refusing to be more than twice shy. He is doing all he can to win the elections. That is why he is hell-bent on using promises as his trump-card. It is dicey for him; and this one on education may end up undoing any gains he has made so far.
I hear people are seriously questioning and repudiating this particular promise because they can read deeper meanings into the rhetoric to become alarmed at the outright duplicity that is being sprung on them by Akufo-Addo. Contrary to what his lackeys in the mass media, the clergy, schools, or chieftaincy may be churning out to suggest that this promise has been overwhelmingly endorsed, the still water is running too deep for Akufo-Addo's comfort. He had better turn to more relevant messages to assuage doubts, fears, and suspicions. That's a whole new game.
In any case, the debate will continue till Election Day. Then, we will all know who will be who. The Presidency beckons but it is not for just anybody who is glib of tongue. The race is not for the swift but for the calculating candidates who know how to connect with the electorate. It is for those whose character or manner of politicking doesn't raise red flags. For now, there are red flags hanging everywhere Akufo-Addo and his band go. Need I say anymore?
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