Opinions of Fri, 20 Oct 20173

Let’s keep our eyes on government’s free SHS

CitiFM, an Accra based radio station, carried a story that we should all be interested in. It has to do with the implementation of the government’s Free Senior High School (SHS)policy.

Remember this was a policy many people endorsed. A lot of euphoria was in the air when it was introduced. If we had a system for rating governments and presidents, I am sure the President would have had close to 80 per cent in terms of popularity.

The euphoria is gone. The Land Cruisers and Prados have all been returned to the government garages. The top bureaucrats do not have any intention of moving outside their offices any time soon.

The dust has literally settled. And it is in times like these that we need to pay close attention to the manner in which the implementation is being undertaken.

And the recent report is not encouraging. So the CitiFM reporters goes to the newly established Dome Kwabenya Secondary School. He interviews some of the students. And they are having lunch, I guess. The popular Ghanaian food waakye was on the menu.

The reporter, to give his story a tinge of authenticity, asked the school children what they were eating the waakye with. And the response does not deserve repetition.

The food was not supported by any form of protein. No fish. No meat. No egg. Just carbohydrates being pushed down the throat of the young ones.

This is a serious issue and should cause everyone to be alarmed. There are tonnes of research that establish the link between academic performance and the nature of nutrition.

It ,therefore, stands to reason that poor nutrition walks hand in hand with poor academic performance. It is that simple. There is nothing complicated about it.

According to the National Nutrition Policy for Ghana, poor nutrition affects Ghana’s economic productivity and development in several ways.

The report goes ahead to note that “stunting [which is the direct outcome of malnutrition] among children is also associated with decreased ability to learn and reduced school performance, which also contributes to economic productive losses.”

In a study entitled “The Impact of Malnutrition on access to Primary Education: Case Studies from Ghana”, the authors noted that “stunting and low Body Mass Index-for-age (body thinness) are common problems that confront primary school children living in both Northern and Southern parts of Ghana.”

Against this background, the least anyone would expect from a government sponsored programme is to perpetuate a health condition which may go ahead and increase the public health cost.

This is not acceptable.

Of course, placing the blame at the doorsteps of government always may not be accurate. After all, in every system, there are devils within the public service machinery busy frustrating the work of the government.

But the government does not have an excuse. This government boasts of a minister responsible for monitoring and evaluation.

This clearly means that the government acknowledges that there is a need to keep an eye on the ball. And this point came out prominently when many were criticising the government for the appointment of a minister whose main task would be to engage in monitoring and evaluation.

Then there are the images of student in some secondary school lumped together on benches; and having to take notes on their laps. There are also reports of students sitting on cement blocks. This is also clearly not acceptable. The government must intervene to take away the difficulty that these young one are experienceing.

Education should, as much as possible, be a pleasurable experience. It doesn’t have to be stiff. It should not look like a punishment.

Students should be motivated to step into the classrooms in order to study. And for that to be achieved, we need more than rhetoric. We need concrete action.

The government may want to reconsider its earlier position and make parents contribute to the education of their wards, even if it means making them pay for chairs for use in class.

These images have the potential of taking away from the beauty and excitement that comes with the implementation of a policy in the nature of free SHS.

The government’s intervention should not be to maintain the status quo. It should make the school better. It is not about simply checking a campaign promise box. Far from it.

It is about doing something measurable and sustainable. It is about making an impact. That is what matters the most. At the end of the day, we must remember that it is not about statistics.

In other words, it is not about saying that “we increased enrolment from X to X1”. It is about unearthing and tapping into the potential of precious lives. For this reason, we need to show the torch more on the policy and compel government to act on it.

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