Opinions Wed, 21 Mar 2012

Nana Addo’s Free Education Policy: Another Side Of The Coin

This write up comes in the wake of recent public discourse on the free Senior High School Education policy proposed by the flag bearer of the main opposition party in Ghana. The purpose of the article is mainly to enhance the discourse by presenting another way of looking at the policy in relation to its feasibility or otherwise. It is not within the scope of this article to argue for or against the feasibility of the policy or otherwise.

Ghanaians are not new to the vision of free senior high school education. This is because Nana Addo has been making public statements to that effect for over three years now. Renewed public interest in the topic was triggered off by the host of BBC’s Hardtalk programme when Nana Addo refused to give the cost of implementing such a policy when he was asked by the host. According to Nana Addo, he found it more appropriate to tell the people of Ghana first. This turned the media spotlight on the issue which is in order. A preliminary figure based on one scenario that was made public was critiqued by policy “Think Tank” IMANI Ghana. The conclusion IMANI Ghana arrived at based on the scenario figure was that the policy is not practicable. Currently, the general public perception is that the policy will not see the light of day and some would want Ghanaians to believe that even the policy itself was not properly thought out.

In a democracy like ours, I think the criticisms, analyses, public interest and debates that this has generated is a healthy one and should be encouraged. At least it sends a signal to our politicians that we are ready to vote based on issues and the feasibilities of their campaign promises. It also brings out the issue of public interest and commitment to matters of educating our future generations. We should be grateful to the host of BBC’s Hardtalk programme for providing us with the opportunity to critically assess the issue once more and many other promises that are likely to be made this year. Our journalists should take a cue from this when they have the opportunity to interview our politicians rather than treat them with kid’s gloves or serve as advocates for them. It is obvious that we do not need a Sultan Kosen at the castle neither do we Mother Theresa. What is important is that the job at the presidency gets done properly.

As it stands, the debate seems to have been skewed towards finding reasons why the proposed policy will not work rather than thinking out how best to make it work though most people feel it is a good idea. We seem to be cooking up all the facts and figures that are pointing towards the direction of impracticability. Certainly this is good because we do not have to start something that is bound to fail especially when the facts indicate it. But is it always true that things do not work if the evidence says so? Do we answer the fundamental questions about free secondary education by unpacking the reasons why this policy is not practicable? Is free secondary education good? Do we need it? Is it a right for every child to have access to education? How can we ensure that this policy works? These are salient questions we should be asking too.

When the Wright brothers set out to design an object that would fly, renowned scientists conducted experiments that proved that anything heavier than the weight of air itself could not fly. What do we have today? Also, when Nicolaus Cupernicus argued for a heliocentric universe in 1543 his ideas were contrary to common sense, the facts and even contradicted the bible. When the nationalist movement began the struggle for independence, very few people probably thought it was feasible. I personally rubbished any idea that Barack Obama and by extension any black person will ever become president of the United States of America when I first heard it and I am sure many people did too. People could give all the possible reasons why this was impossible. During election 2008, the voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) sent out text messages to all their volunteers warning them of potential trouble and clearly spelt out evacuation plans to each of them. It came to pass that Ghana managed the crisis very well defying the general international perception of African elections. Even before Germany 2006 a lot of people gave many reasons, including the name of the team, why we could never qualify for the World Cup. Today the senior national team of Ghana is still nicknamed ‘Black Stars’; have two world cup appearances to our credit and will be in Brazil 2014 should we put our house in order. Indeed, the Black Stars have firmly written the name of Ghana in the annals of world football. Surely there are also instances when policies and projects have failed after takeoff because they defied conventional logic of practicability at the time. Nevertheless, this does not prevent us from opening up the debate by providing evidence to support how feasible the policy can be or indeed make alternative suggestions rather than dismantling or discarding the policy at birth. This has been the practice since independence and we must strive to stop it. In most cases, the proponents of the policies struggle to convince opponents why the policy would work and the vice versa.

All the policy think tanks could be of much help by also providing the facts and figures to give us an idea of what is feasible and based on that we can all agree on the best way to find the resources to fund the policy, once we agree it is a good idea. It is not enough to say it cannot work, this is the evidence and just sit back especially if you agree that the policy is good and desirable.

In conclusion, I have argued that the current public discourse on the issue of free secondary education is in order but the debate should not only be skewed towards finding reasons why the policy is not workable but also include evidence for its practicability or present feasible alternative solutions too.

Zubeviel, Thomas

Manchester, UK

Columnist: Zubeviel, Thomas