I have found it imperative to respond to the Press statement under the caption above, as released by the National Union of Ghana Students and copied to the Ghana News Agency on 5th December, 2009 since most of the issues raised in the statement are unmeritorious and fallacious.
In the said statement, NUGS described the economic policy on education under the 2010 budget as over ambitious and questioned government on some of their educational policies and programmes. The statement as signed by the NUGS President found it querulous to rhetorically but sarcastically ask, "Why spend Ghana cedi 17 million a year on free school uniforms when students cannot have access to modern toilets and water supply and what is the point of feeding people when they have no access to water and toilets?" These comments are indeed borne out of sheer ignorance and to that extent, very misleading. As a matter of fact, these are pro-poor programmes expected to reduce the cost of education on parents and to increase primary school enrolment which is incontrovertibly consistent with the strategies adopted by successive governments to ensure that we achieve the directive principles of state on Universal Primary education. The Government of Ghana has tried in various ways to show her commitment towards the achievement of Universal Primary Education (MDG 2) by ensuring that all children of primary school-age enrol and complete by 2015. The government has shown this commitment through policy directives and interventions like the Education Strategy Plan (ESP) for 2003-2015, the Growth Poverty Reduction Strategy, the Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education Programme and the 1992 Constitution of Ghana.
Strategies adopted to operationalise the policies include the introduction of the Capitation Grant (School Fee Abolition), expansion of Early Childhood Development services, promotion of measures to improve Gender Parity in primary schools, and the introduction of Nutrition and School Feeding programmes, and the provision of free school uniforms.
It is regrettable to note that, even though this government had shown unprecedented commitment in investing in our future leaders through the implementation of some of these allocations and incentives, NUGS has decided to turn a blind eye and condemn government on various untenable and unsustainable grounds.
It is instructive to note that in less than six months upon the assumption into office by the current government, they have defied all odds to make various and specific interventions in education so as to truly fulfil their campaign promise of investing in people. These tangible activities cannot be downplayed by even the die-hard critics of government.
It must therefore be noted by NUGS that, there had been the 50 per cent increase in the Capitation grant to provide additional services for improving teaching and learning. As a result of that, a total of GH¢23.53million was released as Capitation Grant and for the first time, all Capitation Grant arrears were paid to schools. Government also made available an amount of GH¢4.68 million as the annual subsidy for the conduct of the BECE for 2009.
To put the icing on the cake, Government also provided an amount of GH¢17.2 million for the supply of the free school uniforms exercise books as promised in the NDC Manifesto. Government further supplied textbooks to basic schools as part of efforts to make textbooks available to every pupil.
Taking cognisance of the fact that, the Government is committed to reviving the textiles industry which hitherto almost collapsed under the erstwhile government, the contract for the production of the materials for the uniform is awarded to local textile producers like ‘printex’. The sewing of the uniforms shall be done by our local tailors and seamstress. For NUGS to condemn these laudable initiatives on the premise that because some schools do not have water and toilet facilities, then there should be programme or incentives to facilitate the achievement of the Universal Primary Education (MDG 2) by the year 2015, is most pitiful. This assertion militates against the core objectives of the very existence of NUGS. As a matter of fact, not all homes have toilet and water facilities and therefore rely on public facilities. Is NUGS therefore suggesting that unlike in our homes where people still eat even though, they don’t have these facilities, same cannot be the case for public schools which are in such communities where the indigenes rely on public facilities? NUGS, in suggesting that pupils must learn on empty stomachs (because they do not have toilet and water facilities of their own) must recognise that, pupils become easily distracted when hungry and therefore have problems concentrating on their schoolwork. They become better students when their bodies are well nourished and healthy. The incentive of getting a meal also reduces absenteeism. Most importantly, performance improves and drop-out rates decreases. I must confess that, I will find it strange if NUGS is unaware of this or perhaps this blatant disregard is a classical case of their nebulous appreciation of issues which must indeed be a cause of worry for all. The programme is a professed national solution, within a broader framework of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and endorsed by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) under the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) Pillar 3. The programme brings many synergies that support each other since it is aimed at facilitating a long term contribution to poverty reduction, improving food security in deprived communities, increase enrolment, attendance, retention, and to reduce short term hunger and malnutrition among school children as well as boost domestic food production. These measures have resulted in the improvement in various key indicators in education in recent years, notably, Gross Enrolment Rates, Gender Parity Index, Net Enrolment Rate and Net Admission Rate. It is expected that, the returns will be better in the years ahead since Government had made greater commitment in investing in people through education and to ensure that the targets for the Millennium Development Goals are met.
NUGS in their statement also asserted that, the budget didn’t say anything about polytechnic education. This is factually incorrect and misleading. The PNDC/ NDC has a track record in their unparallel commitment to polytechnic. It must be stated on record that the PNDC/ NDC started the concept and saw to the construction of at least a Polytechnic institution in each region. During this few months of being in government, various radical and unprecedented steps have been taken to make the impact of polytechnic education more relevant to our socio-economic fibre.
Polytechnics have been accredited to offer bachelor of technology degrees, particularly, in science and technology as a top-up of existing HND programmes. Competency based training has been introduced to improve quality and relevance in polytechnic education. Moreso, Government also facilitated the development of training and testing materials and facilities for Solar PV in Tamale Polytechnic and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) for human resource development in Solar PV.
In furtherance to that, government in the 2010 budget and fiscal policy has stated that they will harmonise and synergise activities of “Polytechnics and Universities to develop appropriate technology to reduce the demand for child labour on farm and other economic ventures, and sensitize parents to take advantage of educational facilities and policies to enrol their children in schools and training institutions”. These and many other programmes have been captured in paragraphs 300, 433, 437, 483, 521, etc. of the 2010 budget statement and fiscal policy of government.
Though, I hold the view that NUGS must be encouraged to contribute their quota in national development, I believe they could have done better than this. Perhaps they must analyse the works of their researchers and not to feed into perceptions by illiterates. NUGS is a student body and must desist from talking when they are not well-informed since that has the propensity to have a calamitous effect of the corporate reputation on those of us they represent and the union as a whole. In our quest to contribute our quota to national development, may we, not behave like small children playing in the sand to attract an unnecessary attention. Thank you!!!
JUSTICE KUTSIENYO Shevrock23@yahoo.com