Nana Akuffo Addo’s campaign promise to provide each Ghanaian child free senior high school (FSHS) education dates back to 2008, but became reality in 2017/2018 academic year when he got elected in 2016 as the president of Ghana. Before we (Ghanaians) got to this point of realization of such audacious promise grounded on the trinity strand of access, equity and quality; strenuous efforts had been invested to discredit the policy and made to appear unrealizable through numerous sponsored campaigns including the use of a sermon of many years ago by pastor Otabil to make a point of inherent inferiority of anything offered free.
Even when the policy has taken off with the endorsement of the generality of the Ghanaian people and millions sunk into its implementation to secure the future of the “kids”, opposing voices rehashed the defeated argument of undoable policy, to one of lowering standards and jeopardizing the nation’s education system by not ensuring quality. To those voices, once all classes and dormitories have not been built meant quality was absent, a cardinal basis for the rejection of wholesale implementation of free SHS, but, progressive to deny many students access to education.
Unfazed by these opposing voices, the government of Nana Addo remained focused and committed to the covenant made with the Ghanaian people prior to the 2016 election, and has evidently achieved what others thought was impossible. Through the ministry of Education and its supporting agencies, the government welcomed and shouldered the attendant difficulties which initially came up with the implementation, and, brought on board superior plan of double track to deal with the huge increase in numbers of students while, at the same time expanding infrastructures in the various senior high schools across the country. Evidence of these massive infrastructures abounds in almost every district in the country. Additionally, teachers were recruited for the double track together with the non-teaching staffs to ensure smooth running of schools and increased contact hours for students. Teachers’ desks and tables, student desks, core textbooks, new maker boards and other classroom related logistics were made available for effective instructional periods. The nutritional need of these students was also given attention as fruits of different kinds are shared after launch, which was absent at the time students even paid fees.
At the onset of covid-19, schools were closed for the safety of students with the promise of recall when the pandemic has been controlled. Three to four months of managing the virus, it continued to ravage lives, and apprehensions began to swell among parents and students when schools will reopen. Concerns of distortions in academic calendar which arises from non-completion of final year students, break in semester courses and programs, loss of revenue to private schools and non-salary payments (tutors) of same came up for discussions. To mitigate these impacts, online e-learning platforms were introduced to engage students spread across the country (urban and its contiguous towns, rural) to continue where they left off in the mainstream campus face-to-face lectures.
Final year SHS students who happen to be first batch of free SHS and have had tuition truncated over these months were asked to report along with form two gold track students for a six-week revision to begin the process of writing their exit exams. With the input of conference of heads of assisted senior high school (CHASS), teacher unions and other stakeholders; government provided required logistics to help fight the virus vis-à-vis the provision of nose masks, veronica buckets, hand sanitizers and tissues (hand wiper) for all staffs (teaching and non-teaching) and students.
Similar to when the policy was announced, the recall of final year students became a basis for another attack on the free SHS even when government through its covid-19 technical team and information ministry had assured of adequate provisions for the safety of the kids. As synonymous with recent trend in the compilation of new register, sustained pressure started to mount on the government from journalists, civil societies and some parents to close schools and send the children home when few cases were recorded in some schools. But the government thought otherwise (on the basis of science and data), and the exams dates drew closer. Countries like Nigeria, Kenya and others were cited as considering deferring the WASSCE to next year and wondered why “recalcitrant” Akuffo Addo was bent on having these final year students write the exams. Some weeks on news of Nigeria opening schools for final year students to write their exit exams with two weeks revision surfaced online, vindicating the agility thinking of Akuffo Addo.
Continuous Attack—WASSCE 2020
The much anticipated WASSCE 2020 took off from 20th July 2020 with Visual Arts students’ practical sessions to 31st July, and the written papers started on 3rd August, 2020 with integrated science and entire exams scheduled to end 5th September, 2020.
The continuous attempt to discredit the policy didn’t stop even at this stage when thoughts and prayers of the nation were to be with these kids. Dr. Clement Apaak, Okudzeto Ablakwa and Edudzi Tamakloe for the least sought to undermine the impact of the policy on students’ enrollment when they questioned the number of candidates sitting for the exams.
On the weekend preceding the start of the written papers was an article authored by former Unionist and NDC parliamentary aspirant for North-Tongu in the person of Kwame Alorvi and circulated widely on WHATSAPP platforms. The content of the said article were effusions about a purported leak of integrated science paper by Akuffo Addo (GES and Ministry of Education) ostensibly to in his words “aid the first batch of free SHS to pass” and thus create political advantage to Akuffo Addo. This again was another attempt to discredit and torpedo the benefits of free SHS, and seek to make a case for the unfounded and pedestrian quality-lost argument.
For the records, over a period of six and more years when I became associated with SHS exams, leakages has been a common place phenomenon albeit its debilitating effects. And the source of these leakages is faceless people motivated by greed and money, and sometimes with the assistance of some officials of WAEC. But, Alorvi blames Akuffo Addo, GES, and Ministry of Education to the exoneration of WAEC who are custodian of these exams papers in a desperate attempt to cast a slur on the entire exams and cause disaffection for government ahead of the 2020 elections.
Students’ Riotous Behaviour and Past Question Claim
Ugly scenes of riotous students hit social media when it emerged some students’ purported areas of expectations in the exams got dashed. Others were also seen and heard express their aversions to the social distance measuring rule, and used that as a precursor to destroy school properties. These acts are shameful and despicable height of indiscipline and thus condemnable.
It is the preposterous assigned reasons for this obvious societal decadence that has irked some of us, and predictably, has been linked to the free SHS by same opposing voices. Suggestion of moral deficient products of the FSHS education is not only outrageous but contemptuous.
The claim that government should be blamed for the excesses because it provided past questions of selected years to students, and set questions outside the scope of it and got the students disappointed is ludicrous. This is obvious untruth but peddled to misinform and incite the Ghanaian people against the government, as if to suggest that when government rolled out the free SHS it promised free grades and certificates. The truth is, government did not provide past questions to students but examiners reports of selected years. Examiners reports are year specific and often comprises of objectives and theory questions with the answers of the objective provided. However, the theory part is not solved but highlights commentaries about candidates’ weaknesses and what was required of them by examiners. This is to guide prospective candidates in ensuing years to know the required responses an examiner requires.
The claim of Nana Addo giving past questions to students was first made by a deputy ranking member of education committee of the legislature Dr. Clement Apaak, when he alleged government intended to compromise the integrity of 2020 merely because, it has provided examiners reports to students to guide them in their preparations. Similar examiners’ report have been made available to BECE candidates to guide them in their final exams, and one wonders if that can be interpreted as government leaking questions to students. Dr. Apaak is silent on this past questions brouhaha vis-à-vis the condemnable acts of these students, but issues a statement on the back of the minister’s briefing to parliament a forth night ago.
Review of Free SHS by President Mahama
Former president Mahama did not hide his opposition to the FSHS during the campaigns of 2012 and 2016, and same continued even when the policy had taken off except for his recent 360 degrees turn for Ghanaians to disregard news of abolishment, and that the policy has come to stay. For example, at an NDC unity walk in Somanya of the Eastern region, president Mahama scolded Akuffo Addo that “FSHS is absorbing all the fiscal space and that every available money is going into the policy, and government is unable to pay District Assemblies Common Fund, NHIS, GETFUND, Contractors and salaries arrears” in February, 2018. In a similar tirade, He questioned a budgeted Ghc. 2 billion for the policy thus far at the time.
In 2019 the narrative of President Mahama changed from the above posturing to a position of review. From the public utterances, one is inclined to think that, the review cliché of Mr. Mahama is basically to have some students pay while; others are paid for by government.
As an actuary with strong economics background, this should have been welcomed as resource optimal allocation is central to our profession. However, in a country where owners of vehicles (whether bought or gifted) are deemed wealthy in a sense strongly oppose a luxury vehicle tax of Ghc. 700.00-Ghc. 1500.00 per year, one wonders the acceptance of same amount 3 times in a year if some students were to pay. In fact, government indicated parents who wish to contribute to FSHS can do so at their respective ward’s school on their own volition, and much hasn’t been heard to have happened.
The review argument appears vague and hasn’t been thoroughly explained and thus difficult to accept. The conditions of such review policy should be known. For example, if one pays the fees and doesn’t merit boarding status, will the payment automatically grant such students the privilege? Will those required to pay fees get to be enrolled at grade “A” schools to the detriments of kids who show promise from rural towns but unable to pay? If students in only grade “A” schools will be required to pay, how do pupils from less privilege homes get same opportunity to enroll in those schools? What mechanisms or benchmarking will be adopted for one to pay? Responses of these questions are needed, and not the usual rhetoric of review.
Until these and related questions are answered, the review cliché being trumpeted by Mr. Mahama can’t be trusted to be done in the interest of the Ghanaian especially against the backdrop of the oppositions and adverts that were designed to misinform to discredit and thwart the FSHS policy before and after its implementation.