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Opinions Sat, 22 Oct 2016

St Augustine’s yes, Minister no?

By James Kofi Annan

Last week the headmaster of the St Augustine’s College in Cape Coast, Joseph Connel was reported to have been interdicted by the Ministry of Education, for charging newly admitted students unapproved fees of GHC430.00.

According to a Ghanaian news portal, “the Deputy Minister of Education said the ministry took the action after investigating (I wonder how many days of investigation) and confirming reports on social media that the headmaster was charging the unapproved fees. According to him, the Ministry upon hearing and reading the news dispatched the regional director of Education to go to the school and investigate the reports. The regional director, the report said, confirmed the act and this caused the Director of Ghana Education Service (GES) to also go to the school for further investigations. The Director after confirming this handed an interdiction to him and has asked someone to take charge of the school”.

This is all winding, arbitrary, lack of due process and confusing. The long and short of the story is that the Deputy Minister is attempting to look good in the eyes of the public, that he has spotted a wrongdoing in St Augustine’s College, and has taken action to punish the person involved, right?

Why are we using Mr Joseph Connel to justify our relevance? You see why I get angry at myself all the time? Why did I even read this story in the first place; am just checking my BP.

Ghana Education Service, please, just take a sample of twenty schools across the country, and audit how much the schools are charging for both continuous and newly admitted students, and you will realize how much you have failed in your supervisory role.

We sit down for a social media to tell us how much schools are charging, and we are proud to say these things on air, and the headmaster get interdicted, but the Minister retains his job? If a person responsible for secondary education does not know that charging unapproved fees has been a rule rather than exception, then what is he occupying his position for?

Maybe I should help the Ministry to know how wide spread the situation is. And please don’t tell me I am boasting; I’m only giving you an information. I am sponsoring a fresh student in Apam Secondary school. Last Friday I paid GHC922.20 for his fees, did you get that?

Again, I am sponsoring three continuing students in T. I. Ahmmadyya Secondary school. A few weeks ago I paid GHC483 for each one of them in fees. I am sponsoring two continuing Day Students in Winneba Secondary School, and I’m paying GHC133 each for their fees. I am sponsoring one student in Zion Girls, and I am paying GHC713 for her fees, and I’m sponsoring two girls in Cape Coast Technical Institute, and I am paying GHC400 in fees for each one of them.

So Mr. Deputy Minister, this is not social media. This is me informing you about some of the fees I have paid to the schools I have mentioned. Do you think any one of them have violated the rules of approved fees? Is it time for some of them to be interdicted as well?

In September 2012, while visiting Iowa State, in USA, I met a gentleman who was introduced to me as the consulting campaign strategist for President John Dramani Mahama. Our meeting lasted for a couple of hours, as he tried to glean as much information out of me as possible, to help him plan effective consulting strategy for the President.

This consultant, let me call him Jeff, had told me that his research findings, prior to meeting me, showed that what was going to decide the outcome of the elections was the performance of the Ghanaian economy. That if the government was able to fix the economy, the president stood a chance of winning the election. I disagreed with Jeff’s research claims, and argued that if the president focused only on the economy, he was bound to lose the election. I believed the election was about the promise of the introduction of free education.

So I was not surprised when I later saw the president, on his campaign tours, mentioned gradual introduction of free secondary school education, just to neutralize the effect the catch phrase was having on the general public. In August 2015, the Ghana Education Service issued a statement to the effect that all Day Students across Ghana are exempted from paying any fees in the various secondary schools in the year under review, and for the rest of their secondary schooling. That, according to the government, is the first step in making secondary school education progressively free. And my enquiries also showed that this year, the 2016/2017 academic year was going to see over 45,000 targeted disadvantaged secondary school students who will benefit from government scholarships.

Hear this; amongst the secondary school students I am personally sponsoring are two day students of Winneba Secondary School. One of them has two other siblings in other secondary schools. The parents are unemployed and poor, but the boy is a brilliant and smart. However this so called Day student scholarship did not cover him.

Again the second boy is one of six children being taken care of by his single unemployed mother. All his siblings have been affected by child trafficking, and I had helped the family to be established in the community. He too did not benefit from this so called free Day School scholarship.

Amongst the students I am sponsoring this year is an orphan whose father died when he was barely two years old, and his mother died when he was in primary class two. I took responsibility for the two of them, the youngest just got admitted to Apam Secondary school.

Obviously if anyone should qualify for any government scholarship, all the above are more than qualified to receive those so called scholarships. An orphan who lived in a very poor fishing community, and scored a distinction in the BECE, who else qualifies more than him?

But unfortunately, he too has not been covered by this gradual introduction of free secondary school education, and I had to pay over GHC900 before he was allowed in the school.

I can go on and on, but let me give you one last example: I brought Rita from the Lake Volta when she was barely seven years old. She was the sixth born of four girls, and three surviving boys. I took all the four girls to school while their parents continued to wallow in poverty.

In the course of time all the three other teen sisters became pregnant, some having had four children presently. Soon the mother was strike with massive stroke, and for five years has been confined in the house. To help the family survive, I offered the father a job as a security guard.

Rita, despite all these challenges, was determined to go to school. She eventually completed her BECE in 2014, and got admitted to a girls secondary school. Currently in form three, I have just paid GHC713 in fees for Rita, and GHC1,150 for her books, totaling GHC1,863.

My question: Is this a question of the non existence of the scholarship scheme, or a question of unfair inequitable selection of the beneficiaries, or is it a question of mental ulcer? Are we talking here of ethics, morality, or sheer insensitivity?

If Rita, and all those I have referred to in this article do not deserved to be covered by a government scholarship, then who are those who are deserving of our government scholarships?

Do you now see why I support a universal application of free secondary school education? My view is that if you make it free for all, then you remove the greed, the corrupt partisan cronyism, and you give fairness a chance to apply.

Saint Augustine’s college has done what every secondary school head is doing.

Some ask for cement, brooms, shovels, paint, and others ask for fish. In the end, they have all asked the poor parents more than they can afford.

So please, leave Mr. Joseph Connel alone, and fix the system. What you have done is an unnecessary unsustainable show of power, a show of being a strong man. That is not what we need. We need Obama’s strong institutions, strong systems that does not need you to spot the problems on social media.

We are doing these to ourselves, to our children. One day we will all be punished, some for crimes they did not commit, but the crimes they saw being committed. One day we will all be punished, for the pain we wore, and the greed we shared. One day, and this day will be to all those who took their riches in government, that day the poor will rise, and the rich will fall…

Columnist: James Kofi Annan