Stopping the shift system masquerading as double-track in its tracks

Ablakwa MP Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, MP for North Tongu

Thu, 26 Jul 2018 Source: Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa

I have been asked by a number of journalists if I feel vindicated and excited that our predictions on the current mode of implementation of Free SHS have finally come to pass following this week's extraordinary developments.

As I have said in my responses to our friends in the media, this is not the time to gloat or claim vindication.

In my considered view, this mindset is essentially our problem as a country. We reduce everything to political point scoring and cheap partisan shenanigans. This must explain why a Government which is conspicuously suffocating and at it's wits end over the disastrous roll out of Free SHS will still hold on to it even if it leads to the total destruction of Senior High School education in Ghana simply because the Government does not want to concede that it got it's implementation strategy wrong and place the nation's interest ahead of its narrow partisan point scoring.

Meanwhile, education is too important that it must be the very last thing to be used for political point scoring.

Truth be told; this strand of reckless, unprincipled and shortsighted politics will not only destroy our educational system, it will eventually and totally wreck this country.

On the specific matter of the Government's Shift System which masquerades as a Double-Track System; I believe the fundamental question to ask is how come the New Patriotic Party (NPP) since the 2008, 2012 and 2016 presidential campaigns which had Free SHS as it's flagship campaign promise failed to inform Ghanaians that Free SHS will be implemented using a Shift System and a Two Semester Calendar?

Obviously, the NPP knows that Ghanaians would have rejected these propositions and in the process refuse to vote for them at the polls as well. Similarly, this must explain why the NPP opposed a staggered implementation of Free SHS in opposition, however, when it rolled out the programme last year, only first years were beneficiaries leaving out the second and third years contrary to its campaign rhetoric. No nation deserves the politics of deception.

The fact is, we are all enjoined by Article 25 of the Constitution of Ghana to work towards free education at all levels which I must acknowledge is a fantastic objective. That notwithstanding, the framers of our Constitution were so wise to direct that we aspire towards free education at the secondary and tertiary levels in a progressive manner. (See Article 25 (1) b and c of the Constitution)

Populist politics aimed at only winning votes by all means possible which is then anchored on poor planning and weak policy implementation without scientific underpinnings leads to seeking refuge in a Shift System.

Clearly, the Shift System has come about because Government spent largely all of its education budget paying fees for every first year student including those from affluent backgrounds and therefore neglected it's infrastructural obligations. This amounts to ignoring Quality and focusing on affordability largely for the rich as official statistics reveal that 70% of those who enter SHS pay more in far expensive private Junior High Schools.

As is widely known, the Mahama Community Schools have thus far been abandoned by the Akufo-Addo/Bawumia Government. There has also been no budgetary allocation to cater for them.

The previous NDC Government started the construction of 124 of these Schools completing some 50 before leaving office on January 6, 2017. These 50 Schools aided the Government in rolling out its Free SHS programme last year.

Rather tragically, Government chose to abandon the remaining 74 projects at various stages of completion and also failed to roll out the remaining 76 to achieve the project target of 200 Community Senior High Schools.

Let us remember that it takes a maximum of 18 months for contractors to complete a Community Senior High School. (Some did finish in 10 months) President Akufo-Addo's Government is 18 months old so we can logically and safely conclude that if the Government had followed the NDC Government's blueprint, we should have had all 200 Community Senior High Schools ready by now for the 2018 September admissions.

It is critical to acknowledge that each Community Senior High School has the capacity to admit 1,500 students. Therefore if we had completed all 200 of them, we would have created additional capacity of 300,000 far in excess of the gap of 181,993 for which a Shift System has been adopted by Cabinet as the solution.

I must also emphasize that contrary to claims by this Government, the current challenge is not new. The EMIS data reveals that for the 2010/2011 academic year, there was an even bigger gap of 182,337 due to the Four Year SHS Programme. However, thanks to proper planning and good foresight, President Atta Mills (God bless his soul) rolled out an Emergency Infrastructural Expansion Programme across all Senior High Schools to cater for the explosion in numbers. If the man Nana Akufo-Addo once described as Prof Do Little could handle an even bigger challenge successfully in 2010 without imposing the dreaded and dangerous Shift System on us, why can't the self acclaimed competently superior Akufo-Addo/Bawumia Government do same?

This is the reason I vehemently disagree with those arguing that Government had no choice in the matter and therefore could not have built more schools to avoid the current mess.

We worked strenuously as a country under President Mahama to largely abolish the Shift System at the basic level because it ruined quality at that level and bred indiscipline, truancy and chaos. It is unthinkable and most reckless that what we have toiled to banish at the public basic level will now be repackaged for adventurous teenagers at the second cycle level.

I must also point out that the adoption of a Two-Semester Calendar at the SHS level for the first time in this country's history is simply a clever way of Government running away from it's annual three term fees obligation in favour of two. Put more succinctly - Government is unable to find the money to pay fees thrice so has opted to pay only twice per cohort. This shows how far Government is willing to go in cutting corners just to save face. Once again, placing political expediency ahead of Ghana's collective national interest.

I get even more frightened when I assess Government's own official data on Free SHS:

Paragraph 621 on Page 114 of the 2018 Budget Statement and Economic Policy presented to Parliament states that Government has absorbed the fees of all 353,053 first year students.

In that same 2018 Budget, Paragraph 799 on Page 142, Government in a weird twist provides another figure as they claim to have absorbed the fees of all 396,951 first year students.

Then when the Finance Minister presented the Mid-Year Review only last Thursday the 19th of July, 2018, Parliament was presented with the third contradictory figure of 362,118 as contained in Paragraph 163 on Page 36.

There is also a fourth conflicting figure of Free SHS beneficiaries contained in the document titled "Implementation of Free SHS Programme, Preparation for 2018/19 Academic Year by Dr. Mathew Opoku Prempeh, Hon. Minister of Education." In this document which was presented to Cabinet, the Minister provides a figure of 361,771 free SHS beneficiaries for 2018 as against a 2016 first year enrolment figure of 308,799.

This bizarre situation raises vital questions. How can we trust the current Government to get the implementation of Free SHS right when it cannot get it's basic data right? Is it any wonder they have been unable to carry out any serious planning?

Are we perhaps already witnessing corruption with Free SHS payments where ghost beneficiaries are being created for the siphoning of funds into private pockets?

Then there is the other important question of the source of President Akufo-Addo's much trumpeted figure of 90,000 additional Free SHS beneficiaries who will otherwise have been left at home but for his intervention. Quite astonishingly, Government's own numerous contradictory figures do not support this 90,000 claim.

I have no doubt in my mind that the only option available to us as citizens is to vigorously and potently oppose this Shift System-cum-2 Semester toxic cocktail. If we don't, we should as well kiss goodbye to Quality Secondary education and begin planning the funeral of the death of all our Category A Schools. Under the current circumstances, none will be spared this plague - not PRESEC, Achimota, Wesley Girls, Mfantsipim, Adisadel, St. Augustines, Holy Child, Prempeh, St. Peters, St. Roses, Pope Johns - you name them, not one will survive.

The claim that the Shift System is a temporary measure is false as the 2018 Mid-Year Review makes no provision for infrastructural expansion to address the current quagmire.

If we allow the Akufo-Addo/Bawumia Government to go ahead with this unmitigated disaster, we will have only ourselves to blame.

This is the time for the various Old Boy and Old Girl Associations to speak up and protect our almae matres.

Perhaps the Missions may want to consider reclaiming their schools from Government in the face of this gross ineptitude so that a few schools can at least be saved for the future of our children.

And as for that Professor who has asked critics of the Shift System to "shut up" because he owns our children, owns the country, and owns all rights, let him be told in very clear language that we are aware he is one of two Professors hired by Government to do PR as part of what the document in my possession describes as "Development of a media strategy." Let him also be told that we are aware his Private Secondary School stands to benefit from the collapse of our public Senior High Schools which are currently more prestigious and better performing than their private counterparts.

Sometimes, the hypocrisy and double standards in this country can be most nauseating. I cannot even begin to imagine the extent of Armageddon if it was the Mahama Administration in which Prof. Naana Jane Opoku Agyeman, Mr. Alex Kyeremeh and I as Ministers of Education had created this sordid situation and had the temerity to propose a Shift System-cum-2 Semester remedy - we would surely have long been roasted alive. Guess it's different strokes for different folks. That said, we should never forget that every country deserves the kind of politics it tolerates.

I am hoping that all Ghanaians will rise and say no to this recklessness. Fortunately, the Government cannot buy all Ghanaians to help with damage control under its rather lavish PR Strategy Budget. And of course, there are those who have a conscience and love their country so are not up for sale to the highest bidder.

The masses must begin asking themselves if they are in the position to fly their children abroad for secondary education as the few elites who are busily destroying our public secondary education will do when their mission is accomplished. Many years ago in our health delivery, we allowed the phenomenon of "big men" and "big women" flying out at the least opportunity for health care instead of insisting that the system be fixed. I hope and pray that we have learned our lessons seeing what that has done to our health delivery system many years on and therefore we are not going to do same with our secondary education.

We must demand of our Government and insist that they go back to the Mahama Community Senior High Schools and complete them. Indeed I can reveal authoritatively that 32 of them are above 70% completion and therefore can be completed before September if Government is so minded to find the will.

These 32 SHSs when completed will provide additional capacity for 48,000 students.

Then there are quite a good number, as I recall, completed and so they just need to be furnished. It will take just a day to buy furniture for these ones. If Government is facing any difficulty securing furniture for these schools in good time, they can at least plead with their Party Chairman Freddie Blay to assist them with his legendary expertise in swift Purchasing and Supply.

For evidential purposes, I shall conclude this article with very recent pictures of Mahama Community Senior High Schools completed and wasting away in Asuoso in the Offinso North District of the Ashanti Region and another in Gyarko in the Techiman Municipality of the Brong Ahafo Region.

May God help us win this battle.

Columnist: Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa
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