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The free SHS policy: Where are we now?

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Mon, 22 Mar 2021 Source: Amankwa Benjamin Kwame

Over the past three weeks, I witnessed at first hand the bizarre admission process of gregarious graduates from Junior High Schools in Ghana into some Secondary Schools across the country.

It was both intriguing and pathetic to see parents and guardians struggle for non-available spaces for their wards in most Senior High Schools in the country. The management of most of the Senior High Schools, at least for the few that I visited, were not only visibly frustrated by incessant pleas, demands and requests from parents and guardians but were bent to breaking point.

However, most of them put ineffective processes to aid and smoothen the admission processes which unfortunately is not to be because of the rather unprecedented large number of students that overwhelm the resources and capabilities of the schools. Open and large spaces in the various Secondary Schools were crowded by parents and their wards who are either seeking admission or processing their admission.

The most unfortunate thing in almost all the Senior High Schools is the fact that classroom blocks, dormitories, libraries among others remain woefully inadequate. For continuing students, they have to struggle and make do with some sort of shift system in other to have limited access to most facilities in the school. The main headache however is to accommodate the new entrants. This is because the existing facilities are not only woefully inadequate but in most cases are dilapidated and pose danger to the life of both students and staff.

The Free Senior High School policy was welcomed with open arms by most Ghanaians. While many believe that the policy will bridge the gap between the haves and the have nots in terms of access to education, others view the policy as a step towards eradicating illiteracy and poverty in Ghana.

By providing graduates with the necessary skills and knowledge needed for personal development, many think that the free Senior High School policy is a blessing. There are yet others who see the policy as populist and a political machination and strategy aimed at garnering votes from unsuspecting electorates. Whatever it is, if it must be done, it must be done well. The idea of the Free Senior High School Education policy is not in itself a bad one.

However, like every effective and sustainable policy, it needs to be midwife gradually into fruition. There is no doubt that the Free Senior High School policy was implemented in a rush and is bedevilled with a lot of challenges in its current form and shape. One indication of this rush implementation of the policy is the commencement of the double-track system in the schools.

As a result of inadequate resources, the Ghana Education Service introduced the double-track system as a means of catering for the large number of students. While this double-track system seem to have provided a temporary solution to the comparatively large number of admissions we have had in recent times, it comes with its attendant problems.

One of these problems is a decrease in the contact period between students and teachers, affecting to a large extent, the amount of content to be covered within the academic year. Indeed, the framers of the policy could not have possibly seen all the bottle necks from afar without implementing the policy. The most important thing however is that, once we have implemented the policy, we need a consistent and continuous effort towards addressing its challenges.

It is the lack of this consistent and continuous effort towards sustaining the Free Senior High School policy that begs for attention from stakeholders of education in Ghana.

The overly politicization of the Free Senior High School policy, disregard for management of the schools in terms of policy initiatives by government, tying the hands of management on issues of instilling discipline and positive attitudes in students and creating the erroneous impression and idea in the minds of parents and students that, the Free Senior High School policy means that there should be no expenditure whatsoever on the part of parents in second cycle education that continue to create a fertile ground for the eventual failure of the policy.

Learning for that matter education as noted by scholars, must lead to a relatively permanent change in behaviour. This change in behaviour does not only come about by transmitting purely academic knowledge and information to learners. It also involves attitudinal change as a result of new and updated information and acquisition of skills and competencies that require discipline and supervision.

The current state of affairs where management of second cycle institutions across the country seem to be helpless in instilling discipline in students as a result of too much political interference in the administration of the schools is something that is worrying and disastrous. Nothing has ever been achieved in the world without discipline. It is for this reason that playing political ‘jaskele’ with our education especially on issues of discipline will not inure to the benefit of anyone.

I entreat all and sundry especially stakeholders in education to pay particular attention to secondary education in Ghana. Of outmost importance is government’s consistent delays in providing the necessary logistics to the schools when the academic year kick starts and as usual play politics with it. Currently, in most of the schools across the country, the text books for students and the guide for teachers are either inadequate, which is the best case scenario or completely unavailable, which is the normal state of affairs.

This delays the already limited contact hours teachers have with students in the double-track system and in the end, students are short changed in terms of amount of content they have covered.

As the Free Senior High School manifests its true form and nature, the surge in the total number of graduates from the Senior High Schools, its implication for tertiary education in Ghana and the concomitant problem of graduate unemployment must also be an area of concern to stakeholders and Ghanaians in general.

The adhoc nature of governmental policies and decisions is likely to blind us all to some of the long term challenges we might be creating now. It is better to address problems holistically than in halves. The Free Senior High School policy should and must be linked and synchronized with basic and tertiary education not forgetting its effects on the economy of Ghana as a whole.

It is only when this is done that we can truly measure the success or otherwise of the policy.

Columnist: Amankwa Benjamin Kwame