The paradox of Free S.H.S education in Ghana and its implications for the north

Wed, 13 Sep 2017 Source: Faisal Mohammed

Education helps people to become useful to themselves and their society through knowledge and skill acquisition. The skills and knowledge enable the people to get good jobs, manage their businesses and adjust to social changes, thereby contributing to economic growth, Talabi (2015).

However, education is not freely available to everyone and in many parts of the world: the vulnerable are the first to be excluded from it. When they even get the chance to go through basic education, transition to senior high is truncated, because, pass rates are very low (Camfed, 2012).

Joseph and Wodon (2012), also stated that learning outcomes are poor at the Basic level especially for the vulnerable with rural students lagging well behind. There is a striking social and geographical inequality in education. One of the main inequalities in education is between – and even within regions.

Northern Ghana is where primary school pupils are least likely to go to school, stay in school, learn efficiently and transition to JHS and SHS (Camfed, 2012).

The educational inequality in Northern Ghana has its antecedence to the pre-colonial era of the Gold Coast. The colonial masters, as a matter of policy decided that people of northern extraction were not to be allowed to undergo formal education, but instead be used as labour to extract the rich resources of the south for the benefit of the colonial masters and their country.

The remarks of W. J. A. Jones (1934), the Commissioner of the North were instructive when he simply put it: "Northerners were regarded as an amiable but backward people, useful as soldiers, policemen and labourers in the mines and cocoa farms. In short, fit only to be hewers of wood and drawers of water for their brothers in the colony and Ashanti".

Similar views were expressed by Governor F. M. Hodgson, (1934), as he stated that: "For the present, I therefore cannot but strongly urge the employment of all available resources of the government upon the development of the country to the south of Kintampo, leaving the Northern Territories to be dealt with in future years.

I would not at present spend upon the Northern Territories a single penny more than is absolutely necessary for their suitable administration and the encouragement of the transit trade".

Governor Sir Hugh Clifford, (1903), in supporting F.M. Hodson emphatically stated: "Till the colony and Ashanti have been thoroughly opened up and developed, the Northern Territories must be content and await their turn".

The consequences of this deliberate policy of no formal education for the North saw a 110-year educational gap between the South and the North (1841-1951). In 1841, formal education begun in Southern Ghana at Mfantsipim College, and in 1951 in the Northern Territory at Eastern Dagomba School (Tamasco).

To bridge this unfortunate yawning educational gap between the North and the South, in 1954, the Northern People's Party (NPP) was formed in the Gold Coast with the aim of protecting the interests of those in the Northern Regions of Ghana.

The traditional chief of Duori in the Upper Region, Simon Diedong Dombo was the leader and the founding members of the party included Mumuni Bawumia, J.A. Braimah, Tolon Naa Yakubu Tali, Adam Amandi, Naa Abeifaa Karbo and Imoro Salifu.

They got involved in the independence struggle of the Gold coast with a strong advocacy for the North to be excluded from independence of the Gold Coast with the view that the colonial masters should relocate their post to the North to breach the 110 years of developmental gap between the North and South.

The leadership of the Convention People’s Party (CPP) and Dr. Kwame Nkrumah in particular sensing that the British were likely to agree with the leaders of the Northern Peoples Party, proposed a three-phase Northern Scholarship Scheme to be catered for in the country's annual budget. This proposal clinched a deal with the members of the Northern Peoples Party (NPP) and they set up a trust fund to cater for the educational needs of the North for a period of fifty years.

Following the deal, members of the NPP dropped their request with the British colonizers. The agreement between the NPP and CPP leadership culminated in Ghana’s independence, with the North being part of the great agenda.

Unfortunately, with the exception of the award of scholarships to students from the North attending secondary schools to cover boarding and examination fees, as the first phase, the other two phases were swept under the carpet till date.

Fast forwarded to 2016, the Opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) now in government campaigned on free S.H.S. policy which was bought by the Ghanaian electorate. This laudable policy will remove the financial barriers to education that constitute the expenditure of households.

It will also reduce the burden of parents and spare the deprived child of constant sacking for fees. There is a nexus between fees and school enrolment, especially, for the poor and the vulnerable. Malawi, Uganda, Tanzania and Cameroun provide an empirical evidence of doubling enrolment rates in both primary and secondary levels due to the abolishment of school fees (USAID, 2007).

Notwithstanding the perceived gains of this laudable policy, it could be defeated if the annual challenges of timely release of funds to schools persist as it has been in the grant system for Assisted Senior High Schools and feeding grants for Northern schools continued.

It could lead to discretionary charges such as house dues, teacher motivation and P.T.A by school authorities. The Capitation grant for basic schools is enough evidence where perennial delays in disbursement and grants in arrears to schools have compelled heads of basic schools to charge P.T.A.

levies and examination fees which are more expensive than the fees that were abolished.

Yet still, the cut-off point of a certain aggregate as an entry requirement for S.H.S at the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) using the core subjects of Mathematics, English, Science and Social Studies could worsen the plight of students from the North, thereby retarding the educational gains made so far under the Northern Scholarship.

Empirical evidence from the education sector report (ESPR, 2016), indicated that the three Northern Regions performed poorly in Maths, Science, English and Social studies consistently for the 2014, 2015 and 2016 academic years.

Re-entry candidates from the B.E.C.E are also likely to forfeit the free S.H.S.

The implication is that majority of the BECE candidates will not qualify to enter public schools thereby forfeiting their rights to free S.H.S. and the consequences will be dire for the whole nation. The unplaced candidates would be left at the mercy of private senior high schools where fees are astronomically high.

Besides, most of these young ones whose parents could not afford the fees would only add up to the existing head potters (Kayaye) and truck pushing for scraps in the cities of Ghana. Thus, making the policy of free education counter-productive and giving credence to the words of W. J. A. Jones, then Commissioner of the Northern territories.

The free S.H.S. is a universal equalizer to fighting poverty, let’s jealously guard it.

Columnist: Faisal Mohammed