It is quite unfortunate that after blissfully campaigning and voting against the poverty reduction Free SHS policy with unabashed disgust during the 2016 election, albeit unsuccessful, the NDC operatives now have the brashness to protest vehemently against the schematic arrangements of the Free SHS policy.
Whichever way you may place the debate, education, as a matter of fact, drives the development of a nation, and therefore the judicious approach to improving accessibility and quality is not through mere political rhetoric and gimmicks, but through well-thought through policies such as the Akufo-Addo’s Free SHS policy.
And given the enormous benefits therein education, it is, indeed, prudent and somewhat forward-thinking for Akufo-Addo’s government to seek to bridge the ever widening social inequalities gap through rational distribution of national resources in the form of Free SHS.
It is therefore quite disheartening that despite the accompanied benefits, Ex-President Mahama could rebuke the New Patriotic Party for allegedly implementing the Free SHS policy at the expense of other developmental projects; (See: ‘Free SHS crippling other sectors-Mahama, classfmonline.com/ghanaweb.com, 24/02/2018).
Former President Mahama is reported to have said during NDC’s 6th unity walk on Saturday 24th February 2018 at Somanya in the Eastern Region: “The problem this government is facing and it is in their own interest, is that, Free Senior High School is absorbing all the fiscal space they have and so almost every money you have, you are having to put it into Free Senior High School. So you can’t pay District Assemblies Common Fund, you can’t pay NHIS (National Health Insurance Scheme), you can’t pay GET Fund (Ghana Education Trust Fund), you can’t pay other salaries and things because all your money is going into Free Senior High School.”
With all due respect, Ex-President Mahama’s assessment of the situation does not add up. It is indeed ponderous and to some large extent oxymoronic, in the sense that the Free SHS programme has its own allocated budgetary funds, patently, independent of the other sectors.
I am not seeking to engage in political equalisation, far from it, however, it is important to note that during his tenure in office, former President Mahama did not spend a pesewa on Free SHS, and yet he left huge arrears amidst unpaid salaries, crippling NHIS, malfunctioned School Feeding programme, amongst others. Does former President Mahama then want to tell discerning Ghanaians that he rather misused the funds, and hence his inability to manage those sectors efficiently?
Considering the fact that the erstwhile ambivalent and largely phlegmatic Mahama administration wilfully left behind a huge debt amidst economic meltdown, it is, indeed, estimable for Akufo-Addo’s government to afford to implement the seemingly admirable, albeit costly social intervention such as Free SHS.
Verily, the opposition NDC’s incessant cavorting and needless protestations against the Free SHS implementation are becoming extremely nauseating, so to speak.
How on earth would a supposedly responsible opposition persistently assemble at unity health walk centres with the view to playing down the seemingly expedient Free SHS policy?
It is, therefore, fair to stress that NDC does not fancy the Free SHS, and hence moving heaven and earth to bring down the seemingly advantageous poverty alleviation policy.
In any case, the Free SHS scheme could only be sustained under the aegis of a serious, a committed and a prudent leadership, but not through an apathetic leadership.
After all, didn’t the erstwhile Mahama government run down the crucial social interventions to the dismay of discerning Ghanaians?
You would think that individuals who pride themselves as social democrats will be extremely empathetic to the needs of the masses, but this is not the case with the NDC apparatchiks.
Bizarrely, though, they only sing along the social democratic rendition and then turn their back on the masses. It is an illustrative case of social democrats who do not know how to initiate and manage social interventions.
Given the circumstances, I bet should Ghanaians make a calamitous mistake and hand over the poverty alleviation Free SHS programme back to NDC Party in the near future, the supposedly social democrats will most likely suspend the programme.
The NDC naysayers must however realise that by implementing the Free SHS policy, Akufo-Addo has graciously upheld the international human rights provision on free universal secondary education, which is encapsulated in Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economics, Social and Cultural Rights.
Frankly speaking, in spite of the initial challenges, the Free SHS will suffice. So the endless attacks and unfair criticisms will not and cannot bring the scheme down. Suffice it to stress that the Free SHS policy will rather bring enormous benefits to the students, parents and the nation as a whole.
It is absolutely true that the universal free education has been introduced in a number of jurisdictions across our own continent, Africa. Needless to stress that in spite of the initial exigencies, the policy has sufficed in those jurisdictions. So, why not in Ghana?
Take, for example, in 2007, Uganda became the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to introduce free universal secondary education. Under the secondary scheme, students who get specific grades in each of the four primary school-leaving exams study free in public schools and participating private schools.
The government of Kenya, in 2002, declared a universal free primary school, and followed it up with a free secondary schooling education programme in 2008.
In Namibia, a former South African colony under apartheid, primary education was declared free in 2012, while secondary education became free from 2016.
The poverty alleviation Free SHS policy, so to speak, reinforces the United Nations vision on human development and the right to development.
It is, however, worth mentioning that per the right to development, development is shifting from the conventional approach to human rights approach, whereby the focus is on equity and social justice (Mansell and Scot 1994).
It was against that background that the international community pragmatically agreed to work in valence to assist the underdeveloped nations in line with the provisions of the UN Declaration on the Right to Development.
Thus far there have been concerted efforts by the international community to fortify the Right to Development by initially implementing the eight Millennium Development Goals with the view to developing a global partnership for development (Alston 2005).
Apparently, the MDGS came to an end at the end of 2015 and replaced with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). And under the Sustainable Development Goals, every country would be obliged to meet the targets set therein (UN 2015).
Let us face it, though, as the international community heads toward implementing and monitoring the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals agenda, the human development approach remains useful to articulating the objectives of development and improving people’s well-being by ensuring an equitable, sustainable and stable world.
In hindsight, human development – or the human development approach- is about expanding the richness of human life. It is an approach that is focused on people and their opportunities and choices.
In theory, therefore, human development focuses on improving the lives of people rather than assuming that mere economic growth will lead, automatically, to greater wellbeing for all.
In other words, human development is about giving people more freedom to live lives they value. In effect, this implies developing people’s abilities and giving them a chance to improve upon their lives.
Take, for example, educating a large number of children would build their skills, but it is of little or no use, if they are denied access to jobs, or do not have the right skills for the local labour market.
In essence, human development is, basically, about more choices. It is about providing people with opportunities. For no one can guarantee human happiness, and the choices individuals make are for their own good.
The human development approach, developed by the economist Mahbub Ul Haq, is detailed in the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s work on human capabilities, often framed in terms of whether people are able to “be” and “do” desirable things in life. Examples include-Beings: well fed, sheltered, healthy; Doings: work, education, voting, participating in community life (HDR 2015).
Apparently, since 1990, 2 billion people have been lifted out of low human development, extreme income poverty has been reduced by more than a billion. Every region of the world has seen Human Development Index (HDI) gains (HDR 2015).
In a grand scheme of things, the process of development – human development – in the form of Akufo-Addo’s Free SHS, should at least create an environment for people, individually and collectively, to develop to their full potential and to have a reasonable chance of leading productive and creative lives that they value.