The former South African President, Nelson Mandela said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.
On 1st September 2017, the NPP government led by President Nana Addo Danquah Akufo-Addo rolled out a policy that saw the 2017/2018 academic year Senior High School entrants admitted into the various schools they were posted to without paying any fees. This policy is termed “Free Senior High School” program and it aims at eliminating the element of cost which often becomes a barrier to higher education in Ghana.
In the 2017/18 academic year, over 200,000 students benefited from this program. This commendable policy was well-received by the citizens, as it brought a sigh of relief to many parents, especially to the children from financially-challenged homes.
This policy is also commendable in terms of helping Ghana achieve the Sustainable Development Goal(SDG) 4 which is to ensure that “all boys and girls complete free primary and secondary schooling by 2030” and also to eliminate educational inequality in terms of gender and wealth disparities.
The increasing number of students that were admitted into the free SHS program in the 2018/19 academic year necessitated the introduction of the double-track system in order to accommodate more students into the program. The double-track system was also due to infrastructural challenges faced by the various senior high schools in Ghana, which the government intend to resolve over time.
With about 517,332 candidates who wrote the Basic Education Certificate Examinations this year, the issue of infrastructural challenges is likely to worsen and could deepen the multiple-track system introduced into the senior high schools in the 2018/19 academic year.
One reliable means by which the government can ease the pressure on the infrastructural facilities in the various senior high schools in Ghana is to include private senior high schools in the free S.H.S program. Even though the effort has been made by the government to provide extra classrooms blocks for some senior high schools ahead of the 2019/20 academic year, the inclusion of the private senior high schools in the free S.H.S program will be highly commendable and will provide more room for curbing the temporal double-track system in no time.
There are over 500 private senior high schools in Ghana, who are providing various forms of educational programs ranging from business, general and agricultural science, visual and general arts to home economics. Most of these schools are well equipped in terms of infrastructural facilities such as adequate classroom blocks, boarding houses to accommodate students as well as excellent teaching and learning materials. These schools also have qualified teachers who offer excellent tuition to students. This often translates to excellent performance in the West Africa Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE).
There are several benefits the nation stands to gain when private schools are included in the senior high school program. Notable among them are:
Less pressure on government in dealing with the infrastructural challenges facing public senior high schools
The inclusion of private senior high schools in the free senior high school programme will relieve the government of the expected urgency in the provision of extra infrastructural facilities in the public senior high schools in the short term. This is because some private senior high schools are well equipped in terms of infrastructure to accommodate students in the boarding houses and also have quality teachers just the public senior high schools, and therefore have the capacity of providing quality education and contribute immensely towards human capital development in Ghana and the world as a whole. This can help Ghana achieve greater economic growth, just as empirical work has proven that quality education played an active role in the economic growth and development in the Asian countries (Asian tigers) such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and others.
Furthermore, it will help the government in ensuring fiscal discipline, have ample time to make effective decisions to improve the educational sector and also enable the government to channel funds to other sectors of the economy in order to achieve significant growth in all sectors of the economy. It will also help in eradicating the multi-track system, which the government introduced as a short-term measure of dealing with infrastructural challenges among the public senior high schools in Ghana.
Prevention of collapse of private senior high school and enhanced growth and employment
According to Ghana Statistical Service, the number of people living in extreme poverty in Ghana increased to 2.4 million as at 2017, with Gini coefficient of 43.0% (GLSS 7) and poverty rate standing at 23.4%. This can partly be attributed to high unemployment rate and lack of sustained source of livelihood. Hence, any policy that can provide employment opportunity is highly recommendable.
The inclusion of private schools in the free S.H.S program is, therefore, one of the means of eradication of unemployment in Ghana, since it will liberate the private schools from fear of collapsing due low intake of students, thereby sustaining employment and huge investment in the private schools in Ghana.
Furthermore, the inclusion of private schools in the free S.H.S program will induce employment of extra teachers by the private school to meet the expected increasing demanding of teachers. This will there result in the employment of teachers beyond the 59,000 the Education Ministry has already employed since 2017.
It will also ensure that private schools do not collapse, as many private schools are on the verge of collapsing due to the decreasing number of student intake.
This will prevent the current private S.H.S employees which include teachers and other staff who are making an immense contribution to the growth of the economy through education, from losing their jobs and source of livelihood, thereby contributing to the reduction in the unemployment rate and ensuring significant growth of the economy of Ghana.