Speakers and participants at the Graphic Business/Stanbic Breakfast Forum in Accra yesterday unanimously agreed that rich parents must be made to pay for the education of their children under the free SHS programme to help save the policy from collapsing or compromising the quality of education.
At the forum on sustainable funding for free quality education, speakers and participants were of the view that public funding alone could not sustain the programme, hence the need for financially endowed parents to be allowed to fund the education of their children under the policy which would enter its full phase next year.
While the participants insisted that they were ready to pay to maintain the quality of SHS education, the speakers argued that allowing capable parents to pay for their children’s SHS education would ensure equity and sustain the programme from collapsing under a meagre public budget in the midst of its bulging cost.
They further concurred that a targeted approach to the implementation of the programme would help build a competent workforce for national development.
The forum was on the theme: ‘Financing Free Quality Education in Ghana – Sustainable Quality Options’, and brought together government officials and experts in education to deliberate on how to make the free SHS policy sustainable through innovative funding options.
The speakers were Professor Ernest Aryeetey, a former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ghana (UG), and Mr Israel Titi- Ofei, the Principal of the SOS Hermman Gmeiner International College, while the participants included Ms Gloria Ofori-Boadu, a legal practitioner and gender rights activist; Mr Joe Nettey, a former President of the Advertisers Association of Ghana (AAG), and Mr Eric Amposah Boateng, a tax consultant.
When the participants were asked to show by hand those who would not pay for the education of their children under the free SHS programme, only one hand went up.
However, the Director-General of the Ghana Education Service (GES), Prof. Kwasi Opoku-Amankwa, who was also a speaker, was not categorical on whether or not some parents should be allowed to pay for their children under the policy.
He, however, explained that free SHS had become a national policy that required everybody’s support to succeed.
Opening the floor for a shift in the funding mechanism for the free SHS programme from the current holistic approach to a targeted one, Mr Titi Ofei said it was not fair that every Ghanaian was allowed to enjoy free SHS.
“The director at the ministry definitely can afford certain things for educating his children, but it is free for him. The charcoal burner at Mampong Akuapem definitely cannot afford if it is not free.
“So, in the same way that we do with our taxation system, where there are tax holidays, I think with the national identification system we have a means of determining the financial capability of people.
“If we are all contributing to the building of our nation, then those down there who cannot afford should enjoy free education, while those in the upper class must pay,” Mr Offei said.
Supporting the need to allow rich parents to pay for the education of their children, Prof. Aryeetey, who is also an economist at the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER) of the University of Ghana, said estimates showed that the cost of the free SHS programme would more than double to GH¢3.3 billion next year, up from the GH¢1.3 billion estimated in the 2018 budget.
He explained that the projected figure of GH¢3.3 billion, which is exclusive of staff salaries, could spiral further to GH¢5 billion in the coming years, making it unsustainable for the budget to contain.
To help reduce the cost and create fiscal space, Prof. Aryeetey said every available option on funding must be explored, starting with a mechanism that would allow parents with the financial strength to pay for their children’s education.
“Of course, parents have to contribute,” he said, explaining that by denying parents the opportunity to contribute in running the free SHS programme, the GES was putting aside 60 per cent of the amount needed to run SHSs.
Prof. Aryeetey said the government needed to be realistic that public finances alone would not be sufficient to sustain the programme.
“I have not seen anywhere around the world where people go to modern schools for free except in Ghana today. How do you tell someone: ‘Go to Wesley Girls, go to Mfantsipim, eat three times a day but do not pay anything’? I am worried about that.
“I am concerned that in our haste to provide free SHS, we are not taking into account all the principles that we should take,” he said.
He observed that there was nothing wrong with “taking from the rich to pay for the poor”, hence the need to target the implementation.
He called for a targeted approach that exempted well-endowed schools and parents from the policy.