The largest opposition political grouping in the country, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), appears seriously dazed by President Akufo-Addo’s flagship Free Senior High School (SHS) programme which commenced in all public Senior High Schools throughout the country yesterday, September 11.
The president is expected to launch the countrywide programme tomorrow at the West Africa Senior High School, Adentan in Accra.
Since the rolling out of the programme, the NDC has not been at peace, blowing hot and cold air about its position on the landmark policy.
However one of the critics of the NPP, Nana Ekua Amoah, popularly called Mzbel, praised President Akufo-Addo after securing admission for his son at Achimota School without paying a dime for school fees.
Since 2008 the NDC has been condemning the policy, saying it was impossible for it to be implemented in Ghana, explaining that if it had been possible, Kwame Nkrumah – Ghana’s first president – would have done it.
Lee Ocran, former NDC education minister, said Free SHS was not feasible. Mr. Ocran had stated in 2012 that President Kwame Nkrumah himself was unable to implement the policy and that it was going to take the NPP about 20 years to implement it.
Interestingly, President Akufo-Addo’s administration – having been in office for only eight months – is going ahead with the implementation of the policy. Its commitment to make every Ghanaian child enjoy free senior high school education, beginning with about 400,000 students, to many, is an indication that if political leaders prioritize well, a lot of social interventions can be implemented.
But as reality dawns on the NDC that with sound prioritization, offering free education at the secondary level for every Ghanaian child is possible, the party now more than ever, appears to be changing its position on the implementation of the policy.
In one breath, the opposition party is seen condemning the policy outright but in another, it is seen to be claiming part of the glory for the implementation of the pro-poor education policy, encouraging the government to go ahead with it.
The difficulty for many well-meaning Ghanaians, however, is understanding what the ‘true’ position of the NDC is over the implementation of free SHS in the country.
Quality Vs. Free
The NDC in 2012 had 38 television adverts against the free SHS, indicating that what was feasible was quality education and not free SHS. That led ex-President Mahama to come up with the concept of 200 Community Day High Schools, out of which he could not complete even 30, with all the support his administration had from the World Bank.
Ex-President John Mahama had indicated in the heat of the 2012 electioneering campaign that the Free SHS policy of President Akufo-Addo was not possible.
Speaking at the campus of University of Cape Coast, Mr. Mahama had expressed doubt about the source of funding for the policy.
“Kenya has appealed for international assistance to prevent their secondary school system from falling apart. A recent study done on free SHS in Kenya shows that it is running into major difficulties,” President Mahama told students of Cape Coast University in 2012, as he sought to point out that funding free SHS is very expensive and that African states cannot afford such a project.
Former Deputy Information and Education Minister, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, had also indicated in September 2012 that the NPP’s Free SHS policy was a ‘risky’ one which would not win the party (referring to the NPP) the elections.
He went ahead to vow that he would resist the implementation of the policy, saying the NPP, with Nana Addo as a leader, wanted to collapse education in Ghana.
Interestingly, on September 6, 2017, Mr. Ablakwa was reported to have stated that the NDC started the Free SHS policy in 2014 with 10,400 students on a World Bank loan, apparently trying to also claim glory for the NDC as far as the implementation of Free SHS is concerned.
Strangely, less than six days later, Ablakwa appears to be having doubts in the potential of Free SHS being an asset to the Ghanaian society rather than a liability, as he is reported to have stated that Free SHS, which he boasts of as having been started by his party, may cause many school dropouts in the country.
“What is clear to me is that government is going to struggle to find the money. For an adequate and proper implementation of Free SHS, you would need GH¢600 million a term. They should rather target the poor students with the GH¢400 million and not the rich. I think it’s not sustainable, especially under the current circumstances,” Mr Ablakwa, NDC Member of Parliament for North Tongu stressed.
However, his colleague minority leader who doubles as MP for Tamale South, Haruna Iddrisu, thinks otherwise, as he commended the NPP government for the Free SHS policy.
Mr. Iddrisu had indicated at the party’s controversial ‘unity walk’ held in Tamale over the weekend, that the Free SHS programme is a noble, social, political and educational policy.
Just a day after his statement, his party in parliament took a new position, condemning the programme.
Ex-President Mahama, has on the other hand, passionately appealed to President Akufo-Addo to honour his promises to Ghanaians, including the Free SHS, even though he (Mahama) is on record to have said it is impossible to roll-out Free SHS in Ghana.