Minister of Education, Dr Matthew Opoku Prempeh aka Napo, has challenged critics of the government’s Free Senior High School (SHS) programme, who have been claiming that there is massive congestion in the country’s senior high schools due to the introduction of the programme this year.The minister jabbed the critics when the Ministry of Education took its turn to brief journalists during the ‘Meet the Press’ programme at the auditorium of the Ministry of Information in Accra yesterday.
Napo admitted that though the programme initially faced some teething challenges, most of the claims lack merit and are intended by the critics to divert public attention from the good policy the government has adopted to put the country’s educational system on a sound footing.
Recently, former President John Mahama and his opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) members, bitterly criticized the programme, asserting that a future NDC government might scrap it; but he later denied saying that it would be reversed.
Explaining the processes, Dr Opoku Prempeh stated that the Ghana Education Service (GES) acted on the enrolment request it received from heads of various schools to allocate the first-year students, adding that contrary to the congestion claim by the NDC, quite a number of the schools did not even get the enrolment figures they requested for.
He mentioned a recent story on social media depicting a line-up of school beds on the corridors of an SHS school in the Northern Region as one of the misled postings which were seriously intended to arouse public mistrust in the programme.
The minister gave the assurance that the government would not be distracted by such unfounded claims because the presidents’ mantra is to build a solid educational foundation for the country.
Dr. Opoku Prempeh further indicated that before the roll out of the Free SHS programme, the ministry held a series of preparatory meetings with stakeholders at various levels.
Speaking on fee payments for the first years, the minister explained that at the start of the programme in September, the ministry of education provided 20% payment to the schools, and gave the assurance that the remaining would be paid after the heads of the various schools had closed their admissions.
He regretted the fact that as at November 2017 only 100 headmasters out of the 674 SHSs in the country had submitted their returns for the next claims.
He wondered how fees of second and third-year students could be used as feeding grants for the first-years since the amount involved was woefully inadequate.
On procurement procedures, he indicated that headmasters had been instructed to ensure that their suppliers are registered with the Ghana Buffer Stock, which is the key distributing channel for the government.
Dr Opoku Prempeh explained that the government had absorbed the bills of utilities (water and electricity) – in which case the payments are now made directly to the utility service providers.
The government will soon roll out a new programme to introduce the use of solar energy and mechanized borehole systems in secondary and tertiary institutions nationwide as a strategy to cut down on payments for utility services.
He stated that an estimated 1,191,194,942.11 would be spent on infrastructural development in various educational institutions.
According to the minister, the government intends to upgrade 35 National Vocational Training Institutes and nine colleges of education into technical universities.