Prof. George Oduro speaks: ‘Free SHS – Emerging Challenges’

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I am very pleased to be associated with today’s policy dialogue organised by the Professional Intellectuals on the broad theme: In search of Relevant Formal Education in Contemporary Ghana.

I am particularly intrigued by the opportunity offered me to share my views on the sub-theme ‘Free SHS- Emerging Challenges’.

I am extremely grateful to the organizers for this chance because I have been very passionate about the implementation approaches to the Free SHS policy ever since it was introduced in 2017.

The Place of Secondary Education in National Development
Mr. Chairman, Fellow Ghanaians, permit me to draw attention to the fact that education is a key ingredient in accelerating development in both personal and societal contexts. No aspect of our nation’s development agenda can, therefore, be strategically pursued without reference to education (QUALITY EDUCATION). Central to the chain of education levels is secondary education (in our context senior high school education) which provides the transitional bridge between basic education and tertiary education. It is at the level of senior high school that the foundations of knowledge, skills and attitudes laid at the basic school level are sharpened and/or modified to fit into our national human capital development aspirations and values.

1 The quality of students produced by our senior high schools (be it grammar or technical and vocational type) play a crucial role in determining the quality graduates produced by our tertiary education institutions. Certainly, no policy discourse on the development of knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary for sustaining our nation’s development can be considered complete without reference to what happens at the secondary school level.

Fee Free Education – Not a 21st Century Phenomenon
It is in this light that successive governments have since independence put in measures, such as Fee Free education, to ensure that our young ones gain access to secondary school education. Governments of the Convention People’s Party (CPP), the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP) have all provided Free Education in varied forms and implementation philosophies. Mr. Chairman, it is worth reminding ourselves that the phenomenon of Fee Free secondary education, is not a 21st century phenomenon as some schools of thought wants us to believe today.

Guided by its egalitarian political philosophy, UNESCO’s 1960 Convention against Discrimination in Education and the Education Act of 1961 (Act 87), the Government of the Convention People’s Party (CPP), provided free education at all levels of the educational system: the primary, middle, secondary and tertiary levels of education. Secondary education received notable attention. A ‘national’ secondary schools project, driven through the Ghana Education Trust (GET), was embarked upon with the aim of increasing access to secondary education in remote and poor regions such as the

2 Northern, Upper West, and Upper East areas. Until 1966 when the CPP Government was overthrown and the Governments of the National Liberation Council (NLC) and the Progressive Party scrapped fee free education because it was viewed as an albatross on the nation’s neck. no parent in Ghana paid any school fees from Primary school to University levels.

The 1992 Constitution of our country reawakened the free education phenomenon. Article 26 (b) of the Constitution, for example, explicitly provides that: secondary education in its different forms, including technical and vocational education, shall be made generally available and accessible to all by every appropriate means, and in particular, by the progressive introduction of free education.

He drew the attention to the catchphrase ‘by the progressive introduction of free education’ which, in my opinion, implies that introduction and implementation of free senior high school in our country should be gradual, steady or unrushed. I am not a Constitutional Lawyer, but my assumption is that the framers of the 1992 Constitution provided for a ‘progressive introduction of free education’ because of the country’s limited resources which are likely to adversely affect the management of other sectors of our economy, inhibit quality implementation of an instantaneous free senior high school programme and also create sustainability challenges.

3 In line with this constitutional provision, the NDC Government with support from the World Bank under the Secondary Education Improvement Programme. (SEIP), introduced a progressive fee free SHS education in 2014. The NDC maintained the Northern Scholarship instituted by the CPP Government. Through the NDC’s progressively fee free programme, scholarships for needy senior high school students. The NDC also invested heavily in senior high schools building projects and capacity building for Mathematics, Science and ICT teachers.

In September 2017, the Government of the NPP decided to move beyond the Constitutional mandate of ‘Progressive introduction of Free Senior Secondary Education’ by introducing an instantaneous wholesale free SHS programme as we are experiencing now. The announcement of the NPP Government’s model of Free SHS programme generated public debates which fundamentally focused on the implementation strategy. Indeed, no contributor to the initial debates kicked against the phenomenon of Free SHS nor denied the access expansion advantages associated with the removal of all fees and other related costs in the provision of senior high school education in the country. There were, however, questions of implementation concerns that remained unanswered prior to the implementation of the policy. These included:
1. of the Free SHS policy? ‘How do we ensure that quality is not compromised in the wholesale implementation
2. fundamental shared responsibilities towards schools? How do we sensitize stakeholders, particularly parents against reneging on their
3. How was the policy going to reneging on its financial commitment to other sectors of the economy? questions of concern which some stakeholders sought answers for. be funded to assure its sustainability without Government These were
4 A number of individuals and groups, including a former Minister of Defence, Hon Dr. Kwame Addo Kuffour, a staunch member of the NPP, cautioned the government not to rush the implementation of the programme but rather make better preparations to ensure its sustainability.
rush in implementing the policy and that the first year of the Government’s assumption of leadership should be used to:
• sensitize parents and other stakeholders to enable them think through the implementation strategies towards understanding the implications of the Free SHS policy for their shared responsibilities to schools
• initiate a process of revamping and equipping the science laboratories of less endowed senior high schools and stocking their libraries with books
• recruit teachers with requisite expertise to handle subjects to avoid the situation where for example, in some less endowed schools, a biology teacher is made to teach mathematics, a vernacular (Ghanaian Language) teacher made to teach English etc, and
• put in strategies to ensure that supplies to schools are not unnecessarily delayed.
These concerns were ignored amidst name tagging, with the Ministry of Education arguing that all necessary consultations had been done and that implementation plans were solid to sustain the policy.
The characteristic of all free education policies, there is no doubt that the Government’s Free SHS policy has made gains when it comes to Access. Records suggest that approximately 1.2 million students will benefit from the policy in the next
5. I remember my own submission that the Ministry of Education should not academic year. Thus, the key school-based benefit associated with the initiative relates to access expansion. Indeed, the historical analysis of free education models from the CPP Government and experiences from a country such as Kenya, establish strongly that increased enrolment is a common feature of every fee free policy.

Accommodating students and Double Track System
Like the CPP’s experience, which in my opinion should have guided the Ministry of Education in its rush to scale up implementation of the Free SHS programme, enrolment has outstripped available senior high school places in the country. In 2018, we had to grapple with the challenge of accommodating approximately 181,000 students, which in my opinion proper pre-implementation planning could have obviated. The issue of admission grades came out strongly as a factor that led to increased enrolment. Some Headmasters I spoke to disclosed that in some schools, BECE graduates with grades as low as 50 were admitted to SHS because the Minister of Education, had described as “irrelevant” and unnecessary cut-off point for the admission and implementation of the free Senior High School (SHS) policy”. We cannot talk about quality without talking about standards and for that matter cut off points and I am yet to see any country in the world where admissions to schools are made without grade cut off point for placement.
era of initiatives.
6 The pegged at 32.8% (GOG Budget 2018), obviously required strategies for accommodating
huge student enrolment increase, which the Ministry of Finance in its 2018 Budget

quality components of the Free SHS policy.
It also called for techniques to cope with challenges relating to the equity and
This led to the introduction of the double track system (DTS) as a coping intervention. In 2018, I sampled opinions from 120 stakeholders on three simple questions on the impact of DTS on access, quality and equity.

Impact of DTS on Access
In terms of impact on access, all 120 respondents ranked the impact high with 116 (96.7%) indicating very high impact and 4 (3.3.%) suggesting high impact on enrolment. Without the DTS, the government would not have been able to manage the enrolment of almost 181,000 students. So the greatest impact of DTS is the management of increased student enrolment.

While the DTS provided an alternative means of accommodating the increased number of students, I also find it to be a strategic intervention through which Government has reduced its expenditure on the free SHS. My investigation suggests that in 2018, with the DTS, the Government spent approximately GH323 million on the Free SHS. Without the double-track system, the Government would have required approximately GH1.3 billion to accommodate the increased numbers of students. With the financial benefits associated with the funding of the Free SHS through the DTS, one should appreciate why

7 Government still holds on to the DTS, despite the quality challenges associated with it and the psychological torments experienced by students.

Impact on Quality
Regarding DTS’ impact on quality of teaching and learning, 24 ( 20%) said the impact was high, while 52 (43.3% ) and 38 (31.7% ), respectively, ranked the impact very low and low, with 6 (5% ) saying DTS had not made any significant impact on quality teaching and learning. Thus, 90 (75% ) out of the 120 respondents ranked the impact on quality teaching low.

Thus, so far as managing challenges relating to access expansion is concerned, the DTS is a perfect intervention. But, I cannot say same in terms of quality. Indeed, in a situation where a child completes JHS in June but has to wait till November to commence studies as a Gold track student, it is obvious that unless that child comes from an endowed home where parents would easily invest in private classes, or comes from an environment where well-resourced community libraries are available, the SHS entry foundation laid for the child at the JHS level is more likely to be weakened. A situation such as this may put pressure on the child as he/she tries to catch up with his/her colleagues placed under the Green Track. Where do we place equity in a case like this?
Equity Issues Responding to the impact on equity in terms of teaching and learning in deprived and endowed schools, 32 (26.7% ), said DTS has impacted positively on children’s learning,

8 with some explaining that it has offered both the poor and the rich access to Class A schools like Wesley Girls and Achimota. 84 ( 69.7% ), however, said DTS has had very low impact on equity, with some explaining that many disadvantaged schools do not have required number of trained teachers while endowed schools have the full complement of subject teachers.

The foregoing suggests strongly that Quality and Equity, which are key components of SDG 4, are suffering in the current mode of implementing the FSHS. This must be a matter of concern to all stakeholders. For me, rejoicing over the FSHS’s expansion of access to 1.2milion students alone defeats the principles underlying SDG4: Access, Quality and Equity. Pursuing quality-indexed Free SHS should be prioritized because as Belinda Bozzoli, (a Facebooker) rightly observes, ‘destroying a nation does not require the use of bombs and missiles. It only requires lowering the quality of education …. Then the patients die at the hands of doctors. Buildings collapse at the hands of engineers. Money is lost at the hands of accountants; Truth is killed at the hands of judges’.

While I acknowledge DTS’ impact on student enrolment, we must remember that enrolment without equity and quality in terms of teaching and learning resource distribution, students’ access to qualified subject teachers, well equipped laboratories, well stocked libraries, delayed and inadequate supply of core and elective textbooks and other logistics necessary for facilitating teaching and learning, the future of deprived Free SHS schools in the country will be bleak and widen further the gap between the rich and the

9 poor in the country. This in many ways defeats the primary objective of free SHS as impoverished people are qualitatively disadvantaged. Children from rich families whose parents could cope with the cost of extra classes (which ranges between GHC150 and GHC650) and provide other learning-related resources necessary for quality education have the advantage of being prepared to occupy and monopolise the socio-economic decision making processes in future, while poor children in deprived contexts who only go through the school system with little hope of tasting quality teaching and learning are more likely to operate at the periphery of decision making in the future.
Indirect Shift of Cost to Parents

Mr. Chairman, a critical analysis of the ‘FSHS’ implementation model also raises questions regarding the scope of FREENESS in the FSHS as implemented by the NPP Government. Contrary to the principle of ‘No Cost to Parents’ that has characterised Government’s pronouncements on the Free SHS policy, the implementation of the DTS has provided Government an opportunity to indirectly shift some costs associated with the Free SHS to parents. (i) Some capable parents of Gold Track students I spoke to, expressed discomfort with a system where their children will be home from June to November (5 months) so have been compelled to spend money on private classes to sustain the knowledge level of the child. (ii) My investigation further reveals that now all supplies in year one: uniform, textbooks, note and exercise books, are one-off. In this sense, parents would have to bear the cost of supplies in subsequent years, where necessary. All these constitute year on year cost to parents and undermines the Government’s Free SHS

10 principle. (iv) We are still experiencing the practice of having a ward placed in a day school in a different district and region. A headmaster lamented as follows ‘The imposition of this choice comes with serious costs and moral implications especially for girls. Some as young as 13 years. A parent wept because we couldn’t help’.
Mr. Chairman, as we enter the next academic year, one challenge which I anticipate at the tertiary education level is how to accommodate the increased number of applicants not only in terms of residential facilities but more importantly lecture theatres, libraries and science laboratories

Limit Free SHS to only those who cannot pay
Under the financial constraints facing the implementation of the Free SHS, the across board implementation of the policy should be reviewed. In this light, I concur with the July 2018 view expressed by the Minister of Finance, Hon Ken Ofori Atta, that ‘ the policy must target the vulnerable ones who lack the financial capacity and allow those with the means to pay for their children continue to pay fees’. If the spirit behind the Free SHS is to help poor citizens catch up with the rich in accessing quality education, then the target beneficiaries should be the poor in the society. In that case, there would not be the need for double tracking and money would be saved from the rich to strengthen the capacity and enhance the quality of deprived schools for the benefit of poor students.

11 Exempt Boarding Schools from Free SHS
Exempt Boarding schools and concentrate on day schools. In my opinion, it is unfair that both students in boarding and those in day schools should benefit from free SHS at different levels of cost when parents of both day and boarding school students pay taxes. This does not assure equity. Kenya, which has been the key reference point for justifying the Free SHS implementation never extended free education to boarding schools. Neither did they adopt the double track system. Kenya’s is a Free Day Secondary Education (FDSE). Cost of boarding is borne by parents (Ohba, 2009, Mwiria 2014).

In conclusion, I wish to state that the Double Track System has been a necessary evil for mitigating the effects of the poor pre-implementation planning of the free SHS. The System has, however, made little impact on quality and equity components of the Free SHS, especially in disadvantaged rural schools. In managing the limited funds available for the Free SHS, we should focus more on the poor who cannot pay their children’s fees. This would ensure fairness and justice, which underpin equity. We may have to learn a lesson from China. It is through fairness in distributing educational resources that China has become China today. China ensured fairness by reasonably allocating educational resources, giving priority to the rural, remote and poor areas as well as regions of minority, increasing the aid for poor students and giving equal education to farmer’s children so as to make every student beneficial talent’ (Hu JIngtao, cited in Jin Baohua, 2013).

Thank YOU!!

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Kennedy Mornah is an Award Winning Ghanaian Journalist with over two decades of experience in the Ghanaian Media landscape spanning the electronic, print and digital media. He is a Media Consultant, a Corporate MC, Radio and TV Host, Founder and Publisher of the Maritime and Transport Digest Newspaper, Businessman, a Go getter and an optimist. He has worked for renowned media organizations including Diamond Fm in Tamale, Luv Fm in Kumasi, Oman Fm in Accra and Starr Fm in Accra In 2017 he received the Reporter of the Year Award at the Ghana Shippers Awards in Accra, Ghana.

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