Proper housing remains a big challenge for many developing countries including Ghana though it is not making good effort as expected by the ‘have not’ citizenry. Political promises for affordable housing remains a mere rhetoric. It has always been vague expressions from achievable targets with the last few years being the most disappointing in housing. In view of the housing deficit in major cities particularly in Accra, many private basic schools continue to suffer. This article is a case study of three (3) private basic schools in Tantra Hill, Ga West District of Accra.
Urban nomadism refers to urban dwellers that do not own houses and therefore keep moving from one place to the other renting accommodation to house their families. The growing population from the rural areas to Accra has further worsened the housing situation where makeshift plywood, wawa boards and aluminium roofing sheets are used to make movable accommodation. The owners move with the accommodation when they are evicted by land owners who wish to develop their properties.
In search of better future, most parents in Accra enrol their children into schools. The choice of schools depends among other factors; one’s disposal income, aspirations in life, social status, and location of home and workplace. Some may not have gainful employment but yet will spend most of their income and even take loans to educate their children while others will simply settle on what is available to them. The latter is true to the extent of the popular saying “you cannot give what you do not have”.
The quality of basic education has huge impact to the child’s development. Many years ago, a family member who became a medical doctor and now a top medical specialist abroad commented on his secondary school education. He attended Ebenezer Secondary School for his O-level Certificate. He emerged the best student of his school in the O-level result. He enrolled in Presbyterian Boys Secondary School (Presec) Legon for his sixth form (A-level). During his housemanship at Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, we visited him. One of his comments was that “he would prefer his children to be in the bottom of the class in a very good school than be the best in a bad school.”
Reflecting on his comment points to the fact that even though he was the best in his previous school, he suffered the competition in his later school. I am inclined to think that many average Accra parents had and/or heard the same experience as the medical doctor and therefore will rather send their children to fairly good schools to have good foundation.
In this endeavour, I have observed a trend of some basic schools in Tantra Hill which should serve as a metaphor for those who intend to invest into community schools with particular emphasis on the location of the school.
Location of a school is very important to attract the calibre of parents within the disposable income bracket of the school. As the population increases in Accra there is the propensity for many to go into basic education establishment. My caution is that they do a thorough feasibility to be sure of the sustainability of the school for return-on-investment.
It is mostly the case that many parents work outside their community and depending on the distance to work from their community and back; they are usually torn as to where to send their children to school. For parents who work far away from their community and have no house helps who can take care of their children when they return home from school enrol their children in schools close to their work place so they can all return home together.
In this case study, schools with moderate fees has children whose parents do not own housing properties in the community and therefore their stay in the community is temporal. In two (2) particular schools, they have before the close down of schools due to Covid-19 had dwindled pupil population from triple numbers to double and single numbers. One other school closed down completely last year as enrolment dwindled till the last few pupil stopped.
I frequently look at those three (3) within the same area and feel pity for the loss of investment in school buildings which by their architectural design could hardly be used for other viable commercial activity except redesign for maybe accommodation for rentals. Should scare resources be wasted in such gargantuan amount in a developing country that has less accommodation and schools for its people?
- School fees
These collapsed schools are saddled with huge financial burden. They took loans to build the classrooms and furniture. From my investigations most to the children who left the school went with school fees arrears. For one family of three (3) children who left the school, all three (3) children left with huge arrears. There is no way the school authority will retrieve those monies.
If we considered several hundred (100) of pupils who left these three (3) schools in the case study area, and the fact that those pupil left with arrears coupled with the fact that the schools have folded up, they have rendered the management of the schools an insurmountable economic mess.
Policy recommendation for private basic education
Government of Ghana must be rounded in the approach to solving education challenges both public and private. I maintain that peculiar situation needs innovative solutions. The Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE) should not be limited to only public school education knowing that government cannot provide full access to all school going age.
Private school located in some communities whose high enrolments are for low income and unemployed families and are accredited by the Ghana Education Service must be included in the FCUBE. We cannot and should not pretend as a country that public schools have the full space for teaching and learning. The public good of education should not be lost on us as a country desirous of human resource development for national development.
Like the recommendation for Free Senior High School, let parents who cannot afford the fees of private basic schools captured under the government assisted schools apply for financial aid. This is on the proposal that government schools are not adequate to enrol all basic school going age. In like manner, there should be a directive by government to all employers whose minimum wage employees have children in government assisted private basic schools for the employers to absorb the approved fees for the children of their employees. The government in-turn will waive taxes for such companies to cover the amount they have paid into the education programme.
Another policy directive worthy of consideration is for the collection of defaulted school fees of pupil who move from one private school to the other. Once it is established that pupil from previous schools owe school fees to their former school, the bills must be passed on the new school for payment and all an enforcement be issued to the defaulted parents to pay in ways that should cost the school any money to retrieve the fees owe them.
It can be in the form of an Education Directorate Tribunal set up in all District Education Offices who will be clothed with powers to write to parents to demand defaulted fees. Basic education investors should not be left to suffer in their attempt to helping develop the human resource of the country.
In conclusion, I am of the strong opinion that governments of developing countries like Ghana have the biggest responsibility for education development. In their attempt to developing education, it should widely be opened with policy directives to include private participation since government alone cannot provide all the education infrastructural needs. No country can aspire to the top if the basics are not made right.
Each time I see those three (3) private basic schools in Tantra Hill, it aches my heart into thinking that as a country we need rounded policy approach, implementation and continuous improvement to holistically put our education on a forthright agenda to national development.