Funding options for ‘Free SHS’

Mr. Jerry J. Afolabi

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

…Nelson Mandela.

As Ghanaians, we must make the education of the youth our ‘Core Value’ to develop the fundamental human capacity base of our country. The ‘Free SHS’ policy is laudable and acceptable, but its funding approach by the NPP government has come under serious scrutiny across the country.

Whereas others believe it should be funded through oil revenue, another school of thought also believes it’s should be funded through agricultural generated revenue. The educational system in Ghana has seen some significant improvement in the area of infrastructure, even though there is still more to be done.

The ‘Free SHS’ programme is believed to be the vehicle to drive Ghana’s growth and bridge the gap that exists in education. Ghana’s economy can only advance in development, entrepreneurship and be industrialised when we improve its human capital base through education (free, compulsory, universal basic education) by ensuring it is Accessible, Quality, Continuous, and Sustainable for all.

Article 25 of Ghana’s 1992 constitution provides for equal rights to educational opportunities for all. The article also introduces progressively free education at the secondary level for all Ghanaian children. Ghana’s history proves that since 1951 successive governments have tried different approaches, methodology and policy directions for full implementation of this constitutional provision (to ensure free, compulsory, universal basic education for all), but with just varying success rates.

It is worth commending government for its bold, confident step to introduce the ‘Free SHS’ policy and commitment to ensuring its full successful implementation; however, there are very crucial and mindboggling questions which remain unclear and have generated several debates and discussions across all political and institutional sections of the country.

An important and crucial issue of contention in Ghana now is how the whole Free SHS programme will be funded by government to ensure it is sustainable and continues. A number of key stakeholders have expressed strong dissatisfaction with the funding options, as well as the budgetary allocation for the 2018 academic year, but I sincerely believe we have the resources and requisite knowledge to ensure full implementation and success of this flagship programme. I will make some recommendations as to how we can fund the programme to go forward and guarantee its sustainability.

Questions on the Free SHS policy’s Sustainability

  • How will government continuously find funds to sustain the Free SHS policy?
  • Can the Ghanaian economy (revenue generation) accommodate the Free SHS policy’s full cost   annually?
  • What is government’s clear plan-blueprint to solve the educational infrastructure (classroom blocks, science labs, boarding facilities and availability of technology) deficit?
  • How to avoid risk of decreasing quality in SHS educational circle as a consequence of introducing the ‘Free SHS’ programme.

The various discussions and debates across the country have allowed the general public to buy-in on how government plans to fund the entire programme and ensure its sustainability. As a concerned citizen and a stakeholder, I am worried about the current revenue mobilisation capacity of our country and whether or not government has any clear-cut blueprint implementation strategy and funding alternatives to ensure that this ‘Free SHS’ policy is sustainable, continuous, accessible and compulsory for all schoolgoing-age children in the country.

Full implementation of the ‘Free SHS’ policy is set to cost Ghana about GH¢3.6bn annually – without budgetary provision to improve the infrastructural deficit. Looking at the current economic situation of the country – especially with respect to the skyrocketing public debt which currently stands at GH¢139bn and the shortfall in revenue collection – it is very unclear whether sustainable funding can be secured for the Free SHS programme. Particularly as government is yet to make public any official implementation framework strategy for the policy.

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What is Free in the Free SHS Programme

  • Free SHS means Free tuition, free admission, no library fee, no science centre fee, no computer lab fee, no examination fee, no utility fee, no boarding fee, free meals for both boarding and days students, no PTA fee, free text books for all students, and no WAEC fee as well.
  • Free SHS also means that all Technical, Vocational, Agricultural Education and Training institutions in Ghana at the high school level are also free.

Recommendations to Consider for Sustenance of the Free SHS Programme

  • Quality Assurance: The ministry of education must acknowledge the risk of decreasing quality in SHS education delivery, and establish what I call the Ghana Education Evaluation Institute (GEEI) to perform regular evaluation of the Free SHS programme and publish the report to maintain and improve the quality of SHS education in Ghana.
  • Education is the core value base for any nation’s development. It is very important that we have bi-partisan discussions on the programme and obtain legislation from parliament of Ghana to back it up, so that successive governments won’t be able to discontinue the flagship programme.
  • Again, there is need for national stakeholder discussions/involvement and inclusion in all statements, all arms of government and the general public, to suggest the best possible ways how the Free SHS programme should be funded and which are acceptable to all – with a commitment. A policy blueprint must be developed, through a coordinated strategy for full implementation of the programme, for its funding, planning, implementation, monitoring, examination, review and evaluation to ensure continuity and sustainability of the Free SHS programme.

Recommended Funding Options for the Free SHS Programme

Create Endowment fund for Free SHS

One of the most reliable and sustainable means of funding education across the world is through an Endowment Fund created to support education – i.e. tuition, technology, research, books, students, school activities etc. History has it that education has been funded through endowment funds, especially, in developed nations like the US, UK, Germany and some notable Asian countries – and this has guaranteed the sustainability, efficiency, quality and continuity of education in all these countries, which we can learn from as a developing country that is committed to bridging the gap in education.

I wish to recommend that government, through the ministry of education, Ghana Education Service and all recognised education bodies, should initiate a broader stakeholder discussion on how an Endowment Fund can be established for the Free SHS programme to guarantee its sustainability and continuous reliable funding for it.

The Free SHS endowment fund when established would be the permanent and most dedicated source of funding for the programme, and maintain teaching, feeding, books and all other resources which may be needed for success of the programme.

Introduce a Special Levy to Fund Free SHS

On the other hand, a special levy should be introduced by government backed by Legislation to fund the programme – rather than the recent suggestions by some individuals that citizens should voluntarily contribute to support funding for the Free SHS programme. How Sustainable would that be? Need I say more than that in other jurisdictions higher education is funded with a portion of the tax revenue collected annually? Government should engage with all other stakeholders and individuals in a broader discussion to agree and introduce what I call the ‘Free SHS Levy’ to support funding for the programme going forward.

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Percentage of Return on SSNIT Investment and other Pension schemes

The Ghana education ministry and government can initiate a stakeholder discussion and debate on the viable possibilities of channeling a percentage of the return on investment generated from all pension schemes and contributions to funding the Free SHS programme, since records and data prove that it is very reliable and can sustain the programme.

However, I wish to emphasise the need for immediate registration of all SHS students on a SSNIT scheme, or any other pension scheme and with a GRA TIN, to ensure that as they enjoy the Free SHS today they will also contribute for other generations to benefit from the programme. In that way it is continuous, sustainable and can be freely guaranteed.

Oil Revenue (ABFA & GHF)

Considering the current economic situation of the country; the fact that the debt stock of the country has increased to GH¢139bn as at the end of June, 2017; and the fact that the debt to GDP ratio is at 69%, which simply means the interest payments of the country annually is about 44%, it is very worrying as to how government can continuously fund the Free SHS programme – especially when revenue generation has become the biggest challenge for this country.

Some have said government should readily rely on the oil revenue – i.e. Annual Budget Funding Amount (ABFA) to fund the programme – while others say the Ghana Heritage Fund (GHF) should be used. But I ask: how reliable is oil-generated revenue, given the frequent fluctuations in crude oil prices?

I believe that some percentage from the ABFA & GHF and revenue generated from agriculture can be used to fund the programme.

Conclusion

The funding system for the Free SHS programme, I believe, is in a phase of transition. Let no one in this country doubt our capability and resolve to ensure this programme is successful and continuous, because it is within our power as a nation to make it work. More or less all aspects of the funding means will be reformed in the near-future, I believe, since we are committed to ensuring the programme is sustainable and continuous for the benefit of all citizens.

The key point in the debate about funding options for the Free SHS is the question of consensus needed as to which of them can be agreed upon as acceptable to all, as ensuring the programme is sustainable, continuous and with the required quality.

In my concluding remarks, we must acknowledge that competition raises quality; so I wish to state that in ensuring that SHS is free for all, we must provide the needed resources and facilities so as to improve the quality, infrastructure and remuneration of the facilitators/teachers in general.

Jerry J. AFOLABI is a financial & Economic expert who believes that ordinary people can do extraordinary things when given the opportunity. He is a Change Maker who believes that Ghana will become a developed nation. He has the ability of easily getting people to get things done for the good of humanity. Email: jelilius@gmail.com/0541238987

 

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