The Free Senior High School (SHS) policy will enter its third year in September, and per the B&FT’s analysis, the total student population in secondary schools across the country could hit over one million, making it the highest since independence.
Before the Free SHS programme was introduced, the total population of students in SHS stood at 432,780 per the 2016 academic year data, with GH¢2,312 spent on each student per year by government.
However, the first year of the programme’s implementation saw the enrolment of over 400,000 students in the various secondary schools. Last year, about 500,000 students also benefitted from the programme.
If the programme continues as expected, there could be over one million students accessing secondary education free of charge in the country.
The 2017 Education Sector Report indicates that there is 95 percent primary school enrolment, 85 percent Junior High School and 45 percent gross enrolment in SHS education.
This means that five out of every 10 children who start primary school in Ghana do not get the opportunity to attend SHS. But this could significantly reduce as the Free SHS programme has encouraged a lot of enrollment at the secondary school level.
The B&FT’s analysis shows that before the Free SHS was introduced, almost half of Junior High School students who wrote the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) could not enter secondary school for various reasons – ranging from lack of funds to lack of infrastructure to accommodate all qualified students in the same period.
In 2014/2015, for example, about 438,030 students wrote the BECE, but only 275,609 of them got admission into SHS one – leaving almost half out of school.
Again, about 400,000 students wrote the 2016 BECE but only a little over 50 percent were admitted to SHS.
So, before the introduction of free SHS, on the average a little over 200,000 students were able to access SHS across the country annually.
The introduction of the Free SHS in 2017, however, brought in additional 90,000 students, who would have missed out SHS education.
This increased the number of students for the first time to 400,000, but this has put enormous pressure on the existing infrastructure, which various commentators have urged government to resolve.
In September 2018, 472,000 new students were admitted into various Senior High Schools, an increase of 50 percent over the average number in the previous years before the introduction of free SHS.
If the trend continues, over 400,000 students, on average, will henceforth enter SHS every year.
The way forward
Speaking at the 70th-anniversary celebration of the Ghana National College last year, President Nana Akufo-Addo said introduction of the double-track SHS system will accommodate the increase in Senior High School enrolment.
The president indicated that class sizes of students will be further reduced, and contact hours between teachers and students increased.
“The objectives of the double track system are to create room to accommodate the increase in enrolment. Furthermore, it will reduce class sizes; it will increase the contact hours between teachers and students, and increase the number of holidays. All this is going to be achieved with the existing infrastructure,” he said.
The SHS double-track system is similar to the academic calendar used in universities. With this system, each track will be in school for specific days of each semester, then go on vacation and return for the second semester. While the first track is in school the second track will be on vacation, and vice-versa.