Development Discourse with Amos Safo: Free Secondary education revolution; 5 years on

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The current funding module of the Free Senior High School policy is not sustainable and needs to be reviewed urgently, according to Dr. Steve Manteaw, Co-chair of Ghana Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

A revolution is described as: (a) sudden, radical or complete change; (b) a fundamental change in political organisation, especially the overthrow of one government or ruler and the substitution of another by the governed; and (c) an activity or movement designed to effect fundamental changes in the socioeconomic situation of a country. For the purpose of this article, the third definition of a revolution is significant. Simply put, revolutions usually occur to bring change.

The most historic revolutions the world has experienced were the industrial revolution and the revolutions for civil rights and political liberties in Europe. Similarly, Ghana experienced two so-called revolutions in 1979 and 1981; but unlike in Europe, Ghana’s revolutions were military-induced – which wreaked unnecessary hardship on both the military and civilian populations.

Currently, however, there is a new revolution – which like the industrial revolution of Europe is designed to cause massive human capital development for the long-term economic transformation of Ghana. The Human Development Index (HDI) is an indicator now used to measure economic development beyond the usual Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This human capital revolution is the Free Senior Secondary School (SHS) policy introduced in 2017 by the Akufo-Addo administration. Free SHS is a policy to ensure that thousands, if not millions, of Ghanaian youths enjoy the benefit of secondary education as a matter of right.

A critical review of the policy has revealed that the Free SHS policy’s success thus far can be attributed to three key elements: a proper problem definition, a clearer outline of goals to be achieved, and the identification of policy instruments to address the problem and achieve the goals.

The key problem that necessitated a Free SHS policy was the backlog of youth who could not access secondary education because of two factors. Firstly, the problem of affordability and the cutoff point policy imposed by the Ministry of Education and Ghana Education Service in the past. The cutoff policy, for instance, was imposed to prevent more children from accessing secondary education just because they had not obtained a high aggregate.

At the time of the policy formulation and implementation, an estimated one million Junior High School (JHS) students could not gain admission to secondary education because of the two factors elucidated above. The net result was that several youths of secondary-going age invaded the streets of Accra, Kumasi, Takoradi and Tema as hawkers, while the rest made a living as house-helps and illegal miners.

The Ministry of Education has disclosed that, in 2017 alone, a backlog of 120,000 additional students who did not have the means to enrol in secondary school had to be provided for under the new policy. In subsequent years, the double-track policy was introduced to absorb the huge numbers of JHS graduates that wanted to enrol in secondary education.

Like the policy itself, the double-track innovation was maligned and bastardised by some political elites in Ghana whose agenda has been to deny children from poor homes the benefit of universal secondary education. Thankfully, the Free SHS revolution has overturned this objectionable mindset. At the current rate of admission to secondary schools across the country, the policy has absorbed more than 1.6 million students in its five years of implementation.

The consecutive successful pass rate of the 2020 and 2021 batches is an indication that the Free SHS policy has been very successful, amid teething problems. The fact that the policy was a virgin policy indicates that it took political will and commitment to implement such a bold, inclusive and universal policy.   Comparatively, the population of students writing the final WASSCE is more than double that of the years preceding 2017. Though we haven’t arrived yet, indications are that the Free SHS and Technical and Vocational Education (TVET) revolutions, if sustained, will transform Ghana’s economy over time.

General statistics from 2015-2021

201540.9%
201646.9%
201747.3%
201852.1%
201962.9%
202060%
202160%

 

From the figure above, you will notice that from 2019 the West Africa Secondary Certificate Examination results improved from 52.1% to 62.9% because the Ministry of Education introduced specific interventions for the final-year students of non-Free SHS policy. The fact that the Free SHS candidates of 2020 and 2021 scored 60% for two consecutive years gives an indication of the policy’s success, considering the huge numbers.

Comparative analysis of core subject performance

English Language pass rate

201545.2%
201651.6%
201752.2%
201846.7%
201949.02%
202056.31%
202154.08%

 

Integrated Science

201528.7%
201648.3%
201752.89%
201850.48%
201962.94%
202052.53%
202165.07%

 

Mathematics

201532.1%
201633.15
201741.66%
201838.15%
201964.23%
202065.71%
202152.11%

 

Social studies

201557.4%
201654.55%
201742.52%
201873.25%
201975.68%
202064.31%
202166.03%

 

The above statistics demonstrate that despite the implementation setback that Free SHS faced – such as the resistance by some teachers and school administrators as well as political opposition, the policy has largely achieved its goal of removing barriers to access and affordability. It has also so far improved quality and core contact time through teacher motivation. Ironically, the 2021 batch of students were the pioneers of the double-track system, which was run down by anti-Free SHS campaigners. Many critics, including some parents, ran the policy down. Thus, the critics of Free SHS must concede that the policy has revolutionised secondary education for the good of the country.

Utmost satisfaction

Naturally, President Nana Akufo-Addo has expressed extreme satisfaction with the Free Senior High School (SHS) policy introduced by his administration in September 2017 – amid stiff opposition from the National Democratic Congress, the biggest opposition party in Ghana. In a speech at the 70th anniversary celebration of the Tamale Senior High School (TAMASCO) on 11th December 2021, President Akufo-Addo underscored the point that the best policy response is to build a country of many opportunities, and ensuring a better future means investing in education and skills training for the youth.

President Akufo-Addo pointed out that an educated workforce is an essential ingredient for Ghana to transition from a developing to a developed nation, adding that: “It is Ghanaians like you and I, and especially the youth of today, who are going to build Ghana”.

According to him, the 2020 and 2021 WASSCE results justify his government’s formulation and investment in the Free SHS policy. “There were some who described Free SHS as ‘a waste’; some said it would ‘destroy our Ivy League Schools’; and some indicated that the policy would compromise the quality of senior high school education. None of these have happened, and I am sure they have egg on their faces now,” President Akufo-Addo stated. “With the sterling performance of the Free SHS policy thus far, those public figures should stop their antagonism toward the policy,” he added.

Commitment to Education 

The president has thus appealed for all Ghanaians to shun parochial sentiments and embrace Free-SHS as an essential national education architecture, since education has the power to transform the future of Ghana. It is therefore pertinent for government to reinforce its commitment to continue providing quality and relevant education for all the youth.

In pursuance of quality and relevant education, President Akufo-Addo told the audience at Tamale that his government has introduced the teacher licensure regime to professionalise teaching and bring it in line with international best practices. Thus far, the National Teaching Council has issued some 129,000 licences to teachers across the country.  In addition, government has commenced construction of 20 Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) centres across the country, with all 20 at various stages of completion.

Besides, out of the 1,119 projects being constructed under the Free Senior High School Infrastructure Intervention, 657 have been completed; meanwhile 2,718 vehicles have been procured and distributed to various institutions across the country. President Akufo-Addo disclosed that in 2022 his government will expand the Free SHS Programme to cover all first-year students in public TVET Institutes. This will be done with the completion of nine Model Senior High Schools across the country.

He announced that government will continue with implementing various reforms and projects in the TVET sector: including the rehabilitation and upgrading of technical universities; upgrading and modernising the 34 NVTI centres; retooling TVET Institutes; and establishing ten (10) state-of-the-art TVET institutes.

In 2018 Cabinet completed the TVET transformation agenda that brought the TVET institutes of 19 ministries under the newly-created TVET Education Service’s umbrella. Hitherto, these 280 technical and vocational training institutes had been scattered among the 19 ministries – making TVET education-coordination every difficult. It is expected that bringing the training institutes under one umbrella will bridge the gap between academia and industry, and make TVET education more relevant to the needs of industry.

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