The Ghanaian economy is undoubtedly going through significant economic challenges, and attempts to rescue it from the jaws of collapse have put the popular Free SHS on the altar of sacrifice.
It has become the easiest target to blame for the economic woes facing the country when, in fact, the real causes of our fiscal challenges are untouched. In recent times, a number of eminent statesmen have all joined in chorus to demand for the policy to be at least reviewed in a way that will have less impact on the national purse.
Touching the Free SHS, however, will be the biggest mistake any policy-maker can ever make, and they will never be forgiven.
There’s been differing views on the implementation of the policy, but voices for the policy to be scrapped, suspended or reviewed, in whichever form, have been growing lately due largely to the fiscal challenges confronting the state.
But listening to such voices could only mean one thing: widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots.
No one is more vulnerable to the challenges the economy is going through than the poor. Taking the Free SHS away from them will further confine them to the periphery of economic empowerment, perpetual poverty, and disrupt efforts to increase the literacy population in the country, and the girl-child will be the biggest victim.
Unfortunately, many of the beneficiaries of the Free SHS policy do not have access to the mass media to let people know their thoughts on the Free SHS, and so the privileged few with access to ‘public addressing systems’ have dominated the airwaves and made it seem like Free SHS was not a carefully thought-through policy. But no! Evidence from research from many institutions suggest otherwise, and shows the mass endorsement of the policy.
If there’s one policy which has had far-reaching impact on the population, it is the Free SHS; and the poor – those who were constrained by finances in furthering the education of their wards beyond JHS – have been the biggest beneficiaries. Even the middle class and elite in society have had some respite in their spending on the education of their extended family members, allowing them to channel the funds they otherwise would have spent on the secondary education of their family members to other ventures.
Why the continuation or relevance of such a policy will come up for debate points to one thing: People want to just keep the status quo even if they pretend that is not their motive.
There have been suggestions that the cost burden on the state in implementing the free SHS could be cut if the policy was better targeted at those who clearly cannot afford the educational expenses of their wards at the Senior High School level.
While the spirit behind such suggestion may be noble, the implementation of such an ideal may be problematic in a country where data on the population is poor, which is why other policies such as the many scholarship schemes to bridge financing gap of the poor have failed to reach their targeted audience.
If the Ghana Revenue Authority has for many years failed to properly capture those who are required to pay tax and are not doing so, it beggars belief how anyone will think assessment of who needs Free SHS can better be done.
More so, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that people who seemingly can afford their wards’ fees now, are in fact, only a paycheck or two away from joining the population of the vulnerable and that of those unable to pay the SHS fees of their wards. A lot of workers, even those with white-collar jobs, are living on ‘hand-to-mouth’ and any slight shift in their finances threatens their economic well-being. That is why even those perceived to be in a position to finance their wards high school fees must be protected to benefit from the Free SHS policy.
According to the government’s budget, implementation of Free SHS cost the nation an estimated GH¢2.4billion per annum. The cost of the Free SHS is 40 percent less than the GH¢4billion the state forfeited and granted to institutions and companies as import exemptions in 2021, as stated in government’s 2022 budget. It is also 90 percent less of the estimated GH¢22.5billion the state loses to corruption every year, according to data from Ghana Integrity Initiative – the local chapter of Transparency International.
So if anyone is minded of the need to fix the fiscal gap in government’s budget, there are many revenue areas that can be proposed to the state to target and make a lot more savings.
Scrapping, suspending or reviewing the Free SHS is not one of them, and should not be sacrificed to please the desires of other people.