Experts, stakeholders call for ‘Free SHS Policy Review’ can’t be political

social interveTime to rethink funding of FSHS; as energy transition threatens financing of the policyntion programmes

The Free Senior High School (SHS) policy, for both boarding and day students in Ghana, as introduced in September 2017 by President, Nana Akufo-Addo’s government, received several applause and commendations from experts and sector stakeholders, hence calls for its review by the same authorities cannot be politically motivated, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) has expressed.

According to the CSOs, the significant role of the policy in attaining  Sustainable Development Goal four (SDG-4), and its importance in human resource development as a key social intervention were touted by stakeholders both local and international, developmental agencies, donor organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and experts in academia, as well as the clergy who in some years past own these schools, therefore a call by same people to review the funding structure definitely would be for better functionality.

The Presbyterian church commended the policy and government for introducing such a great social intervention initiative when it was introduced. For instance, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana (PCG), Rt Rev. Prof. Joseph Obiri Yeboah Mante, at the opening ceremony of the 19th General Assembly of the PCG at Abetifi in the Eastern Region, in August 2019, commended the government for the introduction of the free Senior High School (SHS).

The Chief Executive Officer of Africa Education Watch (Eduwatch), Kofi Asare, stated that monitoring the free SHS trends over the past few months, he has gathered news reports of key institutions, statemen, religious bodies and clergy, traditional rulers, and academia call for review of the policy.

He cited headlines made by  Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, Asantehene, Most. Rev. Charles Palmer-Buckle, Prof. Otchere Addai-Mensah, Dean and Senior Lecturer Haematology/Immunology KNUST, and Prof Stephen Adei, former Chairman of the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC).

Others are Catholic Bishops, Presbyterian church, Methodist church, Conference of Heads and Assisted Senior High Schools (CHASS), National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT), Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), National Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs), CSOs, among many others.

Interestingly, Minister of Finance, Ken Ofori Atta, a cabinet member, and Director-General of the Ghana Education Service (GES), Prof. Kwasi Opoku Amankwah, have all expressed in one form or the other need to review the policy.

President Nana Akufo-Addo, and the Minister of Education, Dr. Yaw Osei Adutwum, have been two loud voices that have consistently kicked against a review with the defense that reviewing the policy would defeat its purpose. As for the Nana Addo, ‘Review’ means Cancel, and so he doesn’t want to hear that word anywhere near the policy.

In recent times, food shortage has hard hit the SHSs with some headteachers warning of closing down the schools. This has further heightened the call for review but the government is of the opposite opinion that everything is under control.

Kofi Asare said: “I have engaged over 22 Parents Associations (PAs) this week alone. So far, the lowest parents are paying for SHS feeding is GH₵300. We just paid GH₵300 for my nephew at St Peters SHS.

According to Joy News, schools like Wesley Girls are paying GH₵500; that’s about the entire feeding cost for the semester.

I am happy the PAs have heeded the distress calls of SHS heads to end the starvation, and ignored the assurances of politicians. If you believe the politicians, your children may die of hunger. Be responsible!

Whether the Free SHS is reviewed or not by the government is immaterial now. The most important thing is that our kids must not starve or be underfed under the care of the government when we can feed them.”

He quizzed further that now that parents are paying up to 100 percent of the cost of feeding for the semester, what will the government use the money originally meant for feeding for?

What exactly do the review calls mean?

According to Richard Kovey Kwashie, Convener, Commercialization of Education (CAPCOE), The constitution made provision for secondary and tertiary education to be free at a point. The problem with what is being implemented now is the wholesale nature and the fact that feeding is extended to even day students.

“Mind you, we still have some primary schools in certain parts of the country not being fed. Junior High Schools (JHS) students are excluded from feeding and when they move to SHS we assume they can’t feed themselves so the state should bear the cost,” he said.

The financial burden this is imposing on the state is making it difficult to channel resources into infrastructure at the pre-tertiary level. Even that, food supply to the students and learning materials supply have been a challenge as new curriculum textbooks are yet to be produced.

The trickle-down effect of this situation is that it is also causing a double-tract system and shift system at secondary and basic education levels. The resultant effect is a compromise on quality.

Therefore, the review calls are seeking a cost-sharing middle ground that will relieve the government of some of the cost items and give parents that are capable and willing to pay the opportunity to pay full or part payment depending on the agreed outcomes of the review

What is the cost-sharing proposal?

Some stakeholders want education to be free and accessible to every child but others are of the view that it could have been based on the income level of parents and guardians where some could pay full, others half, and the rest free.

In this situation, what the middle and upper-class pay could be used to take care of the poor. Breaking it down further, all category ‘C’ and ‘D’ schools could be a free system while ‘B’ pay half the feeding cost and ‘A’ pay full cost for schooling.

All are geared towards easing the cost burden for the government to improve and upgrade C and D schools to reduce the craving for every child opting for A schools.

According to the Archbishop for Cape Coast, Most Rev. Palmer-Buckle the free SHS policy has come to offer relief to parents, but the government needs to reconsider reviewing it to remove all bottlenecks.

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