The Foundation for Security and Development in Africa (FOSDA) calls on the government to ensure that whatever the case in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) negotiations, the educational hopes of the poor and vulnerable are not sacrificed.
According to the foundation, government must engage key stakeholders on appropriate ways to improve the FSHS policy. This is because the Free SHS policy continues to have a great potential to reduce inequalities within the poor regions and districts, as well as reduce the north and south multi-dimensional poverty dimensions.
Executive Director, FOSDA, Theodora W. Anti, narrated that the Free SHS policy, since its implementation in 2017, has been lauded as one of the significant social intervention policies in Ghana. However, the last couple of months has witnessed debates and calls for a review of some key components of the policy.
The calls have been necessitated by the current economic challenges in the country, including revenue shortfalls, the cedi depreciation, high inflation, the seeming non-performance of the electronic transaction levy (E-Levy), COVID-19 crisis, and the Russia-Ukraine war, compelling government to seek IMF bailout.
“Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that the introduction of the policy has to a larger extent relieved parents and guardians (especially the poor and vulnerable) of the burden of financing their wards’ education.
“The policy has also made it possible for many young people in rural communities to access secondary education. Currently in Ghana, rural areas/localities continue to contribute more than 60 percent of income poverty, experience wide infrastructure gaps and remain vulnerable in terms of health, climate change, among others – which affect livelihoods and further deepen inequality,” she said.
She emphasised that the poor and vulnerable, especially young persons, can easily become targets and be exploited to commit terrorist activities which can, in turn, jeopardise the security of the country.
She added that it will, therefore, be appropriate to ensure that young persons of school-going age are supported to stay in school and that excess is not created for terrorist groups to take advantage of these groups and perpetuate their activities.
Reading the 2022 mid-year Budget Statement on Monday, July 25, 2022, Finance Minister Ken Ofori Atta indicated that: “Since 2017, government has invested Gh₵5.3billion to enable 1,261,495 Ghanaian children to access secondary education under the FSHS programme at the end 2021 to improve access to education”, and reiterated governments’ commitment to continuously fund and improve the FSHS amid the calls for a review.
However, since the announcement of an IMF bailout programme, government has been under immense pressure to reconsider the policy as it consumes a substantial two percent allocation of the portion of the nation’s resources and threatens quality, even though access to education has significantly increased.
For instance, the feeding component of the policy currently at 97 pesewas per student, costs GH₵900million a year excluding costs for tuition fees, uniforms, exercise books, textbooks, and infrastructure.
This has triggered strikes by the School Feeding Caterers for payment of arrears, and calls for an increment in feeding allocation from 0.97 pesewas to GH₵3. Indeed, government’s decision to seek an IMF bailout has triggered fears that IMF conditionalities could propose discontinuation of the Free SHS policy.