The Free SHS programme: A closer look at the cost of quality education


Ghana has been lauded for its ambitious Free Senior High School (SHS) programme, aimed at making quality high school education accessible to all. Spearheaded by the government, this initiative has made substantial investments, amounting to approximately GH¢8.4billion, and has provided education opportunities to a commendable 5.7 million Ghanaians over the past seven years. However, beneath the shining veneer of this programme, there are growing concerns about corruption and inefficient implementation that have had adverse consequences on the country’s educational system.

What is adult literacy?

Understanding the concept of adult literacy rate is crucial in assessing the educational landscape of Ghana and the impact of Free Senior High School (Free SHS). Adult literacy rate – defined as the percentage of the population aged 15 and above who possess the ability to read and write a short, simple statement with comprehension – goes beyond just reading and writing. It also encompasses numeracy, which signifies the capability to perform basic arithmetic calculations. This critical indicator is computed by taking the number of literate individuals aged 15 years and over, dividing it by the corresponding age group’s population, and then multiplying the result by 100. It serves as a fundamental yardstick for gauging a country’s educational achievements and the effectiveness of literacy programmes. In Ghana’s context, the decline in adult literacy rates underscores the importance of not only increasing enrolment, but also focusing on the quality of education and adult literacy initiatives to ensure comprehensive development.

IMF observation

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has aptly noted that Ghana allocates approximately 4 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) toward education. While this financial commitment has led to notable gains in enrolment rates, the country continues to grapple with persistently poor learning outcomes. The Free Senior High School (SHS) flagship programme, which offers free secondary education, has certainly boosted enrolment numbers, but its targeting mechanism has been called into question. The IMF’s observations underscore the urgency of addressing the shortcomings in Ghana’s education system. To improve the impact of education spending, it is imperative that resources are channelled toward strengthening primary education, enhancing teacher training programmes, and adopting performance-based funding practices. These strategic improvements can help Ghana not only expand access to education, but also ensure that the quality of learning aligns with the nation’s development goals.

A superficial success

On the surface, the Free SHS programme appears to be a success story, with increased enrolment numbers and expanded access to education. But when one delves deeper into the numbers, a troubling trend emerges – a decline and a worrying drop in the adult literacy rate. This raises questions about the efficacy of the programme and its long-term impact on Ghana’s education landscape.


Corruption and misallocation of resources

One of the key issues plaguing the Free SHS initiative is corruption. As funds flow into the programme, the lack of effective oversight and accountability mechanisms has created opportunities for embezzlement and misallocation of resources. This has siphoned off vital funds that could have been used to improve the quality of education, such as high teacher student ratio, providing necessary educational materials, upgrading, and building of new classroom infrastructure.

Inefficient implementation

In addition to corruption, inefficient implementation has hampered the programme’s success. The rapid expansion of enrolment without corresponding improvements in infrastructure and staffing has led to overcrowded classrooms, inadequate teaching materials, and a decline in the quality of education. This has directly contributed to the drop in adult literacy, as students are unable to acquire the necessary skills to navigate complex financial landscapes.

Moreover, the reported drop in the adult literacy rate, from 80.4 percent in 2020 to 69.8 percent in 2022, raises questions about the programme’s effectiveness in improving literacy and numeracy levels among adults. This decline could be attributed to the rushed implementation of the Free SHS programme, diverting attention and resources away through corruption.

The way forward

To address the issues plaguing the Free SHS programme and its impact on Ghana’s education system, several steps need to be taken:

  1. Transparency and accountability: The government must establish robust mechanisms for transparency and accountability to combat corruption within the programme.
  2. Quality over quantity: Instead of focusing solely on enrolment numbers, the government should prioritise the quality of education by investing in infrastructure, teacher training, and learning materials.
  3. Adult education: To reverse the decline in adult literacy rates, investments in adult education programmes should be prioritised alongside the Free SHS initiative.
  4. Continuous monitoring and evaluation: Regular assessments of the programme’s implementation and its impact on adult literacy rates should be conducted to identify and rectify shortcomings.


In conclusion, Ghana’s ambitious Free Senior High School (SHS) programme, while commendable in its goal to expand educational access, is facing formidable challenges stemming from corruption and inefficient implementation. As the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has observed, Ghana’s expenditure of approximately 4 percent of GDP on education has yielded positive results in terms of enrolment but has failed to address the crucial issue of poor learning outcomes. The Free SHS initiative, though successful in boosting enrolment, has been criticised for its targeting limitations. To rectify these issues and truly enhance the education system, Ghana must redirect its education spending toward strengthening primary education resources, improving teacher training programmes, and adopting performance-based funding practices. These measures are essential not only to broaden access to education, but also to ensure that the quality of learning aligns with the nation’s development objectives.

Leave a Reply