“The right to education has been a cause for civil rights activists in the history of many nations. It is a common saying that education is the key to development. Education is also the key to breaking the cycle of poverty,” –Adinyira, JSC in Federation of Youth Association of Ghana (FEDYAG) vrs. Public Universities of Ghana and Ors. (Judgement of the Supreme Court of Ghana in Suit No. J1/5/2009, 27 July 2011).
The introduction of formal education into Ghana was welcomed by an influx of arguments relating to how it could be made available and accessible to all. At some point, the discussion centred on how to promote gender equality in our schools, but now the tentacles of the education debate have been spread to cover the need for free education in this developing society.
After years of going through free basic education, it was my dream to have the same opportunity to further my education without any financial burden on my parents. However, it was unfortunate that the then-government failed to see the need for my right to education to be protected; for my right to an equal educational opportunity to be preserved.
Reality dawned on me when I gained admission to Senior High School (S.H.S.), but my parents were not financially able to see me through the S.H.S stage. It was a sorrowful experience – but some way, somehow, the glorious face of grace smiled down on me and gave me a chance to pursue my dreams.
In 2016, a charismatic gentleman emerged as the leader of this country; a man full of vision and compassion. He was a Christ for the knowledge-seeking generation who would never have had the opportunity to experience the aura of a classroom and its extra-curricular activities like the National Science & Math Quizzes, Inter-Schools Debate Competitions, Inter-Schools Sports Competitions and others. Neither would they have had the opportunity to be in their dream universities.
This man proposed the Free SHS Policy to gain the trust and confidence of the Ghanaian people. He believed in it, he won, and he has delivered it.
Subsequently, it has dawned on me again: how would the right to education of other young people survive in the absence of this policy? Some of us had access to a secondary education by ‘grace’, if there is hope in this word, but what happens to the next generation if this policy is not supported by any sitting government?
From a constitutional perspective, this is one of the basic human rights which must be enjoyed by every child in Ghana whether or not he or she is from an affluent home or a capable background. The law provides in Article 25 (1) (a) and (b) of the Constitution of Ghana, 1992 that:
“All persons shall have the right to equal educational opportunities and facilities, and with a view to achieving the full realisation of that right –
- basic education shall be free, compulsory and available to all;
- secondary education in its different forms, including technical and vocational education, shall be made generally available and accessible to all by every appropriate means, and in particular by progressive introduction of free education.”
To make this happen, there was need for government to take a holistic approach in the provision of education, to ensure that a child is not denied access to education simply because his or her guardians cannot afford to pay tuition fees.
In pursuance of this, the Free SHS Policy has grown to provide an opportunity for students in some rural parts of Ghana to also receive a secondary education that requires no financial input from parents. For instance, students from communities such as Bosovilla in the Eastern Region have also benefitted from this package – which covers tuition fees, admission fees, free textbooks, meals, examination fees, among many others. It has also eliminated the system wherein students who owed fees were chased around by teachers with canes, who know sub-consciously that those students owed fees because they did not have the money to pay.
The experience of this policy has therefore come as a relief for parents, guardians and their wards, for how would they have made it without this policy?
I do not mean to be ironic, but as in my mother’s tongue where truth is confessed as “s3 twene anim da h) a, y3 mm) nky3n” (“we do not pass the face of a drum to hit its side”), I safely contend that the Free S.H.S. Policy has become an anchor for many homes and communities in Ghana over the past three and a half years.
The writer is a Level 300 LLB student at the University of Professional Studies, Accra (UPSA). She can be contacted via email at [email protected]