– Free SHS (Final Part)
When the Minority in Parliament, led by Leader, Haruna Iddrissu, held a press conference on the 11th of September to set the record straight, pointing out that the implementation of the Free Senior High School policy is not starting in 2017, it did so with documentary evidence.
The previous National Democratic Congress (NDC) Government, led by President John Dramani Mahama, began the implementation of Free SHS as a component under the Secondary Education Improvement Programme (SEIP) in the Brong Ahafo Region.
Specifically, SEIP had been launched in Kintampo on November 4, 2014, supported by the World Bank with a facility of $156 million. It had been approved by Parliament on July 2nd, 2014, and duly captured in Parliament’s Hansard.
The NDC’s Free SHS had 10,400 students from 125 public Senior High Schools, most of who are now in their final year in various schools, as beneficiaries.
In rolling out Free SHS Mahama-style, the 10,400 beneficiaries had been engaged in a pilot implementation of the policy. Piloting of policies, especially major national policies like the Free SHS, is standard in international best practice.
One marked difference between President Mahama’s style of implementing Free SHS and President Akufo-Addo’s style of implementation is that while President Mahama piloted his, Akufo-Addo did not pilot his.
Rather, the New Patriotic Party government just rushed into implementation of the policy without any fore-trial. The effect is that there have been very avoidable problems.
The Computer School Placement System (CSPS) was the first hazard light – a chaotic situation saw the system, for the first time, misplacing students who do not have special needs, into special needs schools, such as school for the blind and school for the deaf.
President Akufo-Addo’s implementation style has not been clear on the source of funding, with Nana waiting for nine whole years, after he had first promised the policy in 2008, to announce at the 11th hour that the funding will be hinged on oil resources.
As the government has hinted at the possible use of the Heritage Fund in the past, the mention of petroleum resources as the source of funding has brought on discomfort for some, as the Heritage Fund is strictly for futuristic purposes.
While President John Dramani Mahama had undertaken to build 200 new Community Senior High Schools, and eliminated 1,700 schools under trees as preparatory precursor to the implementation of the policy, the Akufo-Addo government has built none.
Nana has rather focused on developing a logo for the policy, whose value to the program, many people struggle to see, and the appointment of an Ambassador, who, interestingly, schools offshore, in the USA.
Abraham Atta was said not present at the official launch at the West African Secondary School (WASS) on the 12th of September.
But the fancifulness of the appointment of an Ambassador for Free SHS and launching of a logo for it are just the peripheral issues. With the policy not having an implementation manual or policy blueprint, its haphazard implementation has been defined.
Already, the government has sacked two headteachers and sanctioned others for charging fees, even though the policy did not undergo a test-run to afford teachers the opportunity to familiarize themselves with it.
Meanwhile, as the Akufo-Addo government and its supporters celebrate the mere launch of the policy as a success, amidst the lack of a clear funding structure for the policy, an example of a similar populist upstart that did not end well exists in Kenya for the learning benefit of Ghana.
During the runup to Kenya’s 2002 general elections, presidential candidate, Mwai Kibaki, had promised to make primary education free for all Kenyans.
True to his word, when he won the election and he formed a government, Kibaki directed that no child should be charged fees in any of the country’s 20,000 public primary schools. The government told the whole world it was offering free primary education. Donor agencies such as the UK’s Department for International Development and the World Bank flocked to support Kenya’s education sector.
Years later, when education experts the world over pore over the results of UNESCO’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report, it is clear that there is still a long way to go to reach the goal of global universal primary education in Kenya.
Under the free primary education law, families that had lost hope of ever sending their children to school got excited, turning up in large numbers to enroll them. But classes were congested. Teachers were overwhelmed. Some classes had about 100 pupils. Old geeks such as octogenarian Kimani Ng’ang’a Maruge joined Class One. He now holds the Guinness World Record for the oldest person to start primary school.
And more teachers were not recruited. More desks were not provided. The great promise slowly turned into a frustrating experience for both parents and teachers.
Soon, parents were expected to buy uniforms and pay for numerous fees charged to keep schools running as the government could not cover costs, such as security, maintenance of structures or general staff. After the dust had settled, parents who could not afford the fees had to keep their children at home for lack of basic school requirements.
To survive, teachers reduced the amount of assignments they used to give pupils. The personalized attention children had been used to became history.
The free primary education promise had failed because it was a political pledge that was never translated into a policy framework complete with requisite resources and personnel.
Like in the case of Ghana’s Free SHS, the priority should have been to construct enough classrooms and boarding facilities in existing schools, hire more teachers and plan for miscellaneous, all of which could have attracted and retained children in school.
Poorly motivated teachers in Kenya have to threaten to strike to be promoted. Teachers’ unions have to do a lot of convincing – including coercion – for the Kenya’s Teachers Service Commission, which employs the country’s teachers, to improve their lot.
Retired teachers have struggled to get the pensions and terminal benefits due to them. The number of former teachers is rising, thanks to natural attrition, deaths, resignations and desertions.
Free primary education turned out to be a big lie in Kenya; it started the same way Free SHS has started in Ghana. After all the initial euphoria, Kenyans eventually came around to calling it what it was – a subsidized primary education.
But the subsidy was so small that headteachers had to plead for increasing funding to take care of escalating inflation.
As a result, schools introduced all sorts of charges which parents are forced to pay to keep their children in school. Threats by government mandarins to punish headteachers who charge illegal fees have come to nothing.
Because of Free Primary education, the teaching profession has become a very dangerous career choice in Kenya – if exam results show that a school has not done as well as expected, teachers can become targets for angry communities. In some cases, teachers have been assaulted. In others, parents demand the transfer of headteachers for their laziness and complacency.
Experts see similar prospects in Ghana. WASS, where President Akufo-Addo launched the FSHS on 12th September, is expected to admit 700 new students.
And it is not the Kenyan example alone that is available for Ghana to learn from. In Ghana itself, the implementation of the Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE) has not been smooth, even though comparatively, it was more thought through than FSHS.
Ghana introduced free compulsory education at the primary and junior high school levels in 1995, as required by the constitution, but it wasn’t until 2014 that the World Bank said Ghana had achieved near-universal access at the primary level.
Even so, the poor quality in primary education, which has been nicknamed SAITO, has meant that parents who can afford it pay huge sums of money to private basic schools to get quality education for their wards.
It is feared that with this populist implementation of FSHS, secondary school education in Ghana could turn into another SAITO.