[Opinion] Free Senior School: Why the policy cannot discriminate

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Education and skills training are the most important source of empowering and providing opportunities for the youth to help drive Ghana’s development. This becomes very important to Ghana with 50% of its population being in the youth bracket.

As a nation we are determined to bring education to the doorstep of every child because it is worth it. We dare to do this because we ardently believe that the Ghanaian child deserves it. Article 25 1b of the 1992 Constitution states that “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 the progressive introduction of free education”.

Also, Goal 4, Target 1 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) states that “by 2030, all boys and girls complete free equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes”.

The Junior High School (JHS) unfortunately became a terminal point for many students. Though Senior High School enrolment has almost doubled from 393,995 in 2007/08 to 787,861 in 2015/16 academic year.

This notwithstanding, large number of students continue to be denied of secondary education largely due to financial challenges space constraints. To reverse this trend, the New Patriotic Party, promised to implement the Free Senior High School (SHS) policy to give all, especially, the under privileged access to quality free education.

In fulfillment of this promise of introducing free secondary education in Ghana, the President, H.E. Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo together with the Minister of Education, Dr. Mathew Opoku-Prempeh launched the Free SHS policy on 13th September, 2017 to coincide with re-opening of senior high schools for the 2017/2018 academic year at West African Secondary School in Accra.

According the Free SHS Secretariat, free SHS means free tuition, admission fee, textbooks, library fees, science center fees, fees for ICT, examination fee, payment of utility fee, boarding and meals.

The Free SHS programme is anchored on these pillars; (1) removal of cost barriers, (2) removal  of cost barriers through the absorption of fees approved by GES Council, (3) expansion of infrastructure; expand physical school infrastructure and facilities to accommodate the expected increase in enrolment, (4) improvement in Quality through provision of core textbooks and supplementary readers, teachers’ rationalization and deployment, etc., (5) development of employable skills improve competitiveness of Ghanaian Students to match the best in the World.

In 2015, a total of 440,469 pupil registered for the Basic Certificate Examination(BECE). Out of this number, while 415,012 were placed into the various Senior High Schools, only 299,649 enrolled.  The number of those placed but not enrolled were 115,363 representing 27.80%. The case was not different in 2016. With a total number of 461,009 who registered for the BECE, 420,135 were placed with  308,799 accepting their placements to enrol. A total number of 111,336 though placed, failed to enrol representing 26.50%.

 

YEAR TOTAL REGISTERED (BECE) NUMBER PLACED NUMBER ENROLLED NO. PLACED BUT NOT ENROLLED %PLACED BUT NOT ENROLLED
2015 440,469 415,012 299,649 115,363 27.8%
2016 461,009 420,135 308,799 111,336 26.5%
2017 468,060 424,224 361,771 62,453 14.7%
2018 521,811 486,641 433,819 52,822 10.9%
2019 512,083 459,912 404,856 55,056 11.9%

 

    Source:Free SHS Secretariat

The situation improved dramatically in 2017 after the introduction of the Free SHS policy where the percentage of placed but not enrolled dropped 26.50% to 14.70%. The number of pupil who registered for the BECE in 2017 was 468,060. A total of 424,224 were placed and out of that 361,771 enrolled leaving 62,453.

The situation improved further in the second year of the implementation of the policy. In 2018, 521,811 registered for the BECE. A total number of 486,641were placed in the various senior high schools after the BECE. Out of the number, 433,819 of the pupil accepted the placement and enrolled with 52,822 though placed, could not enrol which represents 10.90%.

In the third year of implementing the policy, while 512,083 pupils registered to take the BECE, 459,912 met the requirement and were placed by the Computerized Placement System into the various high schools.  Out of the number placed, 404,856 accepted the placement offers and enrolled in the schools with  55,056 representing 11.90% failing to enrol.

From the above data, it is obvious that after the introduction of the Free SHS policy, enrolment has not only increased to 1,200, 446 but the number of pupil failing to enrol after placement has more than halved. This can be attributed to the fact that government has absorbed the fees. The table below explains the data.

Just before the implementation of the policy, many opposed it, people are still opposing it after the number of successes it has chalked. One of such opposition is that, the policy should only catered for the poor who wanted to be offered programmes related to technical and vocational skills.  According to the proponents of this view, government shouldn’t have implemented the policy in its current state rather, the fees for only the poor who are willing to attend Technical and Vocational schools. To them, children from poor families shouldn’t read General Arts, Sciences, Business etc if government is to pay their fees.

The Free SHS policy is has a clear purpose of not only giving access and quality education to all Ghanaian children but also use it as a tool to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor and to make Ghanaian children competitive globally. For this reason, 30% placement slots in the most selected (good) schools are reserved for pupils from poor communities and attended public JHS.

More importantly, the Free SHS policy also covers technical and vocational institutions under the Ministry of Education. Plans are far advanced to include technical and vocational schools which are not under the Ministry of Education into the Free SHS policy.

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