The Minister of Education, Dr Matthew Opoku Prempeh, has given an assurance that the government will implement the free senior high school (SHS) policy with effect from September this year, in spite of the misgivings being expressed in certain quarters.
He said the government was going to take into consideration concerns over the economy and the time of the implementation of the policy and pledged that the rollout of the free SHS policy would not compromise quality and access.
Bad economy not barrier
Speaking at a press conference to outline the implementation of the government’s policy on free SHS education in Accra yesterday, Dr Opoku Prempeh said “bad economy” had been part of the country’s governance since independence.
“In this country of ours, free secondary school, in one way or the other, has been with us since independence. It started by law with the free secondary education for the northern part of the country,” he said.
Dr Prempeh said free secondary education had since been part of the country’s educational policy, citing other interventions by past governments to include the free secondary education for students from the north and free secondary education for students of northern extraction.
Earlier this year, at the Okuapemman SHS, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo had spelt out what was entailed in the free SHS policy when he said: “Let me take this opportunity to spell out clearly what we intend to do so that no one in Ghana is left in any doubts. By free SHS, we mean that, in addition to tuition, which is already free, there will be no admission fees, no library fees, no science centre fees, no computer lab fees, no examination fees, no utility fees; there will be free textbooks, free boarding and free meals, and day students will get a meal at school for free.
“Free SHS will also cover agricultural, vocational and technical institutions at the high school level. I also want to state clearly again that we have a well-thought out plan that involves the building of new public senior high schools and a cluster of public senior high schools,” the President further explained.
Free secondary education
The minister enumerated others including the Ghana Cocoa Board scholarship/bursaries, merit scholarships for secondary schools, hardship scholarship, senior high school subsidy and the progressively free secondary education programme.
“So, free secondary education, in one form or the other, has existed with us. What the President intends to do is to extend free secondary education to all Ghanaians who are in public senior high schools,” Dr Prempeh said.
He said such a policy might mean many more people would have access to school, saying that was better than ignorance.
Education versus ignorance
“Ghana has not been a rich country since independence. Ghana is not going to be a rich country today and still offers free secondary education. That is life, when you live in your house, you decide your priorities and you put your money in that,” Dr Prempeh said.
He added that it was only those who preferred ignorance who would say that the policy was not sustainable, but those who wanted education would strive to make it work.
He described education as “a great game changer” and the shortest way out of poverty and stressed the need to make it affordable, accessible and equitable for all Ghanaian children of school age.
The minister said on the average, more than 140,000 students were either not placed by the Computerised School Selection Placement Systems (CSSPS) or were placed but did not enrol largely because of financial barriers every year.
“Out of the number placed by the CSSPS yearly, over 25 per cent do not enrol,” Dr Prempeh said, citing the northern scholarship admission and placement trends, which showed that an average of 11.48 per cent of candidates placed by the CSSPS did not enrol.
Citing previous years’ figures to support his claim, he said, for instance, that in 2013, out of the 352,202 candidates who were placed, 90,604 did not enrol, while in 2014 the total number of candidates who did not enrol, although they qualified, was 113,260 .
In the case of 2015, the number of candidates who did not enrol was 115,363 while that of 2016 was 111,336.
Justifying the policy, Dr Prempeh said it sought to address inequality and ensure opportunities for all students through the removal of cost barriers, as well as enable students, who otherwise would have terminated at the JHS level to acquire functional and employable skills through the acquisition of secondary education.
“It is also to enhance the human capital base of the country by making secondary education the minimum academic qualification in Ghana and also improve the quality of secondary education through reforms by ensuring systems improvement, accountability for performance and leadership,” he said.
Fees to be absorbed
Under the free SHS, Dr Prempeh stated that all fees approved by the Ghana Education Service (GES) Council for first- year students, other than PTA dues, would be absorbed by the government.
These include one-time fee items for first-year students amounting to GH¢435 per day student and GH¢438 for each boarding student.
The policy will also cover all recurrent fee items amounting to GH¢101.47 for day students and GH¢105.47 for boarding students.
For feeding fees, Dr Prempeh said, all boarders would take three meals costing GH¢4.80 per day, while their day counterparts would each receive one hot meal for GH¢1.60 per day. All subsidies for all continuing students in Forms Two and Three would also be taken care off.
He announced that the government would continue to execute all ongoing SHS projects started by the previous government to upgrade 42 SHSs into model schools and construct new public schools where necessary.