Hon. Sam Okudzeto Ablakwa writes:
2017 BUDGET: OBSERVATIONS AND REFLECTIONS ON THE SECTORAL EDUCATION OUTLOOK
On the 2nd of March, 2017, Finance Minister Hon. Ken Ofori-Atta pursuant to Article 179 of the Constitution presented to Parliament the Budget Statement and Economic Policy of the Government of Ghana for the 2017 financial year on the authority of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo.
The Education sectoral performance and outlook is presented under paragraphs 561 to 610.
It is worthy of note that numerous policies and programmes of the President John Mahama era have been maintained even though in most instances this fact is not expressly acknowledged. Notable amongst these policies and programmes are:
a) Transforming Teacher Education and Learning (T-TEL) initiative. (Para. 592)
b) E-Transform, E-Learning, iBox and iCampus initiatives. (Para. 585, 586 and 587)
c) Support for the Technical Universities initiative. (Para. 607)
d) Progress on the University of Environment and Sustainable Development (also referred to as the Eastern University) and the vision for the University of Development Studies autonomous campuses in the Upper East and Upper West Regions. (Para. 608 and 609)
e) Commitment to inherited legislative reforms at the GES, NAB and NCTE. (Para. 598 and 602)
f) Continuation of the Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) agenda and the collaboration with the Africa Institute of Mathematical Sciences. (Para. 582 and 583)
g) Expansion programme for Technical Institutes and Polytechnics which began in 2016. (Para 578). Kindly refer to President Mahama’s DSIP initiative for more elucidation.
h) Free Uniforms and “Made in Ghana” Leather School Sandals for pupils in deprived communities. (Para 574)
I sincerely hope that it is not because of the historic 2016 Basic Education Certificate Examinations (BECE) performance where 3,994 candidates obtained a raw score of 500 and above, up from the previous record in 2015 of 11 BECE candidates obtaining raw scores above 500 and the fact that for four consecutive years Ghana has been the best West African Secondary School Certificate Examinations (WASSCE) performer according to the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) that in Paragraph 562 of the Budget it is stated that – “Over the medium term, Government aims to shift the structure and content of Ghana’s education system away from merely passing examinations to building character, nurturing values and raising literate, confident and engaged citizens who can think critically.” There ought to be nothing wrong in celebrating our students, teachers, Directors of Education and all stakeholders when significant successes are chalked regardless of which Government superintended. Often, acknowledging our collective progress as a nation serves as a vital motivating factor that spurs stakeholders to achieve greater feats. I very much doubt if this would have been the approach if the examination results in the BECE and WASSCE had been poorer under the previous NDC Government. Indeed, passing examinations and achieving the laudable objectives which the NPP seeks to achieve are not mutually exclusive as has been highlighted in all education reforms and education strategic plans including the 2010-2020 edition which guided the NDC Government’s interventions in the sector. One may ask, how confident can any student who keeps failing his/her examinations be?
Be that as it may, it should be reassuring to all Ghanaians that the NPP seeks to chart a new path in “building character and nurturing values” considering that when they were last in power, the NPP Government decided to issue a White paper in 2002 abolishing the study of Religious and Moral Education contrary to what the eminent Jophus Anamuah-Mensah Education Reform Committee had recommended. It had to take massive public outcry from moral society and teacher unions in addition to a strongly worded pastoral epistle from the Catholics Bishops Conference to force the NPP Government to rescind its decision.
On the much talked about redefinition of basic education to include secondary education, it finally appears that this proposal does not affect the status quo in any form or substance. Paragraph 565 reads – “As part of this initiative, Basic Education Certificate Examinations (BECE) will be used as a tool for placement of students into second cycle schools and not for certification.” All Ghanaians know that the BECE has been doing exactly this. It has served as a tool for placement under the Computerised School Selection and Placement System (CSSPS) which is in its eleventh year of implementation. If the BECE had been abolished as other Political Parties have previously proposed, then one could observe a paradigm shift but not this approach which changes nothing but wants Ghanaians to believe something significant has changed.
I am concerned about this notion that suggests that redefining basic education to cover second cycle education will automatically guarantee transition from one level to the other. The data does not validate this claim. According to the 2016 Education Sector Performance Report, though Junior High School (JHS) has always been defined as being a part of basic education, in the 2011/2012 academic year, only 89.5% transitioned from Primary 6 to JHS 1. It was 94.5%, 92.7%, 99.1% and 94.7% for the respective academic years of 2012/2013, 2013/2014, 2014/2015 and 2015/2016. It is therefore imperative that we show greater commitment at this foundation level by adopting new strategies to improve quality and increase enrolment and total transition. Though Ghana achieved MDG 2 at an impressive rate, there are still some estimated 5% of Ghanaian children out of school. It is for this reason that I am saddened that in the 2017 Budget, there has been no provision to cater for the Comprehensive Basic Education (CBE) programme which was designed to mop up out of school children for reintegration in the formal education structure. Under this programme, more than 200,000 children from 5 regions were identified, educated and reintegrated. Let us remember that in Ghana today, private basic education is preferred to public basic education unlike at the second cycle level where the reverse is true so it must worry us that more resources on a huge scale in excess of 6:1 has been allocated to the second cycle level when we should actually be focusing more attention and spending more at the basic level as is the international best practice and in line with UNESCO prescription.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment to most Ghanaians in this sector is the inability of this Budget to fund the much touted Comprehensive Free SHS pledge. On Paragraph 575, the Budget makes provision for only first year students when the 2017/2018 academic year begins in September. The NPP in opposition kicked against the NDC Government’s Progressively Free programme which in actual fact was being implemented in accordance with Article 25(b) of the Constitution. The NPP roundly condemned the NDC’s progressive approach promising a superior COMPREHENSIVE Free SHS programme. This is most definitely a betrayal of trust and an admission that the NDC programme which was a more targeted model is the most pragmatic.
Ghanaian parents of first year students who might be under the impression that they will pay no fees at all ought to be cautioned because even the one term provision on page 178 (appendix 6) of 400 million Cedis is woefully inadequate. This is because if Government succeeds in placing all 467,692 registered BECE candidates (according to Para. 573), this will mean each SHS entrant can only receive 855 Cedis which is far below last year’s GES approved fees of 1,432 Cedis for boarding students and 970 Cedis for day students. Clearly, even for the first years, some fees will have to be paid by parents to address the inadequate provision in the Budget.
The amount of money needed to comprehensively fund Free SHS is in the range of 4 BILLION Cedis and NOT 4 hundred million Cedis.
I therefore humbly appeal to the Government to come clean and level up with Ghanaian parents by telling them the full truth so they can prepare and avoid any shocks come September.
We must all be concerned about the fate of the second and third years who the government appears to have totally abandoned contrary to their lofty campaign promises. The NPP’s approach of catering for only first years appears to assume that there are no second and third years who face financial difficulties. Nothing can be further from reality. In 2013, WAEC informed the Ministry of Education that it had withheld the results of 18,832 WASSCE candidates because they owed fees. This number increased to a staggering 41,629 representing 17.2% of the 242,000 who sat for the 2014 WASSCE. It is this reality that informed our Progressively Free intervention which saw us targeting some 340,000 day students across all three cohorts when we rolled out in the 2015/2016 academic year. We then extended the programme to cover an additional 120,000 boarders in the 2016/2017 academic year. In addition, we were able to convince the World Bank with our detailed and extensive data to offer scholarships to another 10,400 SHS students classified as poor and vulnerable. Unfortunately, under this new NPP model, fairness and equity have been sacrificed as ALL continuing students are now worse off.
It is really unfortunate that in the abundance of credible data and expertise, we cannot fashion out a more sustainable and pragmatic approach at funding SHS for the needy especially when one comes to consider the reality that most students in SHS today were paying far higher fees in elite Primary and Junior High Schools.
The silence of the budget on the presidential promise of free meals for day students cannot be lost on us. Even more disconcerting is the lack of a sustainable funding plan in the Budget beyond this one term/first year allocation.
Another worrying observation I have made in the 2017 Budget is the deafening silence on the now famous Community Senior High Schools also known as the E-blocks. Each of these schools accommodates at least 1,500 students and with the 123 which the NDC Government initiated, 184,500 additional SHS spaces have been guaranteed. This is the reason it is possible for the NPP Government to boldly assert that it seeks to place all 2017 BECE candidates in Senior High Schools. A few years ago, this would have been considered an impossibility as demand had outstripped supply. In the 2008/2009 academic year, there were 490,000 students enrolled in SHS as compared to 842,000 in the 2014/2015 academic year. This coupled with President Mahama’s improvement in the transition rate from JHS to SHS from a low of 51% in the 2011/2012 academic year to 67% in the 2015/2016 academic year reveals a certain trend which makes it exceedingly necessary for the NPP Government to commit to completing the targeted 200 E-Blocks if it is minded like the NDC Government to avoid a quality and access crisis in the short to medium term. Generally, it must be admitted that the heavy cut in the infrastructure budget across the board from KG to Tertiary will impact negatively on educational outcomes.
The vexed matter of the restoration of teacher trainee allowances will require further illumination from authorities. The Budget makes an allocation of 103,124,102 million Cedis which translates into 197 Cedis a month for the 43,570 teacher trainees referred to in paragraph 595. (It is important to recall that before the 2014 reforms which abolished the quota system, the total population of trainees in all three cohorts could not and did not exceed 27,000) The new allowance amount of 197 Cedis will be a far cry from the 450 Cedis which the NDC Government paid trainees on a monthly basis until the replacement with Student Loans in the 2014/2015 academic year. I do hope there is a plausible explanation that will be assuring to all.
Considering also that H.E Dr. Bawumia had indicated during the 2016 campaign that the restoration will be carried out within the first three months of an Akufo-Addo presidency, however, the Budget indicates September 2017 by which time the current final years will be disqualified from benefitting, it remains to be seen how these contradictions will be ironed out. It is my prayer though that the attempts to bring back the quota system and limit admissions into the 43 public Colleges of Education just to accommodate this promise will be reconsidered and resisted. Government itself states in paragraph 593 that it is concerned with the teacher high attrition rate of 7,000 every year and the lack of adequate trained teachers which were the reasons the NDC Government carried out these reforms in the first place, however, having disagreed with our remedies with a more vote appealing option, all Ghanaians expect that the NPP will keep its promise.
I must add that combing through the Budget, there appears to be no provision for the feeding of trainees which cost the previous NDC Government at least 50 million Cedis annually. Here too, some clarity will help.
The NPP Government will have to bring clarity to what appears to be terrible policy contradiction in the same Budget document. Paragraph 572 of the Budget proposes to “initiate a review of existing legislation in order to discontinue with any form of levying including Parent Teacher Association (PTA) dues in public basic schools” (remember public basic schools have been redefined to include public SHS). At the same time, the Finance Minister proposes the establishment of Education Funds and appeals to parents, alumni and others to contribute into the fund. Government must not be sending conflicting signals to parents. You either want parents to contribute or you don’t. This policy contradiction ought to be clarified urgently.
Finally, and seeing that the Budget was dead silent on this matter, I hereby renew my appeal that the 22,802 vacancies for teaching and non-teaching staff for which the Ministry of Finance has long granted Financial Clearance to the Ministry of Education be respected and those vacancies filled immediately to offer jobs to the Ghanaian youth. Since the NPP transition team placed an embargo on the recruitment of these 22,802 Ghanaian youth some three months ago nothing has been heard, meanwhile their services are urgently required in the education sector. Provision for their salaries should have been made in this Budget. These 22,802 staff would have been the third batch of recruitments for 2016 after the first two batches of 16,000 newly trained teachers and 2,400 Maths and Science teachers were successfully recruited.
Happy 60th anniversary to all Ghanaians.
God bless Ghana and make our next 60 greater, mightier and happier.
Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa (MP)