Addressing branch and constituency executives of Cape Coast North last Friday, Former President John Mahama said the next NDC administration will organize stakeholders meetings and national debates on the Free SHS programme to review the challenges undermining its smooth operation. He said it is better for governments to organise organise such meetings and debates to enable experts, chiefs, parents, educationists, civil society organizations etc come up with various suggestion for improving the Free Secondary Education policy. He said the next NDC administration will establish an education regulatory body to look into the policy and advise government accordingly.
Chiefs, Technocrats, educationists, parents have called for urgent review of the free secondary education system to address the challenges undermining its smooth operation. Increasing enrolment rates resulting from the introduction of the policy have put enormous pressure on the education system, which has resulted in a drop in standards. The former President said, failure to review the education system will lead to a further decline. The former President who introduced the progressively free secondary education before his exit, acknowledged that free secondary education is a good initiative but added that all the benefits and achievements associated with the policy have been grossly watered down by the often inadequate, inefficient and ineffective response to inherent challenges. He said the biggest concern is quality, the enormous resources required for the programme and whether government is ready for it all. He said there are many more children out there who passed the BECE exams, but attending technical/vocational schools. It means not all JSS graduates enjoy the free education as we are made to believe. Parents of the technical/vocational students sponsor their wards education themselves hence the need for Government to use the country’s resources prudently. Analysts believe that the government is biting too much.
Former President John Mahama quoted the implementation of the SIP, which facilitated the achievement of the Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education programme to support his assertion. He said apart from making secondary education free, government must ensure equal opportunities for all academically eligible students through the removal of cost and other barriers, thereby giving increased opportunities to SHS graduates who might move into further training, wage employment, a good chance to earn a decent living through improved wages. He quoted Article 25(1)b of the 1992 constitution which 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”, to buttress his point. He said due to burden of cost, the approach has been gradual and all governments, from 1992 made significant contributions towards its attainment.
Drivers and others persons who spoke before the former President expressed same position. It is equally significant to note that secondary education in Ghana has largely been free over the past decades as government absorbed a greater proportion of the cost including tuition ,(salary), some recurrent cost, infrastructure provision, lab and dormitories, text books, teaching and learning materials etc. The implementation of the progressively free secondary education programme by the Mahama administration commenced from the 2015/16 academic year with an estimated number of 367,565 day students benefiting at an estimated cost of Ghc 71 million in the initial subvention.
Outlets to absorb the SHS graduates and impact of the programme on the health of the economy are the other critical issues speakers at the meeting raised.