The promise of Free SHS became a hot cake and a political talk carried by the New Patriotic Party (NPP) in the 2008, 2012 and 2016 general elections.
Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo in all of these three consecutive elections did not back down on his promise of Free SHS.
Many Ghanaians, most especially members of the other side of the political divide, were skeptical of that dream and political promise of the NPP. With time, that’s after the NPP had lost both the 2008 and 2012 general elections, it still remained vocal about Free SHS in all the years that they were in opposition.
The citizenry bought into their dream when the promise still remained instrumental in their 2016 manifesto and campaign promise. I can only conclude that Ghanaians bought into the idea of Free SHS because the NPP had been consistent with it in all the elections.
While the then ruling party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and a section of Ghanaians argued the policy ought to be implemented in a progressive or gradual manner, the NPP insisted on an instant implementation of the policy.
The argument of the Free SHS policy, I could say, determined the winner of the 2016 general election. Many electorates did not buy into the ruling party’s idea of a progressively Free SHS but sided with the NPP’s idea of instant Free SHS. Even though Free SHS is an entrenched provision in the 1992 constitution of Ghana (Article 25), there’s no clear direction and advice on how to implement this constitutional provision.
The onus therefore lay on the political parties seeking to implement this policy to think through how best the policy could be implemented to benefit all the citizenry. I should say once again that I think the NPP won the 2016 elections because they rode on the horse of Free SHS.
I was in my final year at Junior High School in 2016 and preparing to write my Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) in June 2017. Even though I didn’t have a vote in the December 2016 elections, I had talked to by my parents to vote for the party that says Free SHS now and not later, because I was exiting JHS and would be due for Senior High School in September 2017 when the 2017/18 academic will begin.
I believe many JHS students like myself were also hoping the electorates vote for the party whose ideology about Free SHS implementation was now and not later. Eventually, the NPP had an empathic and decisive victory in the 2016 elections. The euphoria which accompanied the NPP’s electoral victory of 2016 was a never-seen-before one. It was like Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The electoral victory of the NPP in 2016 meant a lot to Ghanaians. What it meant to me as a JHS student about exiting school was to have free entry and access to Senior High School education in Ghana.
It was a dream come true for all students who were enrolling in Senior High School in September 2017 in the 2017/2018 academic year, because the promise of Free SHS by the NPP and President Akufo-Addo was beginning in earnest that academic year. All students who passed their Basic Education Certificate Examination in June 2017 were duly placed in their choice of Senior High Schools. All that a fresh student needed was get his provisions, mattress, trunk or bag and set off to school. All the fees associated with High School Education in Ghana was catered for by the government.
What Free SHS meant was, free tuition, free accommodation, free feeding, free uniforms, free books, in fact everything that could be mentioned about High School education was free. I happen to be a pioneer beneficiary of the Free SHS policy, and in the first year of the implementation of the policy many students were enrolled in various Senior High Schools for free.
The citizenry sung a lot of praise about the NPP and President Akufo-Addo for keeping through to their promise of implementing Free SHS immediately they assumed the reigns of government. Those who were skeptical had to throw away their doubt and skepticism and come into the real world of Free SHS happening in Ghana. On the effective and successful implementation of the policy in 2017, the country did not need fortune tellers, soothsayers or any prophet to predict an astronomical increase in Senior High School enrollment in Ghana. It was obvious because, the Free SHS policy had come to remove the financial albatross that High School Education placed on the neck of parents, guardians and caretakers.
Hence, the chunk of students who could not enroll in Senior High Schools after Junior High School because of financial constraints were all having free access to secondary education. From 2018 to date, there has been an exponential increase in student enrolment in Senior High School. There is no doubt in the minds of Ghanaians that, indeed the underlying principle of “ACCESS” under Free SHS has been duly accomplished. The number of students enrolled so far speak to the fact of “ACCESS.”
Then also, the policy has not been discriminatory. It has given equal opportunity to all well- meaning Ghanaian students who are due for Senior High School and have passed their BECE. Even when many had opined that there should be a cut-off point for the beneficiaries, the government has stood firm on its grounds to give equal opportunity to students.
Also, even when many have raised concerns that some parents can pay for the Senior High School education of their wards, hence the policy should not be made to cover such students, the government has been assertive on its ideology of “EQUITY”. Thanks to Free SHS, students from rural Ghana and hinterlands are able compete for space in the ivy league kind of Senior High Schools in Ghana.
However, there has been a lot of controversies about the “QUALITY” of the policy. The double-track system introduced into Senior High School Education in 2018 was a novelty, and many saw it to be problematic to the quality of Senior High School Education in Ghana. But that was government’s temporary alternative way of solving the infrastructural challenge of most Senior High Schools which was exposed by the increase in student enrolment.
The duration and contact hours students spent in school was more than what they spent at home. Many parents are compelled to pay money for extra tuition for their wards during their long stay at home. The cost for those classes are exorbitant and unaffordable for many parents. The concern has also been that, ideally, students are unable to get to the tail of their three- year syllabus, teachers are therefore compelled to rush through the topics and put them on board for their final West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE).
Undoubtedly, Free SHS has come to stay, but it must be put in a different apparel going forward. Though the policy was implemented by career politicians, whatever the lexicon “REVIEW” means in the dictionary of Free SHS should not be left into the hands of these career politicians. The best, finest and brightest brains in and outside of education should be brought on board, to think through how best the policy could be sustained, and made to realize its mission and vision in the years ahead.
From my lips to God’s ears.
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