Former Education Minister, Prof. Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang

Former Education Minister, Prof. Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang has said that any indication by government that there are no challenges with the implementation of its Free Senior High School (SHS) policy is problematic.

Prof. Opoku-Agyemang stated that the NDC can only proffer solutions to the problems bedeviling the Free SHS policy if the government admits it needs help.

“If the people in charge are saying there are no problems, then we have a very big problem. I don’t know what there is to hide and if you admit you need help, there is nothing wrong with it. These problems were needless. They needn’t have arisen in the first place but they have. There are solutions to them. Wisdom never resides in the head of one person. Those who are at the receiving end of this constitutional provision called progressively free education, their experiences matter and the experiences of their parents matter,” the educationist indicated.

Speaking to Emefa Apawu on JoyNews’ The Probe Sunday, June 7, Prof. Opoku-Agyemang indicated that the Free SHS initiative introduced in 2017 must be reviewed in a bid to improving on its outcomes.

She believes admission of problems is the first and important step to tackling them.

According to her, the incumbent Education Minister must own up to the shortcomings with the implementation of the policy.

“First of all he must admit. He must come clean and say I need help, we will give the help. But if the reaction from the government, that quoting you, that there is nothing wrong and everything is fine, I have no advice to give a person like that who doesn’t need advice. So if he admits there are problems, you can turn the question around and ask me; what would you have done if you had won the election?” she stated.

The 2020 Running Mate to John Mahama said the gagging of stakeholders in education, especially heads of schools and teachers from voicing the problems confronting the social intervention, will only worsen the situation.

She revealed that if NDC had won the 2020 Election, it would have held a national dialogue on the Free SHS.

That, she believes, would have created the avenue for a holistic approach to dealing with the myriad of problems crippling the policy.

In recent times, parents and school heads have expressed concerns over challenges with the Free SHS policy.

On Joy FM’s Super Morning Show, May 25, 2021, headteachers highlighted the lack of space resulting in congestion and a reduction in contact hours affecting teaching and learning.

A headmaster who also called in to the Show anonymously raised concerns over the delay in releasing funds for managing Senior High Schools under the free SHS policy.

He said the situation creates inconveniences, thus affecting the smooth running of senior high schools across the country. Other stakeholders said they were scared about voicing their problems for fear of getting transferred tp remote areas of the county.

Parents have also had the course to complain about the lapses in the policy’s rollout. They contended that paying fees was a better option than free SHS in its current state.

She also stated that, under President Mahama’s government, Free SHS was introduced in a progressive approach; beginning with the creation of access through infrastructure expansion projects with the ultimate aim of removing all barriers to acquiring secondary education.

“We have focused so much as a country on the dormitories and the dining halls. It must also be about the quality of tutoring and the time spent on tasks by the teachers and the students. We were told it was the best thing (Free SHS) to have happened to this country. No Problem. Give us the evaluations, monitoring reports, reviews and what it is you have studied in the past four years to inform the way forward.”

“We did our homework and put it into our manifesto and you can see it there. That was why we didn’t start the Free SHS the way this government had. Progressively free. You’re studying the situation and reviewing. What are the issues? Immediately nobody should tell you, you need more schools. Because all you need to do is to go to the data,” she argued.

The Former Education Minister also revealed that the erstwhile NDC government expanded 125 schools, 50 were renovated and 175 others earmarked for quality improvement.

Again, the Former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Coast, bemoaned the transfer of teachers to rural areas as a form of punishment to individuals who speak about the problems with the education system.

She added that the phenomenon will continue to widen the academic performance gap between students in rural and urban areas.

Prof. Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang is of the view that education is an important building block to Ghana’s democracy and attempts to prevent stakeholders from sharing their concerns over the Free SHS policy may have dire consequences.