Beneficiaries of free SHS

The Free Senior High School policy (Free SHS) introduced by President Akufo-Addo and the New Patriotic Party (NPP) government in September 2017 is so far delivering results by improving access to education, as contained in some statistical reports.

In 2016, the country's gross enrolment ratio (GER) at the upper secondary level, according to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS), stood at 51%. This figure moved to 67% in 2020. The net enrolment ratio (NER) stood at 62% in 2016 and moved to 75% in 2020. The gender parity index (GPI) has moved from 0.92297 in 2016 to 0.96962 in 2020.

Quite obviously, these trends mean the transitioning rate from Junior High School to Senior High School has increased, overcoming a critical barrier to access, that is, poverty. The country's human capital development and socio-economic transformation cannot be achieved without massive improvement and participation in education, at least at the high school level.

For example, in the United States of America (US), the high school revolution championed by the high school movement in the early 1900s marked the establishment of free public senior high schools. This initiative propelled the country, levelled the playing field and improved the human capital for economic growth and social equality. This led to educational, economic, and social progress, thanks to the free senior high school movement started by the local people in their communities. In fact, the importance of having educational advancement in high school graduates cannot be over-emphasised.

Recently, many countries in the Sub-Saharan African region have thought about the idea of improving school participation, at least to the upper secondary level. Among them are Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Sierra Leone, and South Africa.

Ghana, since 2015, has introduced two distinctive free senior high school policies, namely the Progressive Free Senior High School policy (PFSHS) in 2015 and the Free Senior High School policy (FSHS) in 2017. Whereas we can describe PFSHS as a partial free educational system, FSHS can be described as a holistic free educational system.

While the PFSHS failed, to a large extent, to meet its immediate objective of having a significant increase in access to senior high school education due to several factors (for example, the continuous charging of registration fees and admission fees before one could enrol in senior high school), FSHS has achieved this milestone of increasing access by improving the transitioning rate from Junior High School to Senior High School since 2017.

However, the current system of financial administration of the FSHS calls for concern about its long-term sustainability. Therefore, it may not be out of place for the government and the World Bank, who are key partners of Ghana's educational system, to initiate a process of reviewing the policy to assess its sustainability in the future. To this end, the review is a welcome idea. In this article, I will highlight two key areas within the financial administration of the FSHS that I believe the review may focus on making it better for the future.

1. Leave the cost of ancillary services to parents

After Ghana's independence in the 1950s, there was a conscious effort to achieve a rapid nation-building process. Part of this process led to the introduction of the boarding system into Ghana's Senior High School educational architecture. But, some of the critical questions the country needs to ask with the introduction of free senior high school policies are: Can the boarding system currently work effectively and efficiently (in terms of finances) with a holistic free educational system? What are the best practices concerning this in other jurisdictions?

Indeed, I firmly believe the cost component of the boarding school system vis à vis a holistic free educational approach works against the system itself. In financial administration in education, several cost items may be identified (summarised in Table 1).

Table 1: Types of educational costs

Monetary costNon-monetary cost
School Fees/Direct costSchool SuppliersAncillary ServicesOpportunity Cost
Registration FeesSchool UniformBoarding Fees/accommodationParents' time, labour income
Tuition FeesSports ClothesCafeteria/MealsStudents' time, labour income
Examination FeesTextbooksTransportation 
Teachers' Salaries/FeesWriting materials and suppliersTutoring/private coaching 
Parent Teacher Association FeeOther compulsory suppliersAdditional/Special classes 
Other Enrolment-associated Fees Students' field trips/excursions 

Source: Adapted from Results for Development Institute

From the table, I strongly believe the cost of ancillary services should be left to parents to bear because the sustainability of a holistic free educational system amid the boarding system is in doubt and further questions the equity component of the current FSHS policy. For example, in the 2019/2020 academic year, the summary schedule fees per head for first-year day SHS students were GHS953.45 and GHS1,391.30 for boarding students, and GHS1,069.95 and GHS1,507.80 for TVET students, respectively. Continuing students in SHS and TVET fees were GHS463.45 and 479.95, respectively, for day students. For boarding students, the fee was GHS897.80 for SHS students and GHS914.30 for TVET students. Evidently, the fee for a continuing boarding student is almost two times that of a continuing day student.

Accordingly, the review of the policy may recommend to the government to reduce the recurrent expenditure on students. To achieve this, there is the need to improve school supplies (especially community day senior high schools) to enhance the proximity of schools to students, thereby increasing the availability of day-school facilities to offer more school choices after junior high school as pertains to other jurisdictions such as the US. Thereafter, the government can invite consumers of the policy (parents and students) who opt for boarding status to absorb the proportion of boarding fees to enhance the affordability of the policy on the part of the government.

Indeed, inviting consumers of boarding facilities to absorb the difference in feeding or boarding fees (part of ancillary services, see Table 1) due to boarding status extends the concept of equity in the policy. This is because parents of day students currently bear the cost of ancillary services, such as renting nearby accommodation for their wards, the daily cost of transportation to and from school, and the cost of living on their own or in their homes. This approach will also not defeat the immediate purpose of the policy, which is to increase access. Research demonstrates that the significant cost barrier to school access is the school fees/direct cost followed by school supplies. That means, at the senior high school level, if the government continues to absorb the school fees/direct cost and school supplies while leaving the cost of ancillary services to parents due to their choice of boarding status for their wards (remember that day students already bear the cost of daily transportation or accommodation), it cannot be a significant barrier to access.

In the short term, an alternative way to implement the recommendation suggested above is to utilise the categorisation of schools by the Ghana Education Service. Students who opt for Grade A or B boarding school status may be required to absorb the cost of boarding fees, while Grade C and D schools may be holistically free for all students. By this, it reduces the impact on the very poor who may already be living in hard-to-reach areas to access senior high school

2. Introduce Free SHS Levy

In the medium and long term, the government can create a dedicated revenue source for the policy. Thus, the policy review may recommend some low-hanging "fruits" options. The government may create a levy for Free SHS called FSHS Levy on, for instance, imported goods and/or a dedicated percentage of Value Added Tax (VAT) on goods and services for FSHS. This innovation is to ensure consistent revenue generation for the policy for recurrent expenditure, on the one hand, and investment in infrastructural development and the quality of education to catch up with the increasing demand for high school education, on the other hand.


In conclusion, free senior high school is an investment for the future of human capital development and socio-economic transformation. Therefore, all efforts and innovations to protect the current FSHS and sustain it for future generations are non-negotiable. Consequently, a review to improve the policy is a good idea that is highly welcome. All hands - parents, guardians, government, and development partners - must be on deck and be responsible for ensuring the sustainability of the current Free Senior High School policy.

About the author

Gabriel Asante

PhD. Candidate, Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary


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Gabriel Asante is a social scientist researching fee-free policies in Sub-Saharan Africa to assess their utility to social and human development, the policy processes and their drivers and alternative means to improve these policies.

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