Education is the fulcrum of development in every civil society and the importance of this is not lost on governments. Evidently, countries that have advanced and those that strive to advance take education very seriously. It has been known for centuries that education is the key to national development and as such, several approaches have been embarked on over the years by nations to devise ways of making it affordable and attractive for all especially the poor and the underprivileged in society.
Free compulsory universal education is not a new phenomenon with countries such as Norway, Denmark and Sweden having planned and implemented it over the years and also known to provide some of the most quality education worldwide. Even though these interventions have recorded mixed results globally, efforts are continuously been made over the years to amend and reform education rigorously with the aim of identifying the best fit for nations.
Free SHS in Ghana
In Ghana, attempts have been made in the past by previous governments to institute a free education system with mixed results. Examples that readily come to mind include Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s Northern Free Education which is still continuing and the Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE) which was introduced by Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings (rtd) in 1995. However, the most audacious move to free education in Ghana has been under the leadership of Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo-Addo, whose government started the Free SHS program in September 2018 with the objective of providing quality education for the youth of the country. So far, 818 million Ghana cedis has been spent on the program. This move by the government could go a long way to ameliorate the inaccessibility to high school education by the poor, reduce the drop-out rate, and bridge the inequality gap to some extent.
The Free SHS Program with its accompanied Double Tracking System has been successful in its first year of implementation and has resulted in increment in enrolment numbers in 2018 as evidenced by the 387,592 students who successfully enrolled in various second-cycled schools across the country as against 358,205 enrolled in 2017, and 328,468 enrolled in 2016 according to the Ministry of Education. The program has many additional potential benefits for students, parents and administrators with longer vacation periods for the students, smaller class sizes, more boarding beds, and less crowded dining halls among its benefits. Placement versus enrolment rates have also increased significantly over the last three years from 75% in 2016 to about 93% in 2018.
Evidence from Mauritius and Seychelles
Mauritius and Seychelles provide classical examples to other African countries of the socio-economic benefits of free education to its populace. Mauritius has been providing free education for its citizens from pre-primary to tertiary levels since 1976 and post-secondary level since 1988, this has resulted in a rise in literacy rates to about 93%. Similarly, since Seychelles instituted its free education program in 1981, the country’s literacy rate has risen to 94%. Seychelles is the only African country to have achieved free education for all. It is no surprise that these countries also continue to record impressive economic fortunes over the period.
Panacea or Drain on National Purse?
According to World Bank figures, Ghana spends about 14 billion Ghana cedis every year on education. In the 2018 budget statement, the government allocated 1.2 billion Ghana cedis for the Free SHS program out of which 818 million Ghana cedis has been spent. This represents about 8% increment in government expenditure on education. Even though this may seem significant on an initial examination, a careful look at the figures could tell a different story. Total government tax revenue for 2017 was 32.3 billion Ghana cedis and is expected to grow to 46.8 billion Ghana cedis in 2018 and 58.9 billion Ghana cedis in 2019. If these figures are achieved, it is likely the government will be able to raise enough revenue to fund the Free SHS program. Given the additional funds needed to sustain the program year-on-year and the revenue projections of the government has made for at least for the next few years, it is safe to say that there will be enough resources to fund the Free SHS program in the short to medium term.
As indicated earlier, it is possible for government to successfully fund the free SHS without necessarily depriving other sectors of the economy necessary resources but that would depend on;
The ability of the government through its revenue collection agencies to meet its revenue mobilization targets. This can be done through institutional strengthening, broadening the tax net, and public sensitization.
The capability of the government to increase and develop educational infrastructure so that in the long run the double track system which has the potential of depleting school infrastructure could be eliminated.
Improving the quality of training and development of teachers with the view of accepting and adapting to the program because the success of the program hinges largely on teachers.
The ability of the government to improve the hygiene factors such as good supervision, improved relationship, work conditions, job security, pay and benefit of staff and teachers.
The willingness of government to involve the private sector in providing auxiliary services such as catering, recreational, and security among others.
The government’s preparedness to establish a non-partisan steering commission which will transcend its constitutional mandate.
There is no gainsaying the fact that free comprehensive, compulsory, universal education is key to national development. However, it comes at a cost. A cost which is multi-faceted and multi-dimensional. One dimension of the cost is financial in nature which requires a combination of stringent resource mobilization and resource allocation and management, another cost aspect is the opportunity cost of transferring resources from state coffers to fund the program as against other social interventions.
These factors notwithstanding, the future of Ghana rests with the youth and an educated youth is an empowered youth that said, the writers conclude that as long as the program does not significantly affect other equally important social interventions, and it does not distract the enabling teaching and learning environment in the classroom, the program is laudable and must be supported. The nature of the support must go beyond divisive partisan patronage to a legislative-backed program in order to ensure its sustenance and longevity.
The writers are PhD students specialising in economic leadership and educational leadership respectively. You can send them tweets on this article @Duke_Ofosu_Anim and @PaaKwasiAnnan1 respectively.