After reading some posts on free SHS, I have decided to share a bit of my experience with school fees when I was in secondary school. Before 2003, while in basic school, I had no idea what poverty was. I was always almost the first to pay my fees on the first day of school each term. In 2003, my father died intestate and my mother who was a petty trader had to take over the task of educating four of us. Paying my basic school fees was now even a challenge.
Prior to writing my BECE, we were ejected from the company bungalow so my mother struggled to complete our house so we could get a place to lay our heads. My mother was not in a position to pay for electricity connection so we resorted to kerosene lamps and candles. These were my lighting sources every night and dawn as I studied for my BECE. One thing consumed me and kept me going; my desire to go to Wesley Girls' High School.
In 2005 when I gained admission to Wesley Girls' High School, my joy knew no bounds. The battle had been won. Wrong! A much more formidable battle loomed. My three siblings were all in tertiary institutions then and my mother was hawking used clothings ('foos'). We had sold every electrical appliance which commanded any price at all. My mum had sold every single new cloth she had, save the few old ones which were rejected at the pawnshop. How were we going to pay my admission fee? Forget for a moment about provisions and other items on the prospectus.
We called every individual in our circles to ask for a loan but they all had the needs of their children to take care of. On October 7, 2005, we finally got a loan from my cousin's friend. I was to be in school on October 8, 2005. Close, huh? Mother and I were able to get my banker's draft done for me to get my school cloth and other things to be given by the school. Thereafter, paying my fees every term was a tug of war.
I lived on the edge every term until my mum was able to borrow money to pay my fees or a benevolent spirit was touched (these included contributions from some classmates in my study group or parents of friends who heard I was going to drop out of school). Every night, I was on my knees before the lights went out for bedtime asking God to send an angel to pay my fees. My father's brothers were all late then and my mum's sisters were also all late.
We had nobody but God! I was only a child with dreams at the mercy of people I called and pleaded with to help me pay my fees. Whenever the grace period was over and we were made to go home to collect our fees, tears streamed down my face effortlessly on the bus on my way to Takoradi. We just did not have the money else my mum who was always outdoing herself to cater for us wouldn't wait for me to come home after the numerous distress calls I placed to her from the payphone every weekend.
In my second year, I met a man who promised to take me as his daughter and help me through school in exchange for housekeeping duties when I was on vacation. Cleaning and cooking came easily to me so I was elated at the prospect of working as a house help to pay my fees. I thought my days of crying myself to sleep every night in WGHS were over. I lost this 'opportunity' because I refused to sleep with this man. I was back to wondering where my fees were going to come from.
I almost always went to school without provisions but I wasn't worried because I could eat from the dining hall and concentrate on my studies. My mother (who developed hypertension from sleepless nights and worrying) managed to send me some provisions in the course of the term. I write this because there are so many young ones going through worse than I did. At one of our speech days, I walked down the dais dejectedly after collecting my three awards because my mum who sat with me every night with the lantern as I studied to get in to Wesley Girls' High School wouldn't show up to Cape Coast from Takoradi.
The reason? She had not been able to raise the lorry fare for herself, how much more the school fees I owed then? I love Wesley Girls' High School not only for the academic excellence but the values imbibed into me and the principles I set for myself after allowing the school to pass through me. I would that every child in Ghana works hard to get into any school of their choice. The only distinguishing feature should be merit and not one's parents' financial strength.
Free SHS is a good policy for any country serious about the development agenda. I believe this is the time for well-meaning Ghanaians to come together and contribute ideas on how to make the program sustainable. I welcomed the idea from the start even though I have no child or family member close to senior high school going age. My heart beats for the voiceless young ones who are going through what I endured during my educational journey.
Every child deserves a mind free of school fees 'wahala' to study. Equal opportunities for all! Whatever needs to be done must be done. Some are now demanding and receiving stones for chanting against the implementation of free SHS and are seen all over social media pontificating as seers. I don't know what they had to endure to go through school. What I know is this: No child should grapple with school fees like I did.
Not even the child of the poorest person in my village at Akyem Anamase. Perhaps, they are analysing things intellectually and not passionately. However, before you make a submission, honestly examine your motives in the secret place of your conscience. Do you really care about the poor? Or it's politics as usual? It's all well and good. Most policies go through reviews and reforms after implementation. I'd rather side with doers than talkers. Whichever political party rolled out this policy is immaterial to me. This is for Ghana and we must all do right by the future generation.
I'm an ardent supporter of equal opportunities for all and free SHS levels the grounds for all children regardless of their financial background. How best can we make free SHS work? Let's review and support this policy to succeed. It is the least this current generation can do for posterity. Many are the untold hardships.
***The author is a Master’s student Development Economics and International Studies Germany at Friedrich Alexander University, Erlangen-Nürnberg
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