Daniel Sackitey writes: Reviewing Free SHS without political lens

Education is an important pillar which cannot be ignored in the development of a nation.

As former South African president and the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Nelson Mandela, put it “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.

All over the world, many stories abound of people who broke the glass ceiling or had a seat at the high table as a result of the opportunities they had after getting educated.

Thanks to education, the son of a charcoal seller can dream of wearing a white shirt, and the child in the village can dream of a better future.  Indeed, education provides a level playing field for the child of the poor and the rich.

In Ghana, several efforts have been made by past and present governments to ensure that education receives the needed attention it deserves in its administration. Some of these include the enactment and subsequent implementation of the Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE) which was to provide the opportunity for every school-age child in Ghana to receive quality basic education, school feeding programme, amongst others.

For the purposes of this article, I will focus on the Free Senior High School policy.

Free SHS

Launched in 2017, the Free Senior High School programme arguably stands tall amongst various educational policies in recent memory. Hitherto a campaign promise by then-presidential candidate of the New Patriotic Party, Nana Akufo-Addo, in 2012 and 2016, the programme is now a reality contrary to earlier apprehension by critics over its feasibility and implementation.  According to now President Akufo-Addo, the programme was introduced to eliminate cost barriers in accessing secondary-level education after observing how many young BECE graduates ended their education at the Junior High School level.

“We lift the financial burden off our parents and the heart-rending anxiety that accompanies the beginning of every school term. We have a sacred duty to our children and the generations beyond in ensuring that, irrespective of their circumstances, their right to education is preserved. That is why the government has decided to absorb all senior high school fees that have been agreed between the Ghana Education Service Council and the Conference of Heads of Assisted Secondary Schools (CHASS),” President Akufo-Addo said at the launch of the programme.

Was this achieved? To answer this, I will tell you a story. I vividly recall a general conversation on Free SHS in a Madina commercial bus (trotro) after it was launched. A woman and her friend had sent their first-year wards to school and were returning.

“I went through the process without paying a dime to anybody. When we were returning, I was constantly looking back to see if any of the school authorities will follow us to take money. Nana Addo has really done well,” one of the women said.

Atop her voice, she said God bless everyone who voted for Nana Addo.  But the trotro mate interjected and said Nana Addo has done nothing and the free SHS programme will collapse. As if possessed by a spirit, the woman told him to keep his mouth shut if he has nothing good to say about Akufo-Addo as he has done a lot for parents. She went on to tell the mate how the president has lifted a huge burden off parents adding that the mate will not understand because “he gives his money to his girlfriend unlike parents who take care of their children”.

That was how people went all out in defending the programme.


Nearly six years after the implementation of the Free SHS programme, many challenges have riddled the initiative.

One of such major challenges has had to do with dealing with the increasing number of students in SHS.

According to the Education Minister, Dr. Yaw Osei Adutwum, over a million students are currently benefiting from free SHS with the government implementing the double track system to contain the numbers.

He adds that quality has not been sacrificed for quantity in SHSs. Other challenges worth mentioning have to do with the limited time students spend in school as well as the shortage of food in SHS.

These challenges have always left parents, a majority of whom hailed the Free SHS programme at its inception, worried while some head teachers in the case of inadequate food supplies have been threatening to shut down their respective institutions or compel students to feed themselves if nothing was done to salvage the situation.

Way Forward

The Free SHS programme has over the years come up for discussion with regard to what can be done to make it better. Unfortunately, most of these discussions have been reduced to political football topics between the governing New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) despite the wonderful solutions proffered by some education think tanks.

Overall, members with affiliation to NPP have been praising the policy’s accomplishments while the NDC have been pointing out some of its challenges while calling for a review –ironically interpreted as a cancellation.

It is crucial, after many years, to examine the Free SHS policy objectively and remove politics from the equation. One critical area which ought to be looked at is infrastructure. It is without a shred of doubt that the numbers in secondary schools will continue to increase as the cost barrier has been eliminated – a situation which already has led to double track in some schools. Consequently, measures should be put in place to ensure consistent improvement in infrastructure. The National Union of Ghana Students (NUGS) and Africa Education Watch have recently been advocating for GETFund to be uncapped. This will ostensibly lead to more resources being committed to education.

Another critical issue which has come up strongly amidst Ghana’s economic downturn has had to do with financing the Free SHS.

Education is an expensive venture, and providing free education, especially at the secondary school level, requires significant funding. However, with Ghana’s economic situation on a rollercoaster, the government should develop a sustainable funding model that ensures that the Free SHS policy can be maintained in the long term.

A Trust Fund could for instance be established to encourage voluntary contributions while parents who are rich be made to pay the fees of their wards.

Source: citinewsroom.com