Ghana’s new free Senior High School (SHS) policy was introduced as a partial fulfillment of the campaign promises made by the current government in power. The policy has divided the country into two groups of opinions. Some are in support, while others strongly oppose the policy. Though this division looks more like party politics than genuine concerns, a critical look at the policy raises concerns not only about its implementation but also its sustainability.
With its main purpose of ensuring equity, this policy will undoubtedly help the less privileged in society gain access to schools of their choice and break the barriers of some schools only being accessible to the rich in society. However, concerns have been raised about the current size of Ghana’s cake which could become a huge setback to the policy.
Education is the backbone of a developing country and all efforts must be made to provide citizens with the best education possible. If education goes wrong, many other things can also go wrong. The questions that come to mind are, whether free education means better education, and how sustainable the policy is in the long term? In trying to answer these questions, some recommendations are put forward to the Ghanaian government, which could help the policy be sustainable in the long term.
To begin, specific measures should be put in place to ensure that this cry for equity does not compromise the quality of education provided in the SHS. The government should build more and better equipped schools to meet the high enrolment that this policy is likely to bring. According to a UNESCO Institute for Statistics report, the current pupil-teacher ratio in Ghana’s SHS is about 15:82. This current policy will most likely increase this ratio. If essential teaching and learning materials do not accompany this increased enrolment, education standards and quality teaching will likely be negatively affected.
In addition, there should be an effort by the government to measure the efficiency of this policy to see the impact it is having on national development. The key element to be measured should be the relationship this high enrolment has with the country’s socioeconomic development. Thus, I encourage the government to set up a body responsible for the assessment and measurement of the progress of this policy in order to make adjustments accordingly. A predetermined time frame should be established, and after it has elapsed an evaluation can take place to determine which corrective measures should be put in place to help this policy be sustainable. It is not uncommon to see some African leaders create policies just to win votes for the next elections, without necessarily looking at the impact such policies are having on the economy. I therefore encourage the government to fairly evaluate this policy within specific time frames.
Furthermore, to ensure high-quality education matches the increasing enrolment, I suggest that the government should put a huge effort into increasing the number of trained teachers it employs. They should also consider making the standard of living of these teachers higher and thus the job more attractive. Most universities in Ghana that train teachers for SHS’s do not have any education-oriented programs to professionally prepare teachers for teaching. There are only two universities in Ghana, the University of Cape Coast and the University of Education, Winneba, which have professional programs for teachers. The other universities, both public and private, only equip students with content but not the skills needed to teach. However, there is no requirement that teachers must have formal teaching training. Meaning many teachers in the various SHS’s have not attended either of the two teaching schools, thus creating a danger of poor teaching methodology in the SHS’s.
Regarding the standard of living for most teachers in Ghana, my experience as a teacher propels me to suggest that, most teachers in Ghana feel they are not well paid and therefore these teachers are not motivated enough to carry on with the task entrusted in their hands. The average graduate teacher in Ghana earns about 1200 GHC (270 USD) monthly, which when compared to the cost of living in Ghana, makes it tough for teachers to enjoy a good quality of life in terms of standard of living. In view of this, some teachers do other side businesses and they tend to value those businesses more because they feel they are better off doing those activities rather than teaching. Attendance to school becomes a huge problem and they hardly spend any time on research. Thus, there is the tendency of spending more time on the other income generating activities they are involved in, rather than spending quality time on researching current trends regarding teaching and learning.
Finally, the free SHS education policy is supposedly only accessible for the first year of enrolment. This raises a huge concern as to what happens next after the first year of school, in particular, among the poor who now have the chance to enroll their children in school. Will these students drop out of school after the first year? Who pays for their fees for the two years after enjoying their free year? Responding to these questions must be given sufficient attention. Furthermore, awareness must be created so that parents know what lies ahead after the first year.
I foresee a rise in child labor, as students who cannot afford the fees in subsequent years after the free education, and who do not want to become dropouts, use all means available to them to achieve their educational goals. Undoubtedly, this means engaging in various trades during and after school to support themselves.
The freeness of education seems to be getting popular attention, without taking a closer look at what lies underneath. The Ghanaian government is encouraged to explicitly elucidate the limit of this policy to the population, so that necessary preparations can be made to sustain students’ attendance in SHS after enjoying the first year free.
The new free SHS education policy looks good on paper and sounds good to many Ghanaians. To maintain its popularity, various stakeholders involved are encouraged to make this policy sustainable and of great to quality to the existing educational standards in the country.
King George Acquah is a first year MA Candidate in the International Development Policy field at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs and he is particularly interested in development and policy oriented issues in developing countries, especially Sub Saharan Africa. He holds two MA degrees in French and Francophone Studies from Carleton University and Linguistics and Didactics of French from the University of Cape Coast in Ghana.
Featured image courtesy of Wikimedia.