Undoubtedly, the Free Senior High School (Free SHS) program, is the biggest and most successful pro-poor policy ever implemented by any government in the educational sector of this country.
It remains by far the most effective and the most highly applauded policy intervention of President Akufo-Addo’s administration. The promise itself came with lots of controversies during the heat of the electioneering campaign.
It, therefore, didn’t come as a surprise when Mr. George Opare Addo, the current Youth Organizer of the NDC, almost in a painful confession on Asempa FM’s ‘Ekosii Sen’ applauded the government for the implementation of the FREE SHS.
In George’s own words, he said, “…but I will praise the government on the implementation of the Free SHS. I remember that some time ago when I was a DCE, there were parents who queued at my office seeking for scholarships to cater to their wards’ education. So when this government introduced free education, I felt it was a very good policy”.
Before I proceed to discuss the achievements of the current administration with regard to the Free SHS, I think it will be appropriate to cast our minds back prior to the prevailing situation before the introduction of the Free SHS program. The following are just a few of the many dire situations that confronted the Ghanaian child prior to the introduction of the free SHS :
1. According to available data, a whopping 100,000 children who passed the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) yearly, could not further their education into SHS due to lack of funds.
2. Ghana’s performance in the WASSCE was poor. From the period of 2011 to 2016, approximately 75% of all WASSCE candidates failed to attain qualification into tertiary education. In fact, in 2015 alone, approximately 49% of candidates scored F9 in Mathematics and 37% of the candidates scored F9 in Integrated Science.
3. There existed poorly coordinated, incoherent management structures and poor government arrangement towards the Technical, Vocational and Educational Training (TVET) in the country. This impeded the growth of TVET in the country.
4. Senior high school education in the country was tainted with inadequate infrastructure and poor learning environment in some schools.
5. The welfare of teachers in various senior high schools was nothing to write home about Just like any other government policy ever implemented under the sun. I will first of all acknowledge that the implementation of the Free SHS program did not come without any challenges. However, is it not the case that progressive improvement through monitoring evaluation to achieve optimal results forms a critical feature of the social policy cycle? The calls by Civil Society Organizations and well-meaning Ghanaians for review of the policy is well in order and necessary.
The Ministry of Education is motivated by the various feedbacks received over the few years and following the implementation of the policy subjected it to constant review to address all concerns and potential challenges.
The cloud of the “quality over access debate” which the erstwhile John Mahama led administration, spearheaded by Professor Nana Jane Opoku Agyeman latched on to mount a strong defense against the Free SHS policy during the 2012 and 2016 electioneering campaign still hovers around the policy. Their narrative at the time was that the Free SHS policy was a mere charade by the NPP to hoodwink Ghanaians into voting H.E. Nana Akufo-Addo into office.
It would only come as a pleasant surprise to them that, the current government got the policy implemented in September 2017 – that is, the first year of Nana Akufo-Addo’s government. The new strategy has hence been that a relentless war is fashioned by the NDC’s propaganda machinery to discredit the positive impact of the Free SHS policy since its inception.
NDC has not rested on their oars in identifying the minutest of challenges that come with the implementation of the policy and blowing them out of proportion just to save face and to justify their position that the implementation of the Free SHS policy was impossible.
Thankfully, the question on what level of quality of education the Free SHS program is providing to the Ghanaian child was answered by the performance of the first batch of the Free SHS beneficiaries according to the 2020 WASSCE results:
a) 2020 is the only year in the past 6years that more than 50% of candidates obtained A1-C6 in all core subjects. Three students who picked up all the top 2020 WASSCE awards come from Ghana and are beneficiaries of the Free SHS policy.
b) 2020 WASSCE was written by over 2 million candidates from five different countries within the West-African sub-region, from which a total of the 411 out of the 465 candidates who scored grade A in all subjects at the 2020 WASSCE were beneficiaries of the Free SHS.
The cited WASSCE results were made possible due to the following efforts by the Nana Akufo-Addo led government through the Free SHS policy as follows:
1. Core textbooks were provided for all students
2. Mathematics and science training were provided for teachers.
3. Intervention grants were provided for teachers.
4. Supports were provided for low performing schools.
5. On-time payment of subventions made.
6. Core subject teacher training was implemented.
7. Remedial packages were delivered to all students.
Critics of the policy initially assumed that at the implementation of the Free SHS program, private Senior High Schools will be bursting at their seams with the influx of students from the government managed public SHS’s. They asserted that it will not be long after the implementation of the Free SHS policy before parents began to withdraw their wards from public SHS’s and take them to the private ones due to low quality education.
Today, these same critics have joined operators of the private SHS to accuse the government of deliberately targeting them by virtue of the implementation of the free SHS to knock them out of business.
At the time of implementation of the Free SHS policy in 2017, a total of 800,000 Ghanaian students benefited from the policy. Currently, the number of beneficiaries has exceeded 1.2million students. The sudden upsurge of SHS students, which is obviously due to the FSHS policy, and the existing perennial infrastructure deficit in our schools, gave birth to the innovative Double Track System as an interim solution.
This ensured that over 181,000 beneficiaries were not denied access to SHS due to lack of capacity to accommodate them.
According to a publication by Graphic Online on February 4th 2020, the Government of Kenya sought for Ghana’s expertise to help implement a double-track educational system as part of its educational reforms. However, it will interest you to note that the critics of the Free SHS policy are always quick to cite the Double Track System as one of the failures of the policy.
In conclusion, I refer to a research paper published by Prince Hamid Armah (PhD) and Kwasi Opoku-Amankwa (PhD) titled, “Comparative Analysis of WASSCE Core Subjects from 2016 to 2020.”
Their analysis shows that the 2020 WASSCE performance is up to standard and compares well with the 2019 performance. On average, the 2020 performance shows a 12.7 percent increase from the 2016 performance for all four core subjects.
It is therefore evidential that the 2020 performance is a remarkable one compared to 2016 performance (the year preceding the implementation of the Free SHS). In sum, this year’s performance, like any other performance in the past three years, continues to dispel the concerns of compromised education quality as far as students’ performance is concerned.”
Vincent Ekow Assafuah (MP),
Member, Select Committee on Education.