A member of the national communications team of the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), Benard Anim Piesie has rubbished claims the Free Senior high School Policy by the New Patriotic Party (NPP) government will not compromise on quality.
To him, the quality of the pro-poor policy has been enormously compromised, taking into consideration the “messy state” of the education policy that has enrolled about 400,000 students in 2018.
His comments come at a time the government is considering taking a loan of about $1.5 billion to help expand infrastructure in some selected second cycle institutions which are running a double-track system for students.
The amount, according to government, will be raised from both local and international sources by using 40% of the Ghana Education Trust Fund (GETFund) as security.
This has been necessitated by the infrastructure deficit in most of the schools that government has selected to run the double-track system to give education access to Junior High school graduates who hitherto would not have had access to secondary education due to the lack of space and adequate logistics.
Under the double-track system, there is a calendar of two semesters in a year for the SHS 1 class containing 81 days per each semester and 41 days of vacation for a sandwich class.
But Mr Anim, who was speaking on ‘Inside Politics’ on Radio XYZ Monday afternoon bemoaned the struggles of students who were admitted under the double-track, saying they have been subjected to many ordeals ranging from lack of proper accommodation, unavailability of portable water among others inconveniences affecting their studies.
The new system, that was introduced in 2018, has been faced with logistical and other challenges marring the Free SHS programme, according to news reports.
It is for this reason that Mr Anim said the Free SHS programme was rushed only to get many on board to serve the interest of the NPP, adding that its quality has been compromised.
“If you go outside the country, Mugabe, you know there are some foods that don’t add any value to you. Such foods just fill your belly. They are called junk foods that’s how the Free SHS is,” Anim Piesie declared.
His argument was that students will only be rushed through studies and other curricula activities due to the days they are to spend in school in a semester.
Recently, the immediate past Education Minister, Professor Naana Jane Opoku Agyemang, raised serious concerns about the Free SHS and asked government to as a matter of urgency tackle the numerous challenges confronting the policy.
The Free SHS policy, she said, was not at its best hence “creating panic” among parents, guardians and the students due to the lack of infrastructure and other logistics.
“Last year, nobody envisaged these [challenges],” she said as she pointed to the challenges associated with the double track system.
“What is education?…The students shouldn’t be frightened, their parents should not be worried, teachers should not come out to say ‘we don’t understand the policy’ and fear for their positions after talking about the challenges,” she told Mugabe Maase.
When told many Ghanaians were happy with the fact that their wards were enrolled without paying fees, the former vice chancellor of the University of Cape Coast (UCC) said the condition of the students enrolled on the double track system was terrible, adding that the quality of education in such schools risk being compromised, a total deviation from what education stands for.
“If it is the best, why are private schools advertising that they are not doing it [double track] in their schools?,” Prof. Opoku Agyemang quizzed.
The former minister is not the first to point out to the government that all is not well with the Free SHS policy.
In July this year, the Upper Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana called on government to consider an evaluation of the Free Senior High School (SHS) programme to address its challenges.
As a partner in development, the church, in a communique, added that accommodation, furniture, inadequate classrooms and delay in the release of funds for feeding had to be fixed.
The communique which was read at a news conference by Reverend Emmanuel Atami, Chairman of the Upper Presbytery at the end of its eighth Presbytery Session held in Garu, in the Garu District of the Upper East Region, commended the government for the pro-poor policy, but hastened that its numerous challenges needed to be attended to.
Managing News Editor of the New Crusading Guide, Abdul-Malik Kwaku Baako, is one of the journalists who have pointed out to the government that there are serious challenges confronting the Free SHS policy.
Meanwhile, the government says it is bent on tackling all challenges confronting the policy to ensure that all eligible students get access to free, quality senior high school education.
The Chairman of Education Committee in Parliament, Hon. Siaka Stevens, who reiterated the government’s commitment to improving the quality of education in the country on Inside Politics disclosed that governmet was raising funds to expand infrastructure in the schools.
Mr Siaka Stevens
Stressing on the need to have the right infrastructure in place to house all students qualified for senior high education, the MP for Jaman North noted that it is worthwhile for the New Patriotic Party (NPP) administration to mobilise funds to the tune of $1.5 billion to develop more infrastructure in most of the second cycle schools running under the double-track system.
“This will not add to our public debt. This is a prudent borrowing,” he told host of Inside Politics, Mugabe Maase and explained that the GETFund being used “as a sort of collateral will not affect” the country negatively.
Mr Stevens believes the government took a bold decision to begin the double track amidst its challenges.
Lastmonth, Mr Stevens defended the idea of the double-track system and explained that the the double track was introduced to stay and groom Ghana’s future leaders.
“…In this country, illiterates constitute about 40% of our population which is a serious issue to us all. We needed to work on that. We realized that our junior high schools across the country were 10,000 and our senior high schools are only 900 in number so you can imagine these problems we are seeing were there before Free SHS. The graduates our junior high schools were bringing out far outweighed what the schools could take. Over hundred thousand students, over the years, used to stay home although they had had placement and this was disturbing. So for the past five years, if we have about five hundred thousand qualified JHS graduates staying at home just imagine the effect. And you know the devil finds work for the idle hands,” said Mr Stevens.
He also pointed that government had seen the challenges confronting the Free SHS programme, it could not afford for over a hundred thousand qualified students to stay at home for lack of space and infrastructure while they can be in school and study under the double-track.