The Free SHS Mumbo-Jumbo Debate. (Ghana)

There are more to the SHS education’s issues than tuition.

Since the NPP government announced the free -SHS education which is supposedly taking off in September, 2017 academic year, questions have begun to multiply uncontrollably.
People are talking and suggesting other remedies which need to be looked at critically. They think instead of across the board free SHS education for every student, there should be some kinds of limitations, responsibilities and requirements on part of the students and stakeholders.

These are some of the suggestions:

1. Tuition Assistance program, which can be directed at the poorer students with good academic potentials.

2. More money could be spent to help students in JHS to become academically ready for SHS which is a bigger barrier to SHS graduation.

3. The government could have spent more to help SHS students deal with mental health issues, alcoholism, drug abuse, “sakawa” and all manner of indiscipline which are common epidemics among SHS students.

4. It could also have massively improved career counseling for SHS students. Because according to the World Bank report, two-thirds of jobs in the world could be lost to automation very soon. That means our future work force is going to compete with machines and computers for jobs. The question is: Are we preparing our future workforce to face the future jobs market requirements by just giving free SHS? Or are we going to create more bureaucracy workforce that will always depend and bribes and corruption?

5. There should be income limits for the students’ families. Why should students whose parents are well- to- do and attended a premium private JHS get free SHS at St Rose’s ,whereas a poor student who attended Tweapease public JHS goes to an unknown SHS? And, why should my child be a day student when his friends are getting a free education at the boarding house? The question is: Do we have enough space to accommodate these students who don’t want to stay home?

6. Free SHS doesn’t mention reducing or absorbing the non-tuition fees, like living expenses, and other learning materials and travel, which for many students are far more burdensome than tuition.

7. It doesn’t cover for those who for one reason or another have to take their Nov-Dec exams as private candidates.

8. Free SHS will de-motivate students. According to education experts, “ research has shown that students whose parents spend a lot of money on their education or have to work to pay some cost of their education (even if only small expenses) are more likely to incite to work hard and graduate”. Also as the cost of SHS education drops to zero, so does the perceived cost of dropping out.

9. This free SHS education will threaten to destroy some of the private SHS. Suddenly, the nation’s private schools will have to compete with “free public SHS”. Many of these schools are already struggling to survive. If upper –middle class students are drawn away to free public schools, private ones may close down. That can hurt the nation’s educational diversity and destroy jobs. The private SHS tend to have smaller classes and tend to spend heavily to subsidize poorer good students.

That will also may widen the gap between rich and poor. When schools are ‘free’ more people will apply. As more apply, selectivity will increase, as administrators chase for good students from good backgrounds. That will exclude students with lower academic credentials, who tend to come from more disadvantaged homes and backgrounds.

Over long- term, this free SHS could hurt the quality of education in Ghana, because there won’t be enough money to go around and provide other needed infrastructure and services for the schools to enhance learning.

We live in a nation whose budgets are perpetually challenged by rising “entitlements syndrome”. Education will eventually be squeezed when free SHS takes off because of the entitlements mentality . The senior High schools will also try to claw back to the private sources for funding like PTA and Old students’ associations and dorm fees, activities fees and other charges that don’t officially count as tuition, but still quality suffers when the schools’ budgets are not enough to meet their needs .

Since the admission into the premium SHS are supposedly not going to be competitive, how is the education service going to assign students into schools or are the upper –middle class students who can afford to pay bribes are going to pay their way out and leave the poor in the cold?

Finally, people think free SHS education will hurt its recipients’ future earnings .Because since some core subjects like math, science and other business creating subjects are not incorporated in the free SHS policy as requirements, free SHS education will be like a factory assembly line. In other words, many students (esp. those from less endowed JHS) will take easy subjects just to get by and enjoy all the freebies because there will be no accountability on the part of the students and parents .Why should they study hard when they are getting everything free?

Is BECE going to be abolished? If yes, how are we going to place students in SHS? If it’s not going to be abolished why should students study for good grades when they have free tickets to enter SHS? In the end, the disadvantaged students from disadvantaged JHS will be short-changed. So we better fix all the bugs before we take –off.

In fact, before we rush into free SHS education, let’s examine what is keeping our teenagers out of SHS, and figure out how to get them in the classrooms and keep them there for graduation. Most of their problems have nothing to do with tuition. But a lot to do with lack- of- motivation, accountability, peer-pressure, lack -of -focus and responsibility, interest in easy-way out of everything, quick money syndrome ,being too pessimistic of the future and lack of parental control, etc.

In other words, before we embark on a free SHS we have to have solutions to the above mentioned issues. Otherwise ,it will be a waste of money and resources.
Kwaku Adu-Gyamfi (voice of reason)

*The author is social commentator and founder of Adu-Gyamfi Youth Empowerment foundation for the Disadvantaged Youth of Asuom.

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