Ghanaians welcomed the Free Senior High School (Free SHS) Education gratefully when it was implemented in 2017. Parents were the most excited about the policy as it would ease the financial burden on them. Students on the other hand did not know what to expect but only to make themselves available to learn. 

It has been five years since the implementation of the policy and clearly it has been met with so many challenges. Largely, the challenges have been on the side of finances. And the lack of finance has also affected a lot of areas from feeding of students, unavailability of learning materials and etc. Recent high cost of living(inflation) which is affecting teachers; forcing the from dedicating more time to their teaching, is another factor which is affecting the policy indirectly; in terms of providing quality education.

Over a couple of years now, many academics, clergymen, political leaders have called for the review of the Education policy. The Finance minister, Ken Ofori-Atta, even after seeking a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) insisted that the Free SHS would not be reviewed. The President of Ghana on several occasions has stated that the Free SHS will not be touched. 

In as much as it sounds encouraging to see the government stand it’s grounds on not reviewing the policy, it is something which many feel is not feasible, considering the nation’s financial situation. Somewhat, we are not considering the neglect of basic schools for the Free SHS. It seems government is ready to break the bank to fund this project, and this project only. Along with the National Cathedral (Pun intended)

However, the President, in a meeting recently shared with representatives of the National Union of Graduate Students (NUGS) that government is willing and open for discussions on Education and Development in the country. This came at a time after several concerns were raised by CHASS about shortage of Food and other essentials for the feeding of students in High School.

During this period of food shortage, the Ministry of Education came out to refute claims that there was shortage of food in schools. Leadership of some Old School Association, Senior High Schools, came out to say otherwise. Under the Free SHS policy, alumni associations are not allowed, for that matter; no one is supposed put a dime in the running of the schools – for everything is covered under the policy by the state. From all the news and events appearing in the media concerning the policy indicates that government is struggling with sustaining the policy. In this regard, let us not forget how caterers in Junior High Schools are complaining about the cost per child for the School feeding program.

Moving on, in all the conversation ongoing, there are a group of people who have been relegated to the background. Their concerns have not been taken into account to understand the extent to which the Free SHS policy is helping them or not. These are people who are the direct recipients of the policy; the students! Maybe, we, as adults, are overexaggerating the whole issue. It could also be that the issue is being under-exaggerated, therefore, we must make a deliberate attempt to listen to what the students have.

As a part-time teacher with a redemial school, I often come into contact with students who are on vacation. Most of these children school with the grade A class of schools. The thought would be that their condition is better, but no. The children know and understand when the system is broken. One girl from Wesley Girls’ Schools once said “The teachers come to class and teach us what they feel. So it makes it difficult to follow what happens in the term”.

Apparently, the concerns the students raised was about the disorganised mode of teaching. The children are worried about how they are not able to follow what is being taught in school. When the students were asked what topics they treated in school, they couldn’t tell confidently. People may make the argument that the children are not good students. But that is not the case, as I enter into the next point; Less Contact Period.

Upon engagement with the children, the contact hours for the children is less and that affects the how much time is spent on topics and the subjects. This could partly be attributed to the lack of learning materials. This was clearly raised on March 31st this year by the GNAT President. Clearly this has not been properly dealt with. As if that is not enough.

When you go down to the Junior High School, it is not any better. They have worse stories from dilapidating structures, lack of teaching and learning materials, to low motivation of teachers – talk less of the free feeding program, that is more heartbreaking than anything one can ever think of.

My work puts me in the space of basic schools regularly. To see how school buildings are not properly maintained, teachers and heads constantly complaining about the lack of teaching and learning materials, makes it worrisome should one choose keep mute. One teacher complained “Even if they can’t give us proper compensation, at least they should provide us with the learning and teaching materials to make our work easier – we will take care of ourselves”. It was profound what he said.

Just as I was writing this article, CHASS in the Northern Region came out to warn that Senior High Schools were going to close down because they were borrowing to feed students. Stories like these beg the question “What are we doing with the ‘Planting For Jobs Policy’?” The State is putting money there but the dividends are not coming in.

What Should We Be Looking At?

The Ministry of Education, being the highest body of regulating Education in Ghana, must provide resources to keep the learning environment in a good shape for the Senios and Junior high schools. Where it lacks funding, it should encourage alumni associations to support the efforts of the Government. The thing of absolute free education is overwhelming on the State. 

In addition to maintaining the environment in a good shape, the provision of learning and teaching materials is the basic element of every good education. The physical environment is only a ‘meeting point’. Should people have teaching and learning materials available, learning and teaching can happen anywhere. The provision of these make teaching and learning easier, parents and guardians can have access to them and complement the efforts of the schools. 

Education (Schooling) in Ghana must be made attractive such that children are willing and eager to support their schools even after they have left or completed. Student and teacher relationship is poor amongst most schools on our part of the world. People do not feel any sense of attachment to their schools for them to want to support their former schools in anyway. The onus lies on the management of the schools to ensure that they are facilitators of the growth of children. 

Parent-Teacher-Associations (PTA) have been made redundant in recent years (especially in public schools) and this is dangerous to the ensuring of quality education in our part of the world. This association can be of immense support to the quality of education in many ways. They can support almost everything when they believe it is for the good of their wards. They must be made active and involved in all things. They are very important!

Management of schools who tax parents to pay money for projects or maintenance should do so with all honesty. Oftentimes, the children I interact with at the junior high level reveal that they pay monies for maintenance and other things in the school. One time, a pupil told me they were tax at school to pay Gh20 each to maintain some parts of the school building. The Child said the money they paid was too much for such a small work. I have to convince him that it could be that there are other things the balance would be used for. Accountability is very crucial and we must ensure this at all levels.

In conclusion, economic challenges can heavily impact any policy or project in a state. Therefore, when government is honest and open with citizens, they will receive huge support. The state, at all times, must listen to the people and act upon what they need – democracy. That is when they can have the best wishes of the people. Rhetorics in our present world does not get job done, either does media attention give results.

Education is expensive, especially quality education. But when we follow the old African saying ‘It takes a village to grow a child’ We will see great improvement all around us.

Selasi Aklotsoe Mensah (SamKcat)