Former President John Mahama has promised to review the Akufo-Addo government’s policy to provide free Senior High School education if elected President in December 2020.
The policy is ill-timed, he told party faithfuls at the Cape Coast North constituency in the Central region during a tour ahead of his party’s presidential primaries.
The policy was launched less than nine months into the Akufo-Addo government in September 2017. The President remarked during the launch at West Africa Senior High School in Accra, “I was labeled a liar by my opponents, who went on to state that Free SHS could only be possible in 20 years time.”
But former President Mahama has criticised the government observing, suggesting that the policy is struggling because government failed to assemble experts and stakeholders for a national conference on education to deliberate on the policy.
This solution, he said, was how the previous National Democratic Congress (NDC) government set up the Ghana Education Trust Fund (GETFUND) in 2000 to provide funding for educational infrastructure and scholarships to needy but brilliant students.
GETFUND, which is an Act of Parliament, is funded by a 2.5% tax component in the 12.5% Value Added Tax (VAT).
John Mahama reminded his audience that GETFUND happened under the instrumentality of NDC leaders like Dr. Ekwow Spoi-Garbrah, who was then Education Minister and is now also running for 2020 NDC flagbearer.
He lamented that the Akufo-Addo government continues to shun an all-inclusive approach to drafting national policies on sensitive subjects like education. “If Ghanaians come together, we can come out with a workable timetable for implementing free SHS,” he said.
The budget for the free SHS was increased from GHS400 million in 2017 to GHS 1.2 billion in the 2018 budget, and government remains under pressure to find sustainable source of funding for the flagship policy.
The former president said evidence of the ill-planned free SHS policy is seen in the challenges of overcrowding which it faces.
“Our NPP friends, they don’t listen to advice, they think they know everything,” he criticised.
In response to high enrollment rates in Senior High Schools since government implemented the flagship policy in September 2017, the Education Ministry announced the introduction of the double track system.
The system divides the entire student body and staff into two different tracks. So while one track is in school, the other is on vacation and vice-versa.
Infographic double track SHS
The game-changing move will see Ghana’s second cycle institutions move away from three school terms to a two-semester system similar to that run by tertiary institutions. The new system ends the over 70-years old secondary education cycle.
“We just finished vacation. Children have been at home for nearly three months. It is time to go to school you say you have to stay at home for nearly 41 days and let your friends go.”
“After 41 days they will come home and sit down..it doesn’t make sense,” he criticised.
A future NDC government under his leadership will form a high-powered stakeholder committee to have a relook at the policy and its implementation, he said.
But first, the former President needs the party’s ticket to lead the NDC in 2020 in a 10-man race in which he remains the frontrunner.
During the 2016 elections, the NDC held the position that Ghana is not ready for free SHS. The NDC government said there is the need to expand infrastructure and improve quality.
Free SHS should be progressive, the Mahama government argued but lost power to Akufo-Addo who first popularised the promise for free SHS in 2012.
President Akufo-Addo has said, free SHS has come to stay with Ghana’s education system but if the level of political involvement in the running of Ghana’s education system is anything to go by, it could be subject to change.
In 2009 after the NDC government won power, it reversed the NPP’s introduction of a four-year Senior High School system to the previous three years.
The Akufo-Addo government after winning power has kept it at three years but said it has tackled the problem of financial access by introducing free SHS.