The question is: why did the CMB scholarship system fail? Why is our scholarship secretariat moribund?
1. It would surprise you to know that it was actually “fee-free education” that killed the scholarship system in Ghana.
The “CMB scholarships” were not, contrary to common misconceptions, set up primarily to benefit cocoa farmers.
They were set up as a “financing mechanism” for national education expansion efforts. And their most seminal role eventually came with the setting up of the Ghana Education Trust Fund (GETFund). Yep, the same program that latter day politicians have rebranded and claimed for their own.
In 1957, it pleased the Osagyefo government to aggressively expand access to secondary education. To do this the government needed seed capital equivalent to about $77 million (in current prices) to set up a Fund, part of which was to go to fund scholarships.
2. The government simply turned to the CMB as a dependable cash cow to extract these resources. At no point was any kind of decision made that this was a scholarship scheme exclusively for the wards of cocoa farmers. By the way, this was the largest national scholarship scheme to date.
3. Predating the GET Fund, the government had already, in 1954, tapped the CMB for funds to expand the 1 million dollar a year scholarships program it had been running for the benefit of secondary students since 1952. With CMB support, that program expanded to about 10 million USD per annum.
This raises a number of questions. Firstly, why did the government need to aggressively expand scholarship schemes in the first place?
4.Simple, because contrary to the myths that have been peddled for many years, it was never CPP policy to offer blanket, fee-free, secondary school education in Ghana, and the careful implementation of the 1961 Education Act was reflective of the choice of scholarships instead of the “blanket fee-free” approach to achieve the goals of “free education”.
Tuition and boarding fees were set to reflect as close as possible the true cost of delivering a reasonable standard of education at the secondary level, as well as to offer lodging, meals and extracuricular facilities to students.
5. Between 1957 and 1964, tuition fees averaged about 560 GHS per trimester (using current prices), a sum higher than the amount set today. Boarding fees averaged 2500 GHS per trimester, also higher than today’s GES prescribed costs of delivering boarding services to students.
6. In those circumstances, it was of course prudent that government will seek to expand the scholarship scheme in order to prevent poor students from dropping out or falling behind.
But there was another important caveat. The scholarship schemes in those days used a combination of need and merit since the package on offer also included “bursaries”, and not just tuition and boarding fee waivers.
7. “Bursaries” have long been known to be critical to expanding access at that level because fees are not the only barriers to education. Some students come from such poor homes that attending secondary school when they could be contributing to the family’s upkeep by tending to the farm amounts to a cost even in a fee-free context. If such students prove academically gifted, it is incumbent on a smart government to remove the “hidden costs” of education in their way.
8. The idea of using merit as a secondary criterion is important in the context of limited resources. Whilst some may balk at the thought, the fact remains that social spending on education is a matter of investment in the future of young people. Where there is evidence that some young people are likely to generate greater returns for the society because they will put the education they acquire to more productive use, it makes sense in poor societies to SPEND MORE on such people.
9. The CPP knew it then but the governments of today claim they don’t get the logic.
When the decision to use blanket fee-free methods to expand educational access at the second cycle level started to gain root during the military revolutionary era, the state was faced with a trade off: you can’t continue to invest aggressively in scholarships whilst also dispensing blanket fee waivers to everyone regardless of need or merit.
10. Consequently, budgets were severely cut and the scholarship secretariats lost their skilled staff. They no longer had a major national role in education. In time, the CMB scholarships came to be dominated by bureaucrats in the cocoa sector who dispensed it liberally to the wards of cronies and anyone who would pay a bribe. The only strategic role scholarships continued to play after the 80s was their use in funding overseas education in the medical and scientific fields, and even this has, some would say thankfully, more or less abated.
11. This is the true history of the decline of scholarships as a means of providing access to education for the poor. And not the uncritical accounts that gets handed down from radio pundit to radio pundit in Ghana. Which then raises the second question: why do civic systems degenerate rather than improve over time in this dearly beloved country of ours?