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Speaking Notes On “Free Senior High School Education In Ghana: Prospects, Challenges And Recommendations”.

Occasion: 8th Graduation and the 9th Matriculation Ceremonies of the Knutsford University College

Date: Saturday, 24th November, 2018

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Leadership and management of KNUTSFORD University College, ladies and gentlemen, graduands and matriculants, I am glad to be part of today’s ceremony.

I am grateful and honoured that University decided on me as s a guest speaker on your 8th Graduation and 9th Matriculation Ceremonies, today 24th November, 2018. The first thing that got my attention and peaked my interest in accepting to speak was the theme for this year’s occasion, which is   “Free Senior High School Education in Ghana: Prospects, Challenges and Recommendations”. Even as the University College will be one of many tertiary institutions competing for the overflow of SHS graduands, management it seems, from the carefully chosen theme is more interested in the greater good of the country than a legitimate selfish motive of a private university looking to benefit from the product of a problematic design of secondary school education.

So, in spite of the quality of  final SHS graduates Knutsford will eventually attract, I firmly believe that Knutsford University’s  mandate, which is and I quote ‘’to create, to nurture and to develop permanent foundations for inspiring leadership and scholarship among our students and graduates for their own personal, intellectual and professional development and as a consequence, for national and international development’’  would have transformed SHS students into whole products ready to contribute their development quota.

I am sure each of our graduands today will be testimony to KNUTSFORD University’s educational programmes, which has been ‘’summarised as a harmonised synthesis of intellectual, critical, scientific, psychological, philosophical, moral and elevated foundations of personal and professional development.’’ Our matriculants should ensure that these noble virtues are imbibed by them while they  study than just their physical bodies passing through the University.

Mr. Chairman….


The increasing numbers of students graduating from expanded primary education and the general need to improve the educational levels of the labor force to benefit from a globalizing economy, make it inexorable for governments in sub-Saharan Africa to focus on expanding and improving secondary education (Alvarez, 2003; Mulkeen, 2005; SEIA, 2007; World Bank, 2006; World Bank, 2007).

As Ghana’s net enrolment rate at the primary level was relatively high, standing at 84.59% as at 2017 (UNESCO), an emerging concern among stakeholders has been how to also improve the enrolment rate at the secondary and tertiary levels.

  • Lack of infrastructure and financial constraints have been major barriers to access to secondary education, with children from rural and poor households being the most disadvantaged. Therefore, there are existing studies that suggest that reducing the cost of attending secondary education is effective to expand access.
  • The quest to address these pressing needs in Ghana has led to a number of reforms and programs. Notable among them include abolishing tuition fees in public secondary schools and the recent implementation of the community day senior high school program by the erstwhile John Mahama-led administration.

The Free Senior High School Policy

  • The Free Senior High School Policy can be described as one of the most popular political manifesto promises in the history of Ghana’s elections, as the NPP presidential aspirant held unto it in spite of the 2012 election defeat until victory in 2016 . Fast forward, the programme was launched and implemented last year (2017) September. The programme benefited only first year students who were lucky to secure places in the existing public Senior High Schools (SHS) and Technical and Vocational Educational Training (TVET) institutions across the country.
  • Per the current arrangement, government has resolved to absorb all the approved fees these students were expected to pay as a means of addressing inequality and ensuring equal opportunities for all students.
  • Typical of any government policy, its implementation has received both praise and criticism from various angles of society. For instance, while some individuals and organisations have extolled the policy for its potential to reduce both early child marriage and maternal deaths, others have questioned government on how they intend to ensure sustainability without compromising on quality.
  • In the midst of such important debate on the prospect of the policy, IMANI has been a visible pillar in asking critical questions and offering alternative solutions with the aim of providing more sustainable means of addressing access and quality, not only at the secondary school levels but at all levels of education in Ghana. It must be stated clearly that IMANI is not against the implementation of a policy that will promote equity and access to education.
  • As a think tank, we believe that a more realistic dialogue and plan is needed to confront the present status of the free senior high school policy in terms of its capacity to sustain the growth in numbers as well as their existing limitations in terms of capacity and financing to simultaneously expand and improve secondary education.

Financial Capacity

  • It is a known fact that the implementation of the scheme will have a toll on the country’s finances. In the 2018 budget statement, a total of GHS 1.34 billion was allocated for the implementation of the scheme, with funding sources from the Annual Budget Funding Amount (oil revenue) and Government of Ghana (taxes, fees and levies). The financial pressure accompanying the implementation of the policy coupled with Ghana’s low revenue mobilization and the unpredictable nature of the oil revenue warrants some discussions on ways to minimize cost.
  • IMANI has always reiterated the need to adopt a targeted approach instead of the wholesale approach being implemented currently. Studies have shown that majority of students that enter well-endowed secondary schools and the limited tertiary education are from private fee-paying schools where the fees are sometimes twice or more that which was originally charged in the secondary schools.
  • Therefore, if government really wants to remove the cost barrier and enhance access to disadvantaged students, then a targeted approach, through scholarship schemes and quota systems, must be applied excluding financially capable parents to pay for their wards’ education. This will help relieve government of the financial burden and also give them more fiscal space to focus on other critical sectors.
  • The basis for targeting is also derived from the sensitivity of progressive taxation to economic growth. IMANI argue that, if the government is taking over fees for every major welfare service then it must take more money (taxes) from people. However, research shows that for every dollar given to government to distribute for the payment of social services, we lose more than in the case where the dollar goes to the service directly. Hence, Ghana should be careful with the welfare funding burden we place on government, since taxation is not always an efficient medium of transferring resources from the “rich” to the “poor”.

Infrastructural Challenge

  • The skewed nature of the Free SHS budget towards Goods and Services as against Capital Expenditure, and the recent implementation of the double track system, reveals the existing infrastructural inadequacy. Stories were told in the early days of the programme of students being compelled to sleep in classrooms and exposed to unhygienic conditions. In the midst of these, private senior high schools have also lamented over the negative effect the implementation of the policy has had on their operations.
  • According to private school owners, intake has drastically reduced as a result of the policy, a situation which has compelled them to even lay off some of their staff. These are schools that have good facilities and have been licensed by the GES to operate.
  • Instead of leveraging of the facilities available at these private institutions to lessen the infrastructure burden, government has refused to rope them in citing lack of infrastructure as some of the reasons for disengagement. Meanwhile, there are about 300 private schools spread across the ten regions of Ghana with the capacity to absorb about 181,000 students. The operators of these institutions themselves have audibly indicated their willingness to accept half of what government spends on the students in the public schools. So the question is: why will government reject such an offer and continue to carry the full weight of the infrastructure problem additional enrolment figures present?
  • All over the globe, particularly in countries where free education is being implemented, public private partnership has been a strong pillar. In Mauritius for example, education has been free for the secondary level since 1977. The State provides adequate funding for education and even subsidizes a great part of the expenditure in grant-aided secondary schools, that is, schools under the control of privately owned institutions.
  • In Mauritius, there are three categories of secondary schools; State owned, grant-aided private schools, and private fee-paying schools. A similar system is being run in Sri Lanka, where they have non-fee levying Assisted Private Schools and fee-levying private schools.
  • There is a sub-Saharan example in Uganda where government’s free education policy is implemented through Public Private Partnership (PPP). Under this scheme, a proprietor of a private secondary school can have partnership with government and allow eligible students to study in lower secondary education. According to Barungi (2014), most PPP private secondary schools have benefited from the arrangement by gaining some funding and material support. The impact of such partnerships has been empirically tested and proven to have positive effect on educational outcomes. For example, In Uganda, Barrera-Ossorio et al. (2015) uncovered that developing partnership with the government improved the test scores of students in low-cost private schools by 0.2-0.3 standard deviations, both in English and mathematics.
  • Given the aforementioned case studies and many others, it is imperative for government of Ghana to learn from countries that have implemented similar policies and have acquired enough experience.

Quality Issues

  • Without a meaningful improvement in quality and relevance, expansion of secondary education could consume vast amounts of resources without leading to the projected benefits of improved social and economic development and reduced inequality. Also, the changing dynamics within the labour market and the demand for certain skills require government to revise the existing curriculum, improve quality and prepare the students for the future of work. Entrepreneurial and digital skills training must be included in the educational curriculum as done in other countries.
  • I have noted the resolve of institutions of higher learning, including KNUTSFORD, whose leadership believes we must as a country help sustain such a laudable initiative introduced by our current president, Nana Addo. In the words of your Pro-Chancellor, Dr. Mr. J Essel, and I quote “Knutsford believes that education is the foundation for growth and development everywhere. Therefore, any Government that makes education available and possible for all its citizens is certainly a progressive one and needs to be supported. The current Government, led by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo-Addo, has initiated the Free Senior High School Policy in Ghana.  We must all support this initiative to fully achieve the objectives of this great vision for the development of our Human Capital” unquote…This is commendable. However, we must be equally bold in demanding careful planning or at least being guided by scenario planning by those whose business it is to look into the future and advice.
  • It will interest you all to note that my colleagues and myself at IMANI were contacted in 2012 by President Nana Addo and his handlers on education to conduct number and infrastructure scenarios for implementing Free SHS into the year 2020 and advise on pragmatic ways to realise the policy. Suffice to say we completed and handed over the work in the hope that should the policy be deployed; our policy paper will guide its implementation. In 2018, we predicted that with the assumption of a 70% pass rate, 425,000 students from a potential pool of 637,000 were going to need Free SHS.  The Ministry of Education’s data of expected enrolment in 2018 was 472,000, a little over 30,000 than my colleagues predicted in 2012. One can comfortably say that the additional 30,000 were those that missed the boat in 2017 or just those who were now ready for school. So, in essence we didn’t just get here by accident to have warranted the introduction of the multiple track system of delivering Free SHS.
  • It is becoming increasingly clear from the rather confusing discussions this week, over tying benefits of free shs to the responsibility of complying with tax obligations, that targeting welfare programmes such as Free SHS is noble.
  • Surely, targeting is inevitable if we really want to subsidise the poor in our communities and give them some sustenance and dignity without increasing the burden of taxation to the 70% of people’s incomes we see in Scandinavia. The cost of *successfully* implementing free SHS (eg. 50% additional net enrollment) would be equivalent to building and running an Akosombo dam every 2 years. This is Not unthinkable, but certainly something that requires at least as much planning and design.. and these two important words, PLANNING AND DESIGN are my parting piece of advice to you wonderful looking graduands and matriculants as you begin your next journey into life and academics respectively. Thank you and God be with you.

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