Education is the key to unlocking the potential of a nation's future generations but is offering it on a silver platter the way forward?
Education in Ghana still lacks the requisites of the labour market in the 21st market century
Since the inception of Ghana's new government in January 2017, there have been many choruses and much optimism about its free Senior High School (SHS) policy which was one of the major campaign messages of the governing New Patriotic Party during the 2016 general elections. Indeed, the Free SHS Policy was comforting for many, especially the grassroots. Unfortunately, Government's crude intentions to finance the project with the Heritage Fund did not receive popular applause, hence the suspension of the decision.
What Research Says
Research by policy Think Tank IMANI Africa estimated that the project will cost $600 million yearly as opposed to the government's estimated GHC 400 million and the proceeds of the Petroleum Fund, roughly estimated to be a little over $300 million also do not match up to IMANI's $600 million estimations.
Indeed, the free education reform in the past increased in enrolment rates at the basic level. A report by the Forum for Education Reform (IMANI) in December 20, 2013, on the State of Education in Ghana, highlighted enrolment rates of 95 percent and 78 percent at the primary and Junior High School levels respectively, but a sharper decline occurring between the JHS and SHS levels where enrolment rate fell below 40 percent and at the tertiary level, only 12 percent of the population of tertiary school going age being enrolled. This owing to parents' inability to fund higher education for their wards fees at higher levels perhaps hence the free SHS policy presently.
This notwithstanding, the feasibility and sustainability of this project, raises many doubts.
Negatives Of The "Free System"
The Free Education Policy in times past led to overcrowding in public schools. This situation has worsened as the population of Ghana continues to increase resulting in high class sizes with limited amounts of learning space, and less active engagement in class. Clearly overcrowding will be a threat of this new system if introduced. This will affect the level of attention students give to instructors when lessons are ongoing. The situation will even worsen in science laboratories and technical workshops where the number of apparatus and equipments do not correspond to the number of students for each practical lessons period. And so the "free system" would have spent a lot of resources on its implementation but still leave out that gap of quality needed for the 21st century labour market.
Interestingly, despite the existence of free basic education policy, some children of school going age, still lack access to education while those who do, lack the needed learning materials. Reasons being that, some parents cannot afford school uniforms and other necessary requirements for education: books, pens, learning tools among others. Another report on education in Ghana by the UNESCO released in October 16, 2012 showed that a large population in Ghana cannot read a sentence after leaving school the previous four years. "In Ghana, over half of women and over half of men aged 15 to 29 who had completed six years of school could not read a sentence at all in 2008. A further 28 percent of the young women and 33 percent of the young men could only read part of a sentence" it says. And so clearly, quality of education is a deficit here.
Suggested Ways Forward
For the policy to be successful, it must be targeted at the poor- those who cannot afford it. To do this, government ought to develop a credible database to track such groups of people. For example, how many students did not go to SHS because their parents could not afford it, how many children of the LEAP (Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty) beneficiaries are able to complete SHS, how many students are unable to get placements because of lack of infrastructure? It is not everybody who needs free SHS. Why should a minister's or MP's child benefit from free SHS?
In addition, government must target specific communities where there's high tendency for parents not to send their wards to school: fishing communities, mining communities, northern regions, etc. A lot more can be done with the same resources used in offering free education to focus more on the quality and value of education offered. Another way is to also focus resources into technical and vocational courses at the JHS and SHS levels such that even without furtherance to Tertiary level, a child can be innovative enough with the knowledge acquired to earn a living.
Let's also direct resources to producing excellent teachers with practical know-how. And provide more educational materials; modern textbooks, laptops, classrooms, screen projectors and other audio-visuals for the physically challenged as well as IT infrastructure to enhance learning. In conclusion, let's direct investment into quality education rather than quantity of masses enrolled because quality human resource and not quantity, is a great asset and catalyst for the development of any nation.