Free SHS: An educational development policy or a populist political campaign message?

President Akufo-Addo and Veep, Dr. Bawumia unveiling the Free Senior High School logo[/caption] From a technical perspective, one cannot but to describe the Free Senior High School (FSHS) system in its current form as a mere populist campaign message which has metamorphosized into a central government directive rather than a cogent policy. This is because it falls short of a policy; talk less of a good policy. The basic requirements of a policy include but not limited to a clear policy implementation guidelines, a clear and well mapped out budget and sustainable sources of funding, and a feasible policy sustainability plan just to mention but a few. Apart from the policy implementation guidelines, the Free SHS does not have a clear and well mapped out budget and sustainable sources of funding, a feasibility study, a stakeholder analysis and inclusion plan, and a feasible policy sustainability plan. These critical elements of a policy are missing in the Free SHS and as such makes it fall short of being referred to as a policy (technically). [caption id="attachment_92162" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Free SHS Infographic Resources provided under Free SHS[/caption] It is worth pointing out that in its second year of implementation, the “FSHS Campaign Message” has no policy document. The only available document is the implementation guidelines which was handed to the Conference of Heads of Assisted Secondary Senior High Schools (CHASS).

Planning to fail

According to Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of America, “failure to plan is planning to fail”. It is however sad to note that even though most developing countries embrace the concept of planning, they either do not devote a lot of time into planning properly or they hasten to fail. This is what is described by certain Development Planners as the syndrome of “planning to fail”. It is luminous from the implementation challenges that either the FSHS was not planned or it was not planned properly or someone was in a haste to fail. A fact also remains that most of the key stakeholders in the educational sector do not have an idea of how the FSHS is going to be implemented, where the funds would be obtained, and how it would be sustained.
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This is also clear evidence that there was poor stakeholder consultation and as such the FSHS was perhaps deprived of valuable contributions from these stakeholders who are important players as far as second cycle education is concerned.

Ticking time bomb

According to the Ghana Statistical Services (2012), Ghana is predominantly a youthful population with children under 15years accounting for 39.4% of the population. It is instructive to conduct a population analysis in order to get a clear picture of the population buildup and the potential number of students who would be going to Senior High School in accordance with the Education Management Information System Data (EMIS) for proper budgeting and planning. The age bracket of potential SHS students is 15-19years which the 2010 Population and Housing Census estimate to be 2,609,989 representing 10.6% of the total population. This means that annually, about 2,609,989 are potential SHS students and this is highly influenced by the number of students who are enrolled into the JHS sector. Also, from the EMIS Data, annually there was an increase of over 14,122 candidates who registered to write the Basic Education Certificate Examinations (BECE) between 2014 and 2017. If this increased population coupled with the increase in students in the JHS is not met with increased infrastructure, then we would be heading towards a time bomb.

Over concentration on affordability to the neglect of provision of educational infrastructure

In the 2018 Appropriation Act, over GH₵1.2 billion was appropriated for the “FSHS Campaign Promise”. Of this colossal amount,  zero (0) % would be spent on capital expenditure, meaning that, there would be no single bed or classroom added to the existing limited infrastructure. [caption id="attachment_92162" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Free SHS Infographic Resources provided under Free SHS[/caption] If we spend everything on recurring expenditure rather than on capital expenditure we might not have spaces to absorb the increasing numbers of students (EMIS Data). It is therefore not surprising that we are double tracking.
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Empirical disaster

The “FSHS Campaign Promise” is not backed by adequate empirical data and this leads to improper planning and budgeting. Apart from that, about 20% of the population 15 years and above are illiterates (GLSS6, 2014) and how can FSHS help to solve this? These bare facts call for a Comprehensive National Education Policy to be able to tackle all the challenges facing our educational system holistically but not in a disjointed incremental fashion.

Misconception of problem

In educational policy formulation, the utmost thing to look out for is how to enhance access to education. By access, we mean both physical and economic access. The FSHS campaign promise was premised on the assumption that the only reasons why students do not enroll into Senior High Schools after completing their basic education (BECE) was because they could not afford the cost of secondary education. They could not afford to pay their fees, buy their uniforms, buy their provisions, and settle other incidental costs which arise when they are to enroll into the SHS. As such, we made all these free so as to absorb all students who graduate from the basic level. With the introduction of free SHS; in the 2017/2018 academic year, 62,453 students representing 14.7% of the students who were placed did not enroll. The question is where did they go and what might have accounted for this?

Mismatch with tertiary education

Would you rather enjoy FSHS and drop out or you would rather prefer a subsidy at the tertiary level which would make you fully realize your educational potentials? This is what goes through the minds of many people. A comparative cost analysis of the cost of secondary and tertiary education shows that the latter is at least three (3) times more expensive than the former. So when one cannot afford SHS they probably cannot also afford tertiary education. Another point worth noting is the lack of foresight about the numbers of SHS graduates who would be clamoring to gain access into the tertiary level and as such expand the infrastructure in order to absorb this increasing numbers. While we are providing free SHS we are not expanding infrastructure at the tertiary level to absorb the increasing numbers. So where would the SHS graduates go or we would like to terminate their educational admissions at such a premature stage? In line with this, we must interrogate the government’s decision to cap admissions at the various teacher and nursing educational institutions.
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The way forward

The way forward lies in a complete overhaul of the FSHS in its current stage of implementation and to do what is needful. What is needful is to develop a rational comprehensive National Free Education Policy and not to continue in the trajectory of implementing the FSHS in a disjointed incremental manner. The policy document should contain inputs from all stakeholders, it should be properly planned, it should be backed with adequate empirical data, there should be measures in place to ensure that everyone who is placed is enrolled and that there is increased retention in the Senior High Schools, there should be an increase in infrastructure to absorb the increasing numbers of SHS graduates, and there should be a link between the free education and basic education as well as tertiary education and industry. Source: Eugene Alagskomah Editor’s note: The writer is a Human Rights and Gender Advocate, Anti-corruption Campaigner, Youth Activist and a Development Consultant. The views expressed in this article are his personal opinions and do not reflect, in any form or shape, those of  The Media General Group.]]>