One major talking point in 2008 when the free secondary education debate cranked up was the availability of facilities to get the policy smooth and running. I remember the campaign days of that year when the National Democratic Congress (NDC) talked quality instead of quantity.
The debate continued into the 2016 electioneering campaign. And it was the same mantra for NDC – Quality education first! And indeed when the NDC government led by John Dramani Mahama launched its version of free education in 2015, it made it clear that it was going to be progressive. Mr Mahama even went to the University of Cape Coast (UCC) to promise free tertiary education as a consummation of the progressively free education programme.
It was this same campus that I travelled to on Monday, September 11, 2017 to confirm the admission of my ward. He had been posted to the University Practice Senior High School (UPSHS). I had been hinted of the limited boarding facilities at that school so I knew my ward’s admission to the boarding house will be a toss-up. But that was not what other parents felt was thrown at them. Free education means free education!
As part of the enrollment process, parents are given a brochure of some private hostels for which they are to pay between GH¢700 and GH¢720 for access. This comes alongside the School’s prospectus. It was obviously an unpleasant surprise for these parents, some of whom have brought their wards – with their trunks and belongings – to begin school.
Indeed, the motto for the Free Senior High School Policy is ‘Access. Equity. Quality’ but the parents felt betrayed at the quality at UPSHS, where access had been given their wards.
“We selected the school because we were told everything will be catered for by the [free SHS] policy,” an angry parent told me. “Now you tell us to pay [GH¢700]. For what? They should rather take the monies from government and pay the owners of the hostels.”
Many of the frustrated parents were not happy with the situation. I was there as one of them but their frustrations left me with little options than to pick my pen as a journalist.
Payment for private prospectus
First of all, parents were made to pay GH¢10 for the prospectus. I thought it was not right. To make those hostels as part of the enrollment process is a worry. First of all, those hostels are private businesses and the school should make that clear to the parents. Even if authorities are offering the facilities to the students on behalf of the private interests, negotiations should have been done on behalf of prospective students to ensure that they are not put on the same level, I should think, as students of the University of Cape Coast. GH¢700 for a term is too high for a student, who is to provide his or her own mattress, cutlery, bedsheet, night gowns, mosquito nets, morning coats among several other items that will definitely shoot the money up to almost GH¢2000. Why won’t the authorities make the issue of the limited facilities at the School known to government to see the way forward? This makes me think not all schools are ready for the policy especially as regards boarding facilities.
In other schools I got information from, students were admitted smoothly. Parents had to only pay GH¢5 as Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) Dues to get their wards admitted into boarding facilities. It was immediate!
At UPSHS, you pay the GH¢5 PTA Dues and haggle with the headache of grinding out huge sums as hostel fees. Maybe, somebody must come again!
By Emmanuel Kwame Amoh
The writer is an editor at 3news.com.
Views expressed are solely personal and do not represent the editorial stance of his media organisation.