This month, the NPP Government has begun rolling out its Free SHS policy with newly admitted first-year students to be the first beneficiaries of the policy. The policy has attracted praise and criticism in equal measure though the extremely partisan nature of politics in Ghana means it is difficult to sort out genuine analysis from sycophancy.
The lack of a publicly available policy document means it is difficult to gauge and critique the policy. A couple of deductions can, however, be made about the policy at the moment.
Merits of the Free SHS Policy
One of the obvious advantages of the policy is that parents and guardians are relieved of the costs of sending their wards to Senior High Schools. Education in Ghana is becoming exponentially expensive. Parents and guardians have to contend with various additional fees in addition to the tuition fees they pay. This policy will offer parents welcome relief from the stress of paying these fees.
Another benefit of the policy is that it helps the government to fulfil the Sustainable Development Goal of providing free basic education to its citizens.
There are, however, some glaring problems with the policy.
Demerits of the Free SHS policy
Sustainability of projects is one of the major challenges that modern Ghana faces. It is not uncommon for a new project to generate a lot of attention and hope at its inception but to soon be forgotten and neglected, and probably act as yet another avenue for corruption or cost far more than was originally intended. This policy is extremely capital intensive, and the costs are only going to increase annually as more students are enrolled in this policy. Does it make sense, for example, to take over the costs of students and parents who would ordinarily be able to afford the cost? There is no clear indication as to how this policy will be sustained.
There are also concerns about how this free policy impacts quality. Free and quality rarely go hand-in-hand in this part of the world. Will the provision of free Senior High School education impact the quality of education Ghana is currently renowned for?
What question does the Free SHS policy answer?
Amidst all the arguments about the benefits or disadvantages of this policy, this writer has found it difficult to find an answer to this question from proponents and opponents alike. Is this just fulfilment of a campaign policy in order to gain political traction? Is this just to fulfil an SDG without care to the economic effects? Is this a genuine idea to provide Ghanaians with free quality education in order to positively impact the development of the nation?
Impact is especially important to me. What is the expected impact of this policy? How can it be quantified? What it is the plan for scaling that impact? How does the government intend, for example, to deal with the obvious fact that in about three years, there is likely to be an even higher number of students than usual applying for limited spaces at the university for example? How do we ensure that beneficiary students do not take this as yet another “free lunch” but an opportunity that they must make the best use of?
The idea of Free SHS education is a laudable one despite the challenges it currently faces. But we need to now move on from partisan arguments to ensure that it doesn’t become just another checkmark on a list of party promises but an impactful policy. That’ll happen when we know what question this policy is answering.