The new government in Ghana has fulfilled its campaign promise of free SHS in Ghana for the start of the 2017-2018 school year. While most would think free SHS is a good thing (I wouldn’t disagree), having the new policy roll out in just eight months causes a great deal of concern. For my graduate studies, I have studied Ghana’s education system extensively, and to be honest, the quality of education has been declining in recent years. When Education for All became a policy in the 1990s, education became free at the primary level. However, this caused overcrowding of classes and the need to hire underqualified teachers which lowered the quality of education for students in Ghana. This is once again my concern with the new free SHS policy.
The President of Ghana gave his official press conference last Tuesday, September 12, when students were supposed to go to their selected SHS to register. This means that parents, teachers, and administrators have received little guidance on what to do with incoming students. He has stated in past speeches that there will be no fees at all, including boarding, food, lab, and examination fees. There were also issues with the schools that students were assigned to go to, such as a boy being assigned to an all-girls school and so on. With school already started and no guidance, where will schools get the money to feed and board these new students? While news articles say some money has been distributed, not all the money needed to cover the tuition and fees of the incoming SHS students have been given. This makes it hard for schools to provide the necessary resources needed for students to have a quality education. Textbooks are also on the list of free supplies to students. Without the government giving time for textbook companies to print more books, how will students be able to study?
In the villages and towns where Exponential Education works in the Ashanti region, I have seen no changes to the schools. This means there has been no work to the already half built classrooms. So what are they going to do with more students? Put them into the unfinished classrooms or squeeze them into the already overcrowded classrooms? What about the hiring of new teachers? If schools did not know that SHS was going to be free until now, how did they know to hire more teachers? I am assuming this was taken into consideration when students were told which schools they could go to, but even then, there will be many more students trying to register at the public high schools in Ghana.
While I commend Ghana for this initiative and I do believe that education will boost the economic and human development of the country, I am not sure that Ghana will manage to keep the quality of education students are receiving. The students have already been suffering from a decrease in quality due to lack of trained teachers, having too many students in the class, and having a teacher centered curriculum. These are the issues that needed to be thought of before Ghana implemented this new policy. While phasing in free SHS to only incoming Form 1 students this year, and then expanding it to other students next year may help with costs, the issues of overcrowding and training of teachers needs to be discussed and examined by the end of the school term. While Ghana has said that they will not pay for students who fail their classes to repeat them, I am curious to know how many students will fail them if the quality of education is not there. In the next three years, the amount of students applying to universities will also have to be considered. Will students be able to access higher education in Ghana? Or will education stop at the SHS level? Will universities be ready to deal with an influx of qualified students? We can only wait and see.
Ghana has taken an amazing leap forward that I believe in the future will pay off. However, in the struggling economy and quickness of the decision to make SHS free, Ghana may face difficulties within the first few years of this policy. What we do not want is Ghana to fall behind other African countries in education because of this policy. This policy must be closely watched by the government and reviewed after this year. We can always educate more students, but we do not want to poorly educate them.