A Policy Analyst with IMANI Ghana, Kofi Bentil has said education is the bedrock of any nation's development and should therefore be given the necessary attention and seriousness in Ghana.
Speaking at a roundtable discussion “Fixing Ghana's Education, Is free Senior High School-The Way to go?” organized by Citi FM with support from the World Bank and IMANI Ghana at the Alisa Hotel in Accra last Friday, Kofi Bentil stated categorically that it is good to have free education but good intentions alone does not always translate into perfect implementation.
“Education is not for trial. Wishful thinking doesn't always translate into good results”, he added.
He said many children of school going age do not have access to education and 50% of those who qualify to enter senior high school, dropout as a result of unavailability of space to absorb them.
He said the issue of free education is not the panacea to the country's educational challenges, adding, it is about quality, as many pupils in the junior high school level cannot even read and write properly.
He said the estimated cost of the policy for four years if implemented, will be about US$1. 2 billion, an amount he said will be difficult to fund in the long term.
Leslie Tettey of the Ghana National Education Coalition said we in Ghana often measure the quality of education in terms of the performance of pupils at the basic school level. This according to him is not the best as our standards do not measure up to the international benchmarks.
According to him, children are not getting quality education in terms of numeracy and literacy which are the key to good foundation in attaining good education.
He said the enrolment ratio of pupils has increased over the years from 2006 to 2011 but the ratio of teachers has not, making teaching and learning inefficient leading to poor quality results.
He mentioned some of the challenges in the educational system to include, poor trained teachers, low incentives for teachers, weak circuit supervisors among others. This he said are the issues all stakeholders of education including the government must address and not necessarily whether education is free or not.
On his part, the Deputy Minister of Education, Mahama Ayariga said statistics available indicates that access to education has expanded exponentially at the basic level but not so at the secondary level. “We have 95% of enrolment at the basic level, 36% at the secondary school level and 26% at the tertiary level. Government will concentrate on improving the quality and not necessarily making education free of charge. What is free? We need to define that”, he stated.
He asked rhetorically, what is free education without quality? He said government provides infrastructure, pays teachers, provides text books and tuition and this has made education almost free from kindergarten to tertiary levels.
According to him, there are about 500 senior high schools across the country but only 20% of the schools contribute to the public universities and this is not good enough.
He called for Private-Public Partnership as the way forward to addressing the myriad of problems in the country's educational system.
Rocky Obeng, a Senior Policy Analyst with the Centre for National Affairs was of the view that free education is possible and must be implemented. He argued that, Ghana's economy is expected to grow by 7% and by 2014; the GDP should hit $94million.
He said the estimated amount of money required to start the free educational policy is $49million in its first year of implementation in 2014 with 400,000 students. By 2018, he said, an amount of $215 million will be needed to take care of 1.9 million students.
As to where government will get funds to carry out such a policy, Rocky Obeng said revenue from communication service tax and proceeds from the oil and gas sectors will be of tremendous support to such a noble policy if implemented. He mentioned Uganda as one country which has implemented such a policy with funds from their development partners and Ghana according to him cannot be an exception.
The debate on free secondary education has become a topical issue following Nana Akuffo Addo's campaign promise of making secondary education free for all. The flag-bearer of the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) continuously states on platforms that given the nod in 2012 as president of Ghana, he will make secondary education free and compulsory which many believe is political talk which will never see the light of day given the many challenges in other sectors of the economy.
The only period Ghana enjoyed free education at all levels from primary to tertiary was from 1951 to 1966 under the first president of the republic, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah.
By Francis Xavier Tuokuu