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Free Education for all Secondary Schools
E. Ablorh-Odjidja
December 05, 2017


Free secondary school education for all is ultimately a good idea. It is now the policy in Ghana, as announced in September of 2017.

 

But the problem with this policy is its practicality. Is it free education or good education we want?

Or for plain response, should one ask if this “free education” is based on a faulty compassion, a derivative of political correctness that seeks equity; or one born of a need defined as practical, meaning affordability in the context of today's economy?

Shall we focus first on the practical?

In the real world, free education (a good one) starts with the country's ability to bear the cost and not its capacity for compassion.

Hard considerations must first be on the cost to give a kid in Ghana a good education for that kid to compete well eventually in a global economy. And also on the country's ability to afford the total cost, plus that of others that may come in through our porous borders, as the magnet of free education kicks in.

Are we then ready to do this costly enterprise all at once, even though there is the risk of a nasty consequence of diluting the little good we have left in the current secondary school system?

Inevitably, there will be the usual response: Ghana is rich in resources. We can afford it.

Well, yes we can. But how well have we been able to support current reoccurring education budgets so far, without first resorting to help from overseas?

Be mindful that free compulsory education at the primary and junior high school levels, as required by the constitution, have been in place since 1995. So how well are the schools doing under this scheme?

Quality free universal education cannot be obtained overnight and not by rhetoric.

This is not an attempt to sound cruel. On the contrary, it's a need to offer help. We need an approach that doesn't sink the little good we have left in the current system.

 

We need to pull ourselves up the stairs of free education, step by step.

I have heard it said that free education was an old idea that started with Nkrumah.

Going back to the Nkrumah's era, it can be reasoned that the policy was viable, given the size of our economy as compared with the population base. Plus, there was an urgent need to radicate literacy.

Politically, there was a genuine desire on all sides to speed things up after independence.

 

There was need for informed and skilled labor. Good basic schools were available to build on. And soon more were added in all the regions for the purpose of achieving a literate and productive society.

The difficulty now is we have a population base that is three times larger. Our wealth is gone. The public schools that are around now, the few good ones among them especially, are starving for resource.

 

And work is not available on the job market for many who manage to graduate from our schools. No need to wonder about competency of the applicants at this stage, since the economy is producing fewer jobs than graduates.

It seems the above scenario must call for creative caution.

Again, this is not an attempt to kill the idea of free education. It is an effort to help nudge the process along, a few steps at time, with the ultimate goal of offering free good education for all.

We want the reality and benefits of free good education, not just the rhetoric.

Good education is an elitist goal in itself, a kind of elitism that is based on merit. The point of any sensible effort at education, at this stage of our development, must be to promote excellence with the free education policy. Give me a school that does not seek to excel and I shall name you a school that I cannot afford to send my ward to.

 

Anything less is a waste of time and resource for the entire country.

 

So, this goal, for our society with its limited resources, cannot be approached by a wave of the democratic, universal wand.

For those of us that were educated in the late 50s and early 60s, we can remember that there were good schools spread over all the regions.

 

There were scholarship programs that allowed aspiring students to access good schools. That was then.  A new approach is needed now.

Start this project with a policy that allows a few good, sufficiently resourced model, pilot schools in all the regions; the attendance at which will be based on the free education concept.

Though these schools will be few at start, it will at once spark competition that hard working ambitious kids and their supporting parents can gravitate to so as to earn the right for free education.

 

 To achieve fair intake, provisions for preparatory examination centers should be resourced primarily in poor neighborhoods.

As the project moves along, the number of these new schools will be expanded, depending on affordability within the current economy. This number will not to be enlarged at whim to bankrupt or dilute the quality left in the entire system; but only to grow as the years progress and the economy expands to accommodate the cost.

Ultimately, more schools should be free.

 

How to start?  Take two or more top schools in each region, depending on population size of the region and, mostly, on the standing of these schools in the final secondary schools examination rankings to make these school tuition free.

There should, however, be keys to the benefits to expect from the new system. The key factors should be evident and in place from the start.

 

One factor is the pride of the ranking. 

 

Obviously, the ranking will make teachers, the student body and supporting parents alike committed to the project.  Teachers will be pressured to do their best since they know that they are required to maintain their standings within a range at the top of the examination rankings.

This privilege should also create competitiveness and fairness for intake or admissions of students to these model schools.

Regardless, there should be critical need to police corruption in the selection and acceptance processes in these schools. The policing must be rigorously transparent. The low number of schools to start with can help in this regard.

A successful hold on corruption in a merit based system, hopefully, will engender its own lesson. A mindset will prevail among students attending these model schools that merit pays.

 

Of course, free tuition will not mean automatic success for the program.  It must be seen as creating a demand for success in the interest chain - students, parents and school must all work hard together to achieve success.

 

In time, a culture of merit and a discipline for hard work will work its way through to benefit the entire society in many ways.

 

Hopefully the economy will then expand, which situation will engender more of these novel schools, purposefully insisting on excellence and merit.

 

Through this process, we can count on a stream of graduating body of students who will impact positively on and contribute highly to our developmental quests.

But first, we need to nudge the process along, few model schools at a time.

E. Ablorh-Odjidja,Publisher www.ghanadot.com, Washington, DC, December 05, 2017.

Permission to publish: Please feel free to publish or reproduce, with credits, unedited. If posted at a website, email a copy of the web page to publisher@ghanadot.com . Or don't publish at al



 

 

 

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