PRESS CONFERENCE BY THE MINORITY IN PARLIAMENT ON DEVELOPMENTS AT THE SECONDARY EDUCATION FRONT AND THE IMPLEMENTATION OF AN ILL-CONCEIVED AND BADLY IMPLEMENTED SO-CALLED FREE SHS BY THE AKUFO-ADDO LED GOVERNMENT
We are grateful you honoured our invitation to this important press conference which will focus primarily on developments at the Senior High School level of Ghana’s educational system as the 2017/2018 academic year begins in earnest. We shall also be assessing the NPP’s attempt to roll out what they have claimed to be “Free SHS.”
2017 CSSPS Placements
The Minority notes with disappointment the general disarray and widespread frustration of parents and students that have characterized this year’s Computerized School Selection and Placement System (CSSPS). We empathize with parents, candidates, and other victims of the chaos.
There have been reports of multiple IT system breakdowns; placement deadlines on wheels (postponed at least three times); candidates who are yet to be placed even as the 2017/2018 academic year commences today; male students placed in female schools and vice versa – a situation which never occurred throughout the eight-year period that the NDC was in power. There have also been numerous instances of students being placed in special schools, including the now famous case of Belinda Akuramaa, who was placed at the Mampong Akuapem School for the Deaf even though she is not deaf. In addition to this chaos, there are thousands of children whose fate hang in the balance as to whether they qualify to be placed, considering the inability of the NPP Government to spell out clearly to Ghanaians what the cut-off point is – so far, this appears to be a well-kept secret by this Government of President Akufo-Addo.
Hundreds of frustrated parents from all over the country had to besiege the Ministry of Education and the Placement Secretariat to vent their anger. Meanwhile, as Ghanaians are made to believe the NPP’s propaganda that every cost associated with entering Senior High School this year has been borne by Government, parents and guardians continue to spend copious amounts of money on scratch cards whose value is inflated, as well as internet fees in a seemingly fruitless mission.
The CSSPS is in its eleventh year of implementation. Last year, the NDC government marked its 10th anniversary by organizing a thorough stakeholders’ review forum, which ended with important recommendations. We are disappointed that the NPP appears to have failed to consider and implement these recommendations. Had they done so, the current mess could have easily been avoided. The penchant by this NPP administration to replace experienced and public servants with their family and friends, some with doubtful credentials and expertise, has further exacerbated the situation.
The Minority at this juncture would like to reiterate its sympathy with the thousands of distressed Ghanaian parents, guardians, and students who have been made to bear the brunt of the NPP’s incompetence.
We wish to appeal to the Government to change course from the propaganda overdrive on this so-called “Free SHS” which has included a fanfare launch of a Free SHS logo, a secretariat, an ambassador who will not enjoy this free SHS, giant bill boards and other needless fluff to rather prioritize the things that matter to Ghanaians.
NPP’s Free SHS Promise and what is being implemented
Ladies and Gentlemen, it must first be placed on record that what is being implemented is not the Free SHS the NPP promised Ghanaians. In opposition, the NPP condemned our Progressively Free SHS and promised in its 2016 Manifesto on page 107 as follows: “Free SHS – The NPP will redefine basic education to include Senior High School (SHS), covering vocational, agricultural and technical schools, and make it available for free on a universal basis to all Ghanaians.”
Clearly, if the NPP had any modicum of respect for the good people of Ghana, they should at the very least be apologizing to Ghanaians for their inability to fulfill their promise for which they were voted. The continuous claim by President Akufo-Addo and his acolytes that they have fulfilled their UNIVERSAL FREE SHS FOR ALL promise is simply hypocritical.
For the records, according to the current EMIS data, there are 285,450 students enrolled in second year while 279,954 students are enrolled in third year. This simply means a total of 565,404 students have not been captured. The irony is that this is the group then candidate Akufo-Addo campaigned to and promised Free SHS.
By its inability to roll out Free SHS to cover those in second and third years – the NPP has only successfully vindicated those who said Akufo-Addo’s Free SHS promise was a hoax. What we have been presented with by the NPP is simply another version of Progressively Free SHS. Free SHS for SOME First Year Students.
We make bold to predict that if care is not taken, what will emerge in our SHSs is a category of fee-paying students for the wards of parents who can afford to pay fees for their wards and another category of so-called “free SHS students”, thus introducing a class system into our public SHSs.
30 Percent Quota in Elite Schools – Publish Transparent Criteria
The Minority also notes the decision by Government to reserve 30% in Grade A schools for students from public basic schools. While this affirmative action policy might be useful in the short term, we hope this is not a signal by Government that it has given up on RAISING THE LEVEL OF PERFORMANCE IN public basic schools in Ghana. It is absolutely crucial that the NPP Government pursues the NDC Government’s public basic schools policies on quality, access and equity. A careful analysis of the improving trends in BECE results from public basic schools offer hope that it is possible, that with consistency in policy direction and sustained commitment to public basic schools, they can indeed outperform private basic schools as has just happened in Rwanda.
In the meantime, we wish to demand that Government makes public the criteria for selecting the 30%. It is important that this selection process is guided by the principles of fairness, transparency and equity.
The 82 Grade “A” schools in Ghana are for obvious reasons under enormous admission pressure and care must therefore be taken not to deny deserving applicants and not to lower standards.
Centralization of Procurement
We have also learnt with trepidation that procurement of virtually all SHS-related items has now been centralized in the Ministry of Education. This is not only a show of lack of confidence in our hardworking Headmasters and Headmistresses; it is also a major stab in the back of the nation’s decentralization programme directed by the Constitution under which enterprise-based activities such as procurement are to be undertaken at the enterprise level; in this case at the SHS level by those who are actually running the institutions.
We also note that centralized procurement can be an avenue for shameless cronyism. Already, our monitoring revels that the selection of caterers for the one-hot-meal a day component which was also centralized has been shrouded in secrecy as heads of schools are only receiving calls from District Chief Executives (DCEs) about which caterers have been assigned to their schools. Sadly, the stage has been set for NPP apparatchiks to invade our senior high schools as cooks. We still have fresh memories of how a similar approach with the School Feeding Programme at the basic level led to the serving of substandard maggot infested food, mass hospitalization of pupils which all culminated in the Dutch Government pulling out from its sponsorship of the programme.
We urge Government to rethink its position and listen to the National Association of Institutional Suppliers who warned last week that between 15,000 to 18,000 jobs will be lost if Government goes ahead with this centralized procurement agenda which will surely lead to the collapse of their businesses.
NDC’s Free SHS
Ladies and Gentlemen, the NPP Government would want Ghanaians to believe that the first time Ghana is going to witness the implementation of Free SHS under the Fourth Republic is today, September 11, 2017 when the 2017/2018 academic year is expected to begin. This is palpable falsehood.
The previous NDC Government under President John Dramani Mahama began the implementation of Free SHS as a component under the Secondary Education Improvement Programme (SEIP) which was supported by the World Bank with a facility of $156 million. The SEIP was approved by Parliament on July 2nd, 2014. We have a copy of the hanzard here for your perusal. The SEIP was launched by President Mahama at Kintampo on November 4, 2014.
The NDC’s Free SHS has 10,400 beneficiaries from 125 public Senior High Schools. Thankfully, these beneficiaries most of whom are now in their final year are available for confirmation, especially by you in the media. We are making available to you today the full list of the 125 Senior High Schools to aid you in this confirmation process.
Our model of Free SHS is superior in concept and value than what is being proposed by the NPP Government. Under our Free SHS programme we made clear that the cost of education is not only what features on the bills of students. We therefore fully captured other costs such as school bags, school shoes, house dresses, P.E kits, supplementary readers, exercise books, note books, other stationery, transportation for day students and the hygiene needs of female students. For this reason, the NDC Government did not only absorb all items on the bills of these students; it also paid cash grants to the students every month to cater for the items listed above.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the NDC’s Free SHS programme which we termed scholarships for needy SHS students was a targeted intervention for the most vulnerable and aimed at offering Government the advantages of a pilot scheme so that we would be ready as a country by the time our Progressively Free intervention reaches its full and final destination as Free SHS for ALL students in First, Second and Third Year. It is therefore dishonest for the NPP to continue to trumpet from roof tops that they are the first to implement Free SHS.
Consistent with the NDC’s better policy implementation strategy, while we rolled out Free SHS for these 10,400 students, 60% of whom are females, we continued to expand our Progressively Free SHS programme to cover 458,700 SHS students across all cohorts by the 2016/2017 academic year having started with 320, 488 day students in the 2015/2016 academic year. The NDC Government absorbed 12 items on the bill including: Examination, Science Development, Sports, Culture, Science and Math Quiz, Co-curricular activities, ICT, Development Levy and Utilities.
Based on this unimpeachable fact, we dare say the President could have spared us tomorrow’s mega launch of Free-SHS-For-Some-First-Years by President Akufo-Addo which is already fraught with avoidable implementation challenges. Funds for this mega launch could have been given to CHASS who are being forced by Government to make do with piecemeal releases. As we speak, even the piecemeal releases are yet to hit their accounts.
Implementation of NPP’s Progressively Free SHS
Ladies and Gentlemen, we have all been witnesses to the heavy dose of propaganda which has heralded the NPP’s implementation of their version of Progressively Free SHS. President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo has been at the forefront of this. We saw the President in action at the recent NPP conference in Cape Coast and we again saw him in action launching what they describe as a Free SHS logo at the Flag Staff House a few days ago.
We have also seen the appointment of a Free SHS Ambassador who does not attend school in Ghana. Interesting times indeed!
Ladies and Gentlemen, while all this jamboree was going on, the real work which ought to have engaged the attention of the NPP Government was ignored. As we speak, the NPP Government has no Free SHS Policy. There is no blueprint. Neither is there an implementation manual. The absence of these crucial documents has not only exposed the Government; it has left key stakeholders such as the Conference of Heads of Assisted Secondary Schools (CHASS), Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT), National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT) and the Coalition of Concerned Teachers (CCT) bewildered as they struggle to implement Akufo-Addo’s Progressively Free SHS; a situation which was completely avoidable but for the NPP Government’s incompetence and preference for fanfare over substance.
We continue to hear loud cries of frustration from key partners in the education sector – CHASS at its conference last week had to publicly demand an implementation manual or “Bible” as they put it warning of the consequences of the lack of such a simple but vital document. This is a basic demand that should not have had to be made.
CHASS has also noted with deep concern how several promises made to them by Government that releases for the Progressively Free SHS will get to them 2 weeks before schools re-open have not been kept. Several other deadlines have been missed. Like many other Ghanaians, CHASS has had to learn through the hard way that promises from this Government are not made to be kept.
One wonders how the NPP Government expects heads of schools to secure supplies for food, uniforms, house clothes for boarders etc. under the current unacceptable circumstances caused by a Government that has a long tradition of poor planning and weak policy implementation. The education sector has not forgotten how the previous NPP Government extended the duration of SHS to four years without any preparations but for an emergency solution which the late President Mills had to execute to save the day when he assumed office. Another example of the NPP’s poor planning and weak implementation is the announcement of a one- hot-meal a day for all day students without making any provision to cater for the 188 public day secondary schools which have no dining facilities.
We urge President Akufo-Addo and his Government not to destroy secondary education in Ghana as the early signs are most troubling. Public secondary education has remained the preferred choice for decades and the NPP Government must adopt a more serious posture that will maintain the high standards they inherited, if they are not in a position to improve upon it.
More of NPP’s Deception
Ladies and Gentlemen, the deception of the NPP Government knows no bounds. Contrary to the claim that all first year students will benefit from the NPP’s Progressively Free SHS, the NDC Minority can reveal today that there are 5,556 first year students who will not be covered under the programme. These 5,556 students known as the re-engagement students are typically students who sat for their BECE before the current year. These re-engagement students deserve an explanation from the NPP Government as to why they are being discriminated against.
Another blatant case of deception is the claim that the NPP will put teachers first. In an act of bad faith, the NPP Government has reduced teacher motivation on the bill of students from GHS 30 a year to GHS 20 (thus from GHS 10 a term to a paltry GHS 6.6). To make matters worse, Government has instructed heads to henceforth deny non-teaching staff from benefitting from this package. The teachers and education workers of Ghana do not deserve this. At the very least, teacher motivation should have been increased.
NPP’s Progressively Free SHS Not Sustainable
Ladies and Gentlemen, a number of further discoveries we have made strengthen our position that the NPP Government’s Progressively Free SHS programme is not sustainable.
First, we have discovered that the NPP Government disingenuously refused to adjust this year’s GES approved fees as has been the tradition every year. This tradition in fixing fees annually factors inflation and ensures that quality is not compromised. The NPP Government surreptitiously used last academic year’s GES approved fees of 1,022.20 for boarders and GHS 560 for day students in order that it can beat down the actual cost of Free SHS. A trend analysis we have conducted over the last five years reveals that this year’s approved fees should not have been less than GHS 1,320 for boarders and GHS 715 for day students.
We have also discovered that contrary to its public posture that the Government does not intend to leave any child behind, the projection of the Akufo-Addo cabinet is that only 85% of SHS students will accept their placements and turn up for school. In other words, the NPP Government has made provision in its budget for only 362,781 SHS students entering first year. Therefore per current placement figures, Government has made no arrangements for 62,711 students.
The NDC’s Foundation
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is imperative to stress that the NPP’s Progressively Free SHS would not have been possible but for the solid foundation laid by the NDC Government in providing infrastructure, teaching and learning materials, equipment and general logistics.
At the time the NDC came to power in 2009, access at the secondary level was severely restricted. The SHS gap compared to students in JHS 3 at the time was 40%.
By commencing the construction of 124 Community Senior High Schools, the NDC Government made history by providing the biggest access to secondary education ever witnessed in Ghana. It was also the biggest investment ever recorded on any one intervention in the sector costing over GHS 700 million far higher than what the NPP is spending on its Progressively Free SHS. These 124 Community Senior High Schools guarantee access for 148,800 students. Simply put, Progressively Free SHS is not possible if there are no schools to attend. Sadly, those Community Day SHSs which were started by the NDC Government but were not completed by the time of leaving office appear to have been abandoned by the NPP Government.
But for the NDC Government’s vision and strategic policy interventions that saw the introduction of BECE for Private Candidates in 2015 for the first time in Ghana’s history, only God knows what would have happened to the 36,849 students who could not be placed by the NPP Government.
President Mahama’s vision for secondary education under the SEIP also ensured that 125 poor performing secondary schools were upgraded with modern facilities including science and computer laboratories. Under this initiative, over 6,000 Science, Mathematics and ICT teachers had their capacities upgraded. In addition, about 2,400 Science and Mathematics teachers were recruited in 2016 to fill critical vacancies. Again, Progressively Free SHS is not possible without teachers.
The NDC Government invested in ICT infrastructure and distributed thousands of computers to teachers and students.
We also handed over 500 buses and pick-ups to secondary schools to improve conditions of students and staff alike.
In the continuous pursuit of excellence, the NDC Government procured millions of dictionaries and text books for technical/vocational schools. This had not been done for over 20 years. Indeed, the text books being distributed now and being presented as part of the NPP’s roll out of its Progressively Free SHS were planned for and procured by the NDC Government.
All these interventions led to our secondary schools attaining the best WASSCE results in Africa for four consecutive years according to the West African Examination Council.
Ladies and Gentlemen, as both the NDC and the NPP try to implement Article 25 (1) (b) of the Constitution which states that: “secondary education in all its different forms, including technical and vocational education, shall be made generally available and accessible to all by every appropriate means, and in particular, by progressive introduction of free education,” it is the hope of the NDC minority that quality shall not be sacrificed at the altar of political expediency.
We renew our call for the NPP Government to spare a thought for those in the second and third years as they promised. It is our considered view that the GHS 400 million being expended on only some first year students in SHSs should rather be targeted at vulnerable students at all the three levels from Form 1 to Form 3 instead of this current lazy propaganda approach. There are ways of targeting these vulnerable students, and the NPP should consider this.
As has been observed and generally agreed by many, the implementation of the NPP’s Progressively Free SHS so far has been self-defeating. We demand that Government puts its house in order immediately as this country cannot afford to toy with the education of its youth. This is not the hyped brand of competence Ghanaians were promised.
It is clear that the Government is struggling to find resources to fund its so-called free SHS programme. This is the reason for the delay in releases of the funds and the reason why instead of the entire allocation being released for the term, Government has told the CHASS to expect only 20-50% of the term’s allocation. This piecemeal approach will compromise quality and create difficulties for school heads in terms of planning. It is important, nay necessary, for the Government to cut down on its lavish expenditure on giant Free SHS bill boards all over Ghana and transfer the full allocation of funds to the schools to ensure a smooth take off of the programme. Anything short of this will be compromising quality and shortchanging the parents, the students and the people of Ghana.
We thank you for your attention and we will now take your questions.