Perhaps the Minister for Education, Dr Mathew Opoku Prempeh, started a fight he was not ready for when he described as ‘Hypocritical’ and ‘Privileged’ comments of Prof. George K. T. Oduro, Pro Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Coast, on Joyfm news in relation to the ongoing Free SHS debate .
Prof Oduro, who did not hide his anger in a beautifully worded response to the minister’s comments, has also questioned the open mindedness of the minister and his understanding of quality issues involve in education and further urged him to stick to facts in public discourse.
Below is Prof. George Oduro’s Press statement. It contains the minister’s position on the subject.
THE FREE SHS POLICY IMPLEMENTATION DEBATE: A REACTION TO THE MINISTER OF EDUCATION’S UNPROVOKED OPEN PERSONAL VERBAL ATTACK ON ME
The government, in demonstrating its value for secondary education, has declared a policy of FREE SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL (SHS) education in the country come September 2017. Ever since His Excellency Nana Akuffo-Addo, the President of our country made this declaration, divergent opinions have been expressed by some Ghanaians, including me. Common to all the reactions to the announcement is the acknowledgement that the Free SHS policy is a laudable initiative and a constitutional mandate that the government has to fulfill.
In this light, the bold step taken by His Excellency to scale up implementation of the Free SHS policy is highly commended. Indeed, no one can deny the access expansion advantages associated with the removal of all fees and other related costs in the provision of senior high school education in Ghana.
Parents would be saved the burden of paying school fees and no child would be sacked from school for non-payment of fees. But the questions that remain unanswered and which have been my focus of contribution to the debate are:‘how do we ensure that quality is not compromised in the wholesale implementation of the Free SHS policy?‘how do we balance access and quality to make the Free SHS policy more meaningful to the Ghanaian child? How do we sensitize stakeholders, particularly parents against reneging on their fundamental shared responsibilities? These questions have been the parameters within which my contributions to the debate have so far been made.
My contribution to the Debate
In an interview granted me by Joy News, I drew attention to some quality challenges facing senior high schools, particularly those operating in disadvantaged contexts and urged the Ministry of Education to prioritize strategies for mitigating these challenges in the Free SHS implementation process. Specifically, I suggested that the Ministry of Education should use not rush in implementing the policy without:
• sensitizing parents and other stakeholders to enable them to understand the implications of the Free SHS policy for their shared responsibilities to schools
• initiating a process of revamping and equipping the science laboratories of less endowed senior high schools and stocking their libraries with books
• recruiting teachers with requisite expertise to handle subjects to avoid the situation where for example, in some less endowed schools, a biology teacher is made to teach mathematics, a vernacular teacher made to teach English etc, and
• putting in place strategies to ensure that remittances to schools are not unnecessarily delayed.
I concluded by cautioning that the implementation of the policy should not be rushed through. If the implementation of the Free SHS is not indexed to QUALITY then it will be Free SHS for the sake of Free SHS which could only satisfy a political agenda.
I did not in any way attack the Minister of Education. My comments were geared towards helping the Ministry of Education to strengthen the implementation of the Free SHS policy to ensure that quality is not compromised. It was also to ensure that stakeholders, particularly parents, do not renege on their shared commitment to supporting teaching and learning in secondary schools.
These are comments that any Minister of Education who understands quality issues in education would find very helpful in terms of strategizing for an access-quality-balanced implementation of a Free SHS policy.
In the interest of our dear nation and the fact that quality education cannot and should not be compromised in any way if we desire the best from the Free SHS policy, I react to the Minister of Education’s image damaging remarks as follows:
1. The ‘Hypocritical’ Description
I also wish to inform the Minister of Education that ever since I grew up as an adult, experienced the value of quality education and the need to strike a balance between access expansion and quality, I have never relented my efforts in cautioning governments on issues of quality. It is therefore not true that this is the first time I am taking a position on the need to index FREE Education to Quality. In 2012, I developed a paper which was published in the Commonwealth Education Partnerships – a Commonwealth Secretariat Referenced working document for theCommonwealth Education Ministers’ Conference titled: Reflections on the Bright and Dark sides of free Education in Sub-Saharan Africa. I think it will be very helpful for the Hon. Minister to take pains to read that paper to get him informed about the critical quality issues at stake in the implementation of Free SHS. I am particular about the need for the Minister of Education to appreciate the quality issues involved in Free Education because that is the only way his Ministry will succeed in translating the meritorious Free SHS initiative of His Excellency Nana Akuffo-Addo into meaningful practice.
Within the context of our debate, a privileged person may refer to a person who enjoyed a very easy pre-tertiary education life. A person who might have enjoyed the best secondary education in the country or outside the country. These are some of the features of a privileged person. Contrary to the perspective of the Hon. Minister, I have never had the privilege of attending a secondary school education because my parents were poor. In other words, I do not have a secondary school mate.
I had to study privately on my own to write both the GCE ‘O’ and ‘A’ level examinations which later opened avenues for me to pursue my further studies by installments. From my background, it can never be the case that I am a privileged person. I think as a Minister of Education, his public pronouncements must be based on facts because he represents the decorum of knowledge in the country.
One of the reasons I am very passionate about quality in the implementation of the Free SHS policy is the fact that one can easily build on quality foundations laid for him. I had to build on my Middle school education through self-tuition because I had quality teachers and had access to learning materials.
Without these inputs, I am not sure I could have made it to the professorial level to warrant the Minister describing me as a privileged person. Based on my experience I wish to reiterate my caution that unless the Ministry of Education prioritizes quality issues in the implementation of the Free SHS programme, the end result will only satisfy a political agenda.
The Issue about SDG Goal 4
The Minister justified the rushed approach to implementing the Free SHS policy by referring to Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals: He directed, ‘Go and read the Sustainable Development Goal 4 and what it talks about secondary rights to education for all children’.
I am not sure the Minister understands the pivot around which SDG 4 evolves. Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals focuses on Quality Education. It does not just mandate governments to provide Free Education but more importantly, it lays emphasis on ‘Quality Education’. For purposes of clarity, Target 1 of SDG 4 reads: ‘By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free equitable and quality primary and secondary education.
My call for balancing access and quality in the implementation of the Free SHS policy, therefore, fits well into the SDG 4 which the Minister of Education refers to.
In conclusion, I wish to appeal to the Minister of Education to move beyond politics and instead adopt an open mind to divergent ideas made by Ghanaians. He should develop a listening ear and engage stakeholders to dispassionately plan strategies for implementing the Free SHS agenda. He should also avoid making pronouncements for the sake of pronouncements. He should understand issues well before coming public.
Sgd: Prof. George K.T. Oduro
(Pro Vice-Chancellor, University of Cape Coast)