“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” – Nelson Mandela
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever”. – Mahatma Ghandi
I AM A CRITIC when it comes to analysing speeches – I would look at the objectives: to educate, motivate, persuade, or entertain; I would look at the audience and the context for the speech; I would look at the speech content and structure. Don’t be deceived: The teacher in me would come, and I would be sharp at noticing: grammatical errors and speech mannerisms (‘like’, ‘you know’, ‘uh’ ‘er’ ‘um’); I would sneer at the use of slangs and jargon: and watch the mechanics of delivery–the comportment and the composure of the speechmaker. Was he confident, or jittery? Did he throw in humour and jokes—were there too many of such? All these together would make me give the President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo excellent for a great speech, well delivered. He touched on so many issues: the economy, governance, security, agriculture, the environment, unemployment, energy, health, corruption, et cetera. I am talking about the President’s maiden State of the Nation Address on Tuesday, 21st February, 2017. He kept stressing the point that he would ‘fix the challenges’. Of course, there is no excuse for whining and lamenting now.
My interest was simply on education, specifically, the Senior High School – whether Nana Addo would reinforce his promise of making it free or he would resile from the ‘Okuapeman Declaration’ of “One man … many lives”. He repeated that he was in a ‘hurry’ to ensure that every child in Ghana got free education up to the Senor High School level. He repeated that the government would fund the cost of public senior high school for all those who qualified for entry to public schools from the 2017/18 academic year – no admission fees, no library fees, no science centre fees, no computer laboratory fees, no examination fees, no utility fees. With tuition already free, our children would also enjoy free textbooks, free boarding facilities, and free meals.
The teacher was not left out in the equation: a well –trained confident and contented teacher was at the heart of Nana Addo’s delivery of quality education. As a result, teacher – trainee allowances would be paid. Oh how kind! Without the teacher – trainee allowance, some of us could not have pursued any post- Middle School Leaving Certificate (MSLC) course.
Who are against the free S.H.S. and what are their reasons? My friends of the Minority Party, otherwise referred to as ‘Congresspeople’ by Professor Ansu Kyeremeh may be uncertain where to stand, but their party’s position is that our Constitution (1992) talks of progressively free SHS education. For them free SHS is premature and unsustainable. In the pre – 2012 election campaign, they debunked free SHS education and said they preferred ‘quality education’ as if the two were separate and exclusive. When the party won the 2012 election, they changed the tune of ‘quality education’ to ‘free S.H.S.’ From 2015, they claimed to have started the ‘progressively free senior high school’ policy. The question is when was the ‘progressively free SHS’ to start and end? IMANI, the policy think – tank is of the opinion that the policy of free SHS is likely to face setbacks owing to the present economic conditions. Other persons appear pessimistic. But is it not worth giving it a try?
On the funding of the free SHS, the Senior Minister, Osafo Maafo thinks we could fall on the ‘Heritage Fund’. Osafo Maafo says: “We have to make an amendment to say that x percent of the ‘Heritage Fund’ will be used to support second cycle education… The youth is the future, heritage is the youth, we could make certain relevant amendments to make sure that the economy benefits from the petroleum act.”
What is wrong when we fall on the ‘Heritage Fund’ to finance the free SHS? We do not have ‘progressive’ in the 1992 Constitution with regard to education at the SHS level. Article 38 of the 1992 Constitution talks of “free, compulsory and universal basic education”. Funding of the free education (SHS) could fall on the Ghana Education Trust Fund, the Cocoa Marketing Board Scholarship and other educational scholarship secretariats.
In May 2009 when John Mahama was Vice – President, he told a section of the northerners: “The Northern Scholarship Scheme is accessible to all northerners, no matter where one stays.” John Mahama himself had been a beneficiary of the Northern Scholarship Scheme, funded from cocoa money. After starting Achimota school, in Accra, he left for Tamale to continue his education at Ghana Secondary School. His father, Emmanuel Adama Mahama, a wealthy rice farmer and teacher had become the first Northern Regional Commissioner and the first Member of Parliament for West Gonja.
In 1979 – 80, some people held the view that the Northern Scholarship Scheme ought to be scrapped after it had served a useful purpose, to the point of raising a Northerner – President in the person of Dr Hilla Limann. Will those people resisting the free SHS agree to the scrapping of the Northern Scholarship Scheme? Or are people just callous and demonstrating envy, now that every SHS student in Ghana is going to enjoy free SHS? It is incisively and sardonically ironical that people who have enjoyed free SHS because they are Northerners would be averse from a general scholarship embracing every Ghanaian student. In 1961, some of us could have been among the youngest Secondary School lads, but our poor parents could not afford the school fees. Some of us had to take a tortuous journey of first becoming pupil – teachers until we gained admission to Training Colleges in 1968. Sometimes it hurts to recall some of these things—the struggles through life, and opportunities missed. At Legon, some of the students from the North were paid allowances and their argument was that they were sponsored by their District Assemblies. That could be very good… but was it equitable? Now, the opportunity is being given to every Ghanaian to enjoy free SHS and we hear a demur!
The Minister of Finance is yet to read the national budget. He cannot be a magician to invoke cash from the heavens. The resources are here! We can get funds for the free SHS if we plug the loopholes in the revenue sector and stop the leakages. Mr. Emmanuel Kofi Nti, the new Commissioner –General of the Ghana Revenue Authority says: “We are good, we can be better while aiming at the best; without revenue all the lofty dreams of President Nana Akufo Addo would be a mere mirage”
If we remain true to ourselves and cut out fraud in the system, effectively monitor the warehousing regime, stop the deals in transit, block the wild exemptions, give proper values to imported goods, the Ghana Revenue Authority alone could bear a great chunk of the burden of the funding for the free SHS. Or, if we reduce corruption to zero level, and stop paying illegal judgment debts, there would be funds in the kitty for the obviously popular policy. Besides, an insurance scheme could be worked out for Ghanaians and… the Heritage Fund would top it up!