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Capitation Grant Is Flopping; What Can Be Done About It?   
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In 2005, the government came out with a policy of publicly funding basic education as part of its efforts to achieve its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The purpose of the policy – widely known as the capitation grant – was to support the more vulnerable in society to have access to quality education. It was also intended to improve the quality of education and reduce the burden on teachers. After almost 6 years in operation, is the programme achieving its aims and making the right impact on our educational system? Will Ghanaians be able to say that the capitation grant has actually been able to achieve its objectives? Has it been a blessing to our educational system or a curse? These are the issues that will be given attention in this article.

The capitation grant started with limited education (a worrying feature of most government interventions) of the general public regarding its purpose and accountability frameworks. This naturally has led many parents into thinking that they are not to pay anything for their wards’ educational expenses. It has furthermore tended to make many parents irresponsible towards their children’s post-classes needs.

Some parents even fail to provide books, uniforms and other basic materials, not to talk of the increasingly critical extra classes, to support their children. This, as you might have guessed, has become a headache for many school heads and teachers in the country.

Following the same pattern, no form of public education was conducted for the PTAs (Parents –Teachers Association) and the School Management Committees during the implementation of the grant, and yet they are supposed to sign off on the paperwork before the relevant banks release grant funds to the schools. Even though this intervention was to support parental efforts, no opportunity has been created to solicit their input, or to involve them in the local governance of the programme – to the extent that the vast majority of parents have no idea about how these funds are allocated in the schools.

In one of my many interactions with PTAs, a PTA chairman said they are only contacted when the money is to be released, and it is only because the school heads require their signatures to facilitate the release. After the money has been released and they begin to ask questions as to how the funds are being used, school officials tell them that all outstanding issues relate to the school administration and the Ghana Education Service, and thus they (the PTA) have nothing to do with the ongoing management of the funds.

Indeed, I will suggest that parents are paying more today than was the case in the days before the capitation grant came on-stream. It is surely worse now, seeing as some institutional heads and their teachers now decide how much they should levy each child. Things like extra classes, PTA dues and examination fees are being charged exorbitantly by schools and children who are not able to afford them are sacked until their parents pay such fees.

I know what I am talking about; my brother is in a public school and I pay about GH¢16 every term to cover these expenses. This has made many teachers more interested in offering extra classes and charging students for same, than focussing on normal classroom teaching. The sad irony is that if our teachers were dedicated enough to use their normal classroom hours judiciously, there will be no need for extra classes in the first place, much less the current situation where without these classes, they apparently are unable to take pupils through the required curriculum.

There is no clear cut guidance from school administrations on what might be considered appropriate fees for extra classes. Unbridled money-seeking has been allowed free rein. Most parents pay these monies, though they can barely afford to do so, and then hope to God that their wards will reap the results during examinations. Naturally, there are no standards or clear performance expectations on the part of teachers. It is clear from the foregoing that the capitation grant has not been in anyway useful in addressing these dire issues on the ground.

In July 2010, CDD-Ghana reported that they have found frightening levels of leakages in the disbursement of the capitation grant, from the GES headquarters down to the beneficiary schools. This is indeed the fact of the case as the schools clearly are not benefitting from the full complement of resources supposedly made available through the capitation grant. The evidence is littered all over our primary and secondary campuses in the form of deteriorating infrastructure, malnourishment and declining test scores across Ghana.

A significant chunk of the capitation grant money ends up in the pockets of some school officials and their favourite contractors, though it is highly unlikely that school officials alone can act with such reckless impunity without cover from some senior civil servants and politicians.

The children for whom this intervention was expected to benefit do not get to enjoy. Parents are still struggling to pay for their children’s education. In 2008, a friend of mine, a teacher, and I visited her headmaster to seek permission for her to travel to Cote d’Ivoire. After having been granted permission to do so, my friend told the headmaster to keep her share of the capitation grant until her return. This prompted me to ask the Head on what grounds the capitation grant is supposed to be shared among teachers and Heads? All that the headmaster had to say was: “The district director has taken his share and so who are you going to report me to?” He said this looking a bit drunk. I was disappointed but not too surprised.

What is annoying is how our politicians like to come out and portray things as if all was on course. Last year, some JHS students sitting for the BECE paid almost GH¢ 100.00 for the year and this included:

Registration fees GH¢ 23.00

Mock exams (5 mock exams) GH¢20.00 (GHC 4.00 per mock exam)

PTA, Exams fees and Extra classes GH¢48.00 (GHC16 per term)

And we call this an era of “progressively free education”?

I am not saying parents should not spend on their wards’ education, but as can be seen, the implementation of the capitation grant has done next to nothing to bring significant relief to parents, and pupils are the worse for it.

The humble opinion of my organisation is that direct subsidies should be applied at school level to cover these fees and charges if government is genuinely interested in the welfare of pupils and students.

This should bring clarity to the minds of parents as to what their responsibilities are. To create the impression that government is responsible for the upkeep of pupils and students, when it is so manifestly not, and thereby to breed attitudes of irresponsibility on the part of parents so inclined, is to compound an already dire situation.

Furthermore, the rampant corruption that has beset the implementation of the policy clearly points to insufficient transparency, which is a mark of the murkiness surrounding the mechanics of the policy. A direct offset subsidy should simplify matters by clarifying which fees government has absorbed and which parents are still responsible for, and leave little room for the kind of corruption that thrives on bureaucratic complexity and lack of effective public education. Of course, public education is better served by clear systems and procedures.

A recent report by the Ghana Education Service indicated that 64% of school pupils cannot read and write. This is not a problem you can solve by simply throwing money at it. It requires an acknowledgment of failing policies and the humility and readiness to act to rectify them.

Increasing the capitation grant and reducing funding for High School education is like robbing Peter to pay Paul. One may even go further and argue that government should implement program-based subsidies at the high school level where the costs are really high and not the basic level, where a simpler free tuition mechanism (with parents being sensitised to their role to offer material support) is what is required. But that is another discussion.

If however government is disinclined to consider such a radical proposal as scrapping the capitation grant in its entirety, then the least it can do is order a wholesale review and re-evaluation of the structure and rationale of the policy.

God bless our Homeland Ghana!!!!
Source: Kwabena Danso/The writer is the Country Director for Yonso Project, Ghana

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