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“Ghanaians Don’t Need Free Education” IMANI Ghana Insists.   
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IMANI Centre for Policy and Education, a public policy think-tank, has taken a strong stand against the free senior high school (SHS) education policy, a major campaign promise of the New Patriotic Party (NPP).

According to IMANI, the issue was not about whether it was possible to implement the free SHS policy; it was about how to make quality education accessible to all.

A senior research fellow at IMANI, Mr Kofi Bentil, who made this observation in Accra, said he personally carried out a vox pop on the issue of free education among the various social classes, but the response he got was not what policy makers thought could sway Ghanaians.

“Nobody; zero, – rich or poor – has said that they want free education in Ghana,” he said. “Everybody I speak to wants quality education which is accessible regardless of their economic situation. Poor people and rich people want good schools their children can go to.”

The debate about the feasibility of the free education at the senior high school level was ignited after the NPP flag bearer, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, failed to say how much the programme would cost to implement when he appeared on Steven Sucker’s HARDtalk on BBC. On his return, the party announced that the programme would cost US$150 million in its first year of implementation and rise to US$400 million in its fourth year.

The figures and the feasibility of the policy were challenged by IMANI Ghana, but the Centre for National Affairs, another think-tank, said the policy was feasible.

Speaking at Citi FM’s Roundtable discussion on the topic, “Fixing Ghana’s Education, is free SHS the way to go?”Mr Kofi Bentil said though it was a good idea to put education at the forefront, such policies must be aimed at tackling the real problems in the education sector.

He said even in rural areas, people were now running away from public basic schools, which were free, due to the poor quality.

“Free destroys the quality in education. It forces poor people to pay to run away from free schools,” he said. “Throwing money at a problem won’t solve it. It may end up enriching certain people and the poor people will still be disenfranchised.”

He said there was the need to expand access instead of dwelling on free education. “If you have 50 per cent of qualified students unable to access secondary education, that’s a big problem. If you asked me how to solve this problem, the simple answer will be ‘give them more schools,’” said Mr Kofi Bentil.

He said the real problem that needed attention in the education sector was how to enhance the quality of education in the country, especially at the basic level. “Many people go through three years of JHS (junior high school) and come out illiterate. People get out of the JHS and can’t read a sentence in English. If you pay these people to go to secondary school, you can’t fix that problem with higher curriculum education in SSS,” he explained.

Mr Bentil said students from poor homes did not have access to quality secondary education not because they could not afford to pay. He said the problem was due to the fact that such students did not have quality basic education that would earn them admissions into the quality senior high schools in the country.

“That is really directly related to poverty. There are poor students who pass very well and they are in Wesley Girls or Mfantsipim,” he said. He emphasised that “poor people in Ghana don’t get quality secondary education just because they don’t have quality basic education. That is the problem we need to fix.”

He explained that IMANI was not in any way against any policy that would enhance education in the country, but the think-tank believed that a policy that was not targeted at the real problems confronting the educational sector should not be entertained because politicians since 1979 had messed with education in the country.

He said IMANI had problems with the concept of “free,” which he said was not clearly defined. He said IMANI also had problems with the abolishing of the Basic Education Certificate Examination. “Whether expressively said or implied, moving people straight from the JHS to the SHS implies that we are not going to have an assessment like we have now.” He maintained that IMANI had problems with the numbers put out by the NPP, saying they were not accurate.

Instead of making education at the basic level free, Mr Bentil suggested that the quality should be improved so that those who could not afford to pay would be assisted, because a lot of people could afford secondary education so it would be a waste of resources making SHS education free to them.

A Deputy Minister of Education, Mr Mahama Ayariga, admitted there were challenges of access, which was the main problem government was dealing with.
Source: The Finder

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