2012/2013 SHS Admissions: No Transparency At All - I.K Gyasi Writes

Last year’s computerised Senior High School (SHS) admissions placement system was such an unmitigated disaster that Mr. Samuel Oppong, National Democratic Congress (NDC) parliamentary aspirant in charge of the placement, promised a more competent, professional and transparent job this academic year. Last year, there was an undue delay in placing successful candidates in the Senior High Schools. The Samuel Oppong-led Secretariat attributed the delay to the effort to implement a government directive on the offer of 30% admission to candidates in the ‘catchment area’ where the school is situated. Not mentioned were such factors as the reported sacking of the company that had been in charge of the computer hardware and software late in the day, and the pressure on the Secretariat to grant favours to society’s ‘high and mighty’. For the 2012/2013 Academic Year, things seem to have gone from bad to worse. It would be recalled that before the introduction of the computerised system of placing successful Junior High school students in Senior High schools, the selection of candidates was done on a regional basis by heads of the Senior High Schools, with the initial active participation of the Regional Directors of Education. A school initially received the results sheets of all the candidates who selected that particular school as their first choice. The cards, which the candidates filled out before the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) was taken, were also forwarded to the school, together with the results sheets. The schools were expected to copy the results of each candidate on the accompanying cards. On the back of the card was a place for the assessment of the candidate’s academic performance and character. The Ghana Education Service selected a time during which all the heads met on a regional basis at one place for the exercise of placing the successful candidates. After the exercise, the heads went back to their schools, and later placed on the notice boards the names of the candidates selected, together with the selected programmes and their aggregate scores. A time was fixed for candidates to report to the school. Vacancies unfilled because the candidates failed to turn up went to candidates on the waiting list. The computerised system, introduced about seven years ago, was meant to answer a number of complaints by parents and society at large. Top on the list of complaints was the widely-held view that heads had turned the exercise into a venture in which they took bribes in money or in kind, or both from the parents. The popular term was “Headmaster’s cocoa season.” Another complaint was that heads felt their school slighted by candidates who did not select that particular school as first choice. Consequently, it was believed that many heads routinely rejected the cards of candidates who selected their school as second or third choice. Unfortunately, there was some truth in that belief. But, it is equally true that sometimes, a head had so many good aggregates to choose from that he might even be forced to pass some cards to a second-choice school. Yet another grievance was that heads rejected the cards of very good candidates, so that they (Heads) could offer so-called “protocol admission” to such heavyweights as former students of the particular school, politicians, traditional rulers, top security personnel, school mates, family people, friends, etc. Sad to say, there was some truth in the allegation. Apart from these complaints, the heads themselves recognised the pressure brought to bear on them during the period of admissions. This was especially the case of heads who were in charge of highly-sought after schools. Some of these heads sometimes went into hiding and left the school in the care of their assistants. Cases of heads breaking down under the strain were sometimes reported. Transferring the marks from the broad sheet onto the cards of each candidate was also a tiring task. One had to be careful not to make any mistakes which might affect the chances of the candidate obtaining admission. It is also true that some parents had to go from one school to another, possibly from one region to another, looking for schools for their children. Meanwhile, there would be other less popular schools whose heads bemoaned the fact that they did not have enough students to fill the places available in their schools. What is the situation report today? Well, it must be admitted that the computerised system relieved heads and their staff of the drudgery of transferring the marks from the results sheets onto the students’ cards. It initially also relieved heads of the pressure on them. Unfortunately, it has not been a success story as expected. For one thing, the allegation of bribery and corruption made against heads are now being made against the Secretariat. Of course, as usual, no names have been publicly mentioned. Secondly, the suspicion is that the computerised system has not taken away the so-called ‘protocol admission,’ and that the ‘heavyweights’ in our society are still getting their way. In one of his articles, for example, my younger brother, Kwame Gyasi, a columnist of the DAILY GUIDE, alleged that the exercise had been hijacked by a political party, and that two regions had especially been favoured. But, let that pass, because, admittedly, he did not offer proof. Still, his allegation is worth looking into. What is the transparency Mr. Oppong talked of? All that his Secretariat did this year was to just send lists of so-called successful applicants to the schools. The lists had just the name of the student, his Index Number, and the Junior High School he attended. The list did not state the aggregate earned by the student. It could be Aggregate 8 or Aggregate 40. It is the student who has to go to the Internet, access his result, and take it to the head. What kind of unsatisfactory and fraudulent arrangement is that? If performance no longer matters, why subject the JHS students to the ordeal of an examination? Why not simply take all of them to the senior high schools? Another case of fraud is that, as previously heads were being forced to accept students beyond the capacity of the school-classroom space, dormitory space, science laboratory space, etc. When heads are unable to admit the extra number of students forced on them, the impression is created that the heads are devils trying to frustrate parents, their children and the education authorities. It is a shame.