Mahama Free SHS Is GH˘50

It has emerged that the free senior high school education promised by President John Mahama, which he claims will be set in motion from the 2015/2016 academic year, is going to be at a cost of only GH˘50.00 per student. This is because with 365,000 day students, the government has budgeted GH˘18 million for the first term. While the policy, which was a major campaign message of Nana Akufo-Addo, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) presidential candidate ahead of the 2012 controversial elections – was meant to cover all senior high school students, Mahama’s version is restricted to day students with a questionable cost as officials fumble on the actual cost of the programme Interestingly, the education ministry’s newly approved fees for public schools is pegged at GH˘385.00 for a day student per term – far more than what government had budgeted for its yet-to-take-off free SHS – while boarders are to pay GH˘668.00 per student. Deputy Minister of Education in-charge of Tertiary Education, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, on Wednesday had a hectic time defending the cost involved in the proposed free SHS education by the Mahama administration. This was after he and his boss, Professor Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang, had told Ghanaians that government was putting a number of measures in place to ensure that SHS education is free from next year. The first batch of 365,000 students is expected to benefit under a pilot programme next academic year at a cost of GH˘42.7million. When Mr. Ablakwa was quizzed on Adom FM’s ‘Dwaso Nsem’ morning show programme on Wednesday, he fumbled over the costing. This was when the host of the programme, Captain Smart, sought to know the variation in the cost per student which according to the deputy minister, is expected to cost between GH˘150.00 and GH˘200.00 due to the fact that some of the students would be entering school as freshers while others would be continuing students. The cost of the programme, Sam Okudzeto Ablakwa said, included library, examination, entertainment and PTA fees. Initially, the interview seemed to be going well, with Mr. Ablakwa touting government’s commitment to implement the policy until the host realized some anomaly in the figures the deputy minister was bandying around. This prompted Smart and his producers to go into the calculations since they did not appear satisfied with Ablakwa’s responses. The actual confusion set in when Smart did the calculations himself. “When you divide GH˘18 million by 360,000 students you will get GH˘50 per head,” he pointed out. He then asked when government was going to pay for the fees of the students who would be admitted as day students, referring to what the minister, Prof Opoku-Agyemang had put forward herself last week – GH˘385.00. By implication therefore, the current fee for a day student is more than what the government had budgeted for the 2015/2016 academic year. By this time, Mr. Ablakwa had gone silent, obviously struggling to find a suitable explanation. Dumb For close to 15 seconds, he virtually went dumb, with the host waiting for a response. When he eventually came out, Mr. Ablakwa attempted an answer saying, “You are doing a general average and the point I’ve made to you is that we have to analyze these fees in line with the variations we have, in that all the fees are not the same at all levels so if you are doing a general average you are likely not going to get the full picture; and I’ve told you that the handicap now in terms of this roadmap, you need to understand the variations from the freshers, their fees being different from continuing students so that is not what you are carrying out in the analysis you are doing.” He indicated that “We anticipate that when we begin implementation, enrolment will go up so these figures we are putting up are just estimates which are very likely to go up. “If you look at the current numbers that we have, there are 350,000 students at the secondary school level (boarders, day students); our projection is that when we begin implementing this policy, it’s likely that by the 2016/2017 academic year, we may even be hitting a million and what’s important in the roadmap is that you have provisions to expand it.” That notwithstanding, the deputy minister said, “The commitment is there that even when the enrolment numbers go up we will find the resources to cater for the eventual cost; I think that is the most important thing. As at now, nobody can predict what might happen tomorrow…but you plan adequately and make provisions for the likely eventuality.”