President Akufo-Addo waving to the cheering crowd at the launch of ‘Free SHS’ yesterday
The much-touted ‘Free Senior High School’ flagship policy of the governing New Patriotic Party (NPP) came alive yesterday when President Akufo-Addo formally declared it operational – taking the burden of fees off the necks of parents and guardians.
It was indeed an interesting and fascinating sight to behold as parents and students could not hide their joy over the commencement of the programme, which is seen as a game changer in closing the gap between the rich and the poor.
Parents were happy that such responsibility had been taken over by the government and showered praises on the NPP administration.
Many, especially the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), were those who had expressed apprehension about the NPP’s ability to implement the policy, since they considered it a campaign rhetoric and political talk.
But yesterday, President Akufo-Addo proved that he is indeed a man of his words when he launched the programme.
Speaking at the well-attended launch at the West Africa Senior High School, popularly known as WASS, he recalled with nostalgia how he was literally mocked by his political opponents and detractors on several occasions that he promised to give Ghanaians free senior high school education during the 2008, 2012 and the 2016 electioneering campaigns.
“When I proposed this policy in 2008, many were those who said free SHS could not be done. The idea was ridiculed, and was described by propagandists as a vote-buying gimmick, even though ironically, it did not win me that election. I was labeled a liar by my opponents, who went on to state that free SHS could only be possible in 20 years’ time,” he recalled.
Nonetheless, he noted, “The Ghanaian people were discerning, and believed it was possible. The culmination of that belief, inter alia, resulted in the decisive victory won by the New Patriotic Party and my modest self in the elections of 2016.”
President Akufo-Addo explained, “I made the pledge of providing every Ghanaian child with access to senior high school because I know that knowledge and talent are not for the rich and privileged alone, and that free education widens the gates of opportunities to every child, especially those whose talents are arrested because of poverty.”
He conceded that the programme might face some challenges, but emphasized that it would scale through at the end of the day.
“We may falter, but by the grace of the Almighty God, we shall not fall,” Nana Akufo-Addo told the gathering of students, tutors and top government officials at WASS, Adenta in Accra.
While he stressed the fact that a government may not be able to make every citizen rich, he was certain that “with political will and responsible leadership, a government can help create a society of opportunities and empowerment for every citizen, and I know no better way to do so but through access to education.”
According to the president, “Any country that aims to transform itself into a modern productive player in the global marketplace must get its educational policies right.”
He promised, “…Ghana, under my leadership, is determined to follow suit because education creates social mobility. Market women and fishermen, farmers and traders, entrepreneurs and workers, taxi drivers and artisans, hawkers and kayayei and indeed, every mother and father, all hope that education will help their children escape poverty and give them access to a good life.”
Currently, at every stage of Ghana’s education, the president said, “Our children are falling out of the system to our continuing shame. Some children born in this country never make it to a classroom.”
President Akufo-Addo revealed, “Available data must be of great concern to us all. Over the last four years, an average of 100,000 BECE graduates, who are placed in our public senior high schools each year, do not take up their places.”
“That means in the next decade, about one million of our young men and women would have had their education terminated at junior high school. Such a situation is totally unacceptable, and I am determined to end it.”
He stressed, “We are removing one of the biggest obstacles that currently stand in their way – cost. The cost of providing free secondary school education will be cheaper than the cost of the alternative of an uneducated and unskilled workforce that has the capacity to retard our development.”
“Leadership is about choices. I have chosen to invest in the future of our youth and of our country. We have decided to use the proceeds from our natural resources to help educate the population to drive our economic transformation,” he insisted.
“Instead of the revenues from Ghana’s mineral and oil resources ending up in the hands of a few people, the most equitable and progressive way of using these revenues is to educate and empower our population to strengthen our nation.”
In so doing, President Akufo-Addo observed, “We would be on the way to achieving UN Sustainable Development Goal number 4, which calls for inclusive and equitable education, and the promotion of lifelong opportunities for all. As co-Chair of the Advocacy Group of Eminent Persons of the SDGs, their implementation is a matter of the highest public priority for me.”
He pointed out that “I want every Ghanaian child to attend secondary school not just for what they learn in books, but for the life experiences that they will gain. I want each of them to look in the mirror in the morning, every morning, and know that they can achieve anything they dream of when they complete their studies.”
Aside that, he said, “I want them to be confident that what they study is relevant to the demands of today, and of tomorrow. I want every Ghanaian child to be comfortable in the knowledge that when they work hard, they will be as capable as anyone else in the world. And I want parents to look upon their children with pride, as they watch them mature into self-confident adults.”
Dazed by the coming into fruition of the free SHS programme, the NDC, through its deputy communication officer, Fred Agbenyo, is now asking the president to provide students with toothpaste and brushes, as well as pyjamas and nighties for female students for them (NDC apparatchiks) to believe that education is truly free.
By Charles Takyi-Boadu, Presidential Correspondent