Free SHS shouldn’t be free for everyone; some must pay – Prof Ernest Aryeetey

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A former Vice-Chancellor (VC) of the University of Ghana (UG), Prof Ernest Aryeetey, is proposing a review of government’s flagship Free SHS policy by allowing persons who can pay to do so.

He said there must be a target at persons with genuine financial needs as this will help to lessen the burden on government’s treasury.

Speaking at a Leadership Dialogue Series organised by the Centre of Social Justice, he noted that the Free SHS should not be made to benefit everyone, even those who can adequately fund their education.

Prof Aryeetey added that some second cycle institutions should be allowed to demand fees, whereas others are made free.

“I believe strongly that we need to target people, and the most appropriate way is by means-testing. Means testing by the government will reduce the cost of tuition to the government, and the monies saved channelled to improving the facilities and providing quality service.

“We have to find ways of pursuing what best works in our environment. So instead of making SHSs free, why don’t we make some free and others payable. With that, parents get to make a decision based on their strengths.

“Even with the schools that are not free, scholarship opportunities could be created to allow people who are not financially strong to compete for them. That way, we can drag everyone along, poor or rich,” he advocated.

There have been suggestions for modifying the policy to ensure the quality of education as some say it is a huge burden on the country’s resources.

Ranging from the absence of limited infrastructure to a shortage of food and other setbacks, students enrolled on the programme are faced with a lot of inconveniences.

But the government insists the policy will remain the same, despite some of the challenges it has been facing since its implementation.

Government to review Free SHS

Recently, the conversation about the review of the Free SHS came up again for discussion after the government announced its intention to review of the policy.

Following the current economic crisis, the Information Minister, Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, revealed that all 16 flagship programmes of government will soon be reviewed to ensure their objectives are well achieved.

He said the review of the programmes, including the Free SHS, will help the government take some expenditure cuts.

“All the 16 flagship programmes are up to be looked at. The President has directed that the flagship programmes should be protected and fully implemented to ensure that the impact is achieved. However, he wants it done within the constraints of item number two, which is the fiscal framework we are working with.

“If based on the caps that we are working with we will have to rescope a particular flagship programme, we will do it and see how much we can achieve. So all the 16 are up for discussion; none is off-limit,” he said.

Barely a year after its implementation, the Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta said the policy should have targeted persons with genuine need and not made to benefit everyone.

He said people in his economic bracket should not be enjoying such a policy.

“True, it may be that there have to be changes in the way we are administering it. I can’t take my child to Achimota or Odorgono and leave him or her there and drive away and not pay for anything whiles I can pay for ten people,” he said.

Prior to the 2020 election, President Akufo-Addo said Ghanaians should not allow the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) to review its flagship Free Senior High School (SHS) programme when it comes into office.

The President said Mr Mahama’s return could mean the cancellation of the programme.

However, the NDC flagbearer had said at a meeting with the Ghana National Council for Private Schools (GNACOPS) that he will review the Free-SHS policy within his first 90-days in office if elected in the upcoming 2020 general elections.

The NDC flagbearer cited inadequate consultation with stakeholders in exploring the most effective ways to implement the programme.

Meanwhile, the 2020 running mate of John Mahama, Prof Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang, says she is waiting with bated breath for the definition of ‘review’ as would be applied to government’s flagship programmes.

She said it will be good to know how government would review the Free Senior High School programme.

Professor Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang, however, could not comprehend why the same people who alleged that former President John Mahama meant ‘cancel’ when he used the word ‘review’ want to do what they once criticised.

“When we said ‘review’ others said we were going to cancel. Today, we are waiting for the definition of review from the ‘Black Dictionary’ since that is the source that they use for many things,” she said at the launch of TEIN App on Monday, March 21, 2022.

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