Opinion

Mahama lays his cards face-up in the battle for ‘Free SHS’

President John Dramani Mahama seemed to have landed a perfect salvo in the battle of 2020, when he firmly and completely played his cards face-up in the matter of the implementation of the constitutionally mandated Free Senior High School (Free SHS) Programme, being implemented by the New Patriotic Party government under President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, when he broached the issue of the programme’s poor implementation in the Central Region in the week of September 24th-29th, 2018(this year)

The former President, Who had started his flagbearership campaign in the region, aimed at leading the National Democratic Congress again, as its presidential candidate in the 2020 general elections, stated on his campaign tour, that he would REVIEW the Free Senior High School (Free SHS) programme as currently being implemented by the Akufo-Addo regime, should he be elected again as President of the country, as a result of the impending 2020 presidential election.

Hardly had Mr. Mahama finished making his statement than hell completely broke loose with leading members of the Akufo-Addo government led by President Akufo-Addo himself, started running helter-a-skelter scavenging from one media house to another, granting interviews, holding press conferences and town hall meetings all in a desperate attempt trying to contain Mr. Mahama, for simply stating an intention to Review a clearly faltering “Free SHS” programme.

In the clearest understanding of President Akufo-Addo, and this must be surprising, Mr. MAHAMA’s intention to review the ‘free SHS’ programme meant the former President will COLLAPSE the programme. Since when had the English word ‘Review’ assumed the meaning of ‘Collapse’? I took to the dictionary to check again the meaning of the word ‘review’ lest I have missed something.

This is what I found:
“ review
r??vju?/
noun
noun: review; plural noun: reviews

1. a formal assessment of something with the intention of instituting change if necessary. “a comprehensive review of UK defence policy” synonyms: analysis, evaluation, assessment, appraisal, examination, investigation, scrutiny, enquiry, exploration, probe, inspection, study, audit; rare anatomization “the Council is to undertake a review of its property portfolio” LAW a reconsideration of a judgement, sentence, etc. by a higher court or authority. “a review of her sentence” synonyms: reconsideration, re-examination, reassessment, re evaluation, reappraisal, moderation, rethink, another look, a fresh look; More change, alteration, modification, revision “the rent is due for review” a report on or evaluation of a subject or past events. “The Director General’s end-of-year review” synonyms: survey, report, study, account, record, description, exposition, statement, delineation, overview; More compte rendu, procès-verbal; summing-up; informal sitrep “the authority’s latest annual review of the local economy”

2. a critical appraisal of a book, play, film, etc. published in a newspaper or magazine. “She released her debut solo album to rave reviews” synonyms: criticism, critique, write-up, notice, assessment, evaluation, judgement, rating, commentary; More piece, article, column; informal crit “he began to write reviews of local stage plays” a periodical publication with critical articles on culture and current events. “The New Left Review” synonyms: journal, periodical, magazine, organ, publication, proceedings, annual, quarterly, monthly “a recent scientific review contained the following article”

3. a ceremonial display and formal inspection of military or naval forces, typically by a sovereign or commander-in-chief. “He conducted a final review of his troops and spoke of his pride in having served in the US army” synonyms: inspection, parade, display, demonstration, field day, tattoo, array, muster, procession; march past “in a traditional military review, the visiting leader inspects the soldiers up close”

4. a facility for playing a tape recording during a fast wind or rewind, so that it can be stopped at a particular point. “Cue and review, which plays the tape backwards or forwards at high speed” verb: review; 3rd person present: reviews; past tense: reviewed; past participle: reviewed; gerund or present participle: reviewing

1. assess (something) formally with the intention of instituting change if necessary. “The Home Secretary was called on to review Britain’s gun laws”
LAW submit (a sentence, case, etc.) for reconsideration by a higher court or authority. “The Attorney General asked the court to review the sentence”
survey or evaluate (a subject or past events). “In the next chapter we review a number of recent empirical studies” synonyms: survey, study, research, consider, take stock of, analyse, audit, examine, scrutinize, enquire into, make enquiries into, explore, look into, probe, investigate, conduct investigations into, inspect, assess, appraise, size up; More sum up;rare anatomize “I shall first review the empirical evidence”

2. write a critical appraisal of (a book, play, film, etc.) for publication in a newspaper or magazine. “I reviewed his first novel” synonyms: comment on, discuss, evaluate, assess, appraise, judge, weigh up, rate, write up, critique, criticize”John Daly reviewed the novel for the Times”

3. (of a sovereign, commander-in-chief, etc.) Make a ceremonial and formal inspection of (military or naval forces). “The Queen reviewed her brightly arrayed troops” synonyms: inspect, view, scrutinize; more parade, muster, march past “the Commander-in-Chief reviewed his troops”

4. View or inspect again. “All slides were then reviewed by one pathologist” synonyms: reconsider, re-examine, reassess, re-evaluate, reappraise, moderate, rethink, think over, take another look at, take a fresh look at, look at in a different light, have another think about; More change, alter, modify, revise “the referee reviewed his decision to award a penalty”.

None of the plethora of words listed above as denoting similar meaning of the word ‘REVIEW’ included the word ‘COLLAPSE’.

How a man said to have received Oxford University education, even if only for just one term would understand the word ‘review’ to mean ‘collapse’ would remain a mystery for many Ghanaians.

But Mr. Akufo-Addo was not alone in his effort to find nonexistent fault with Mr. Mahama’s review agenda to correct lapses in the current implementation of the ‘Free SHS’. His Information Minister, who is awaiting confirmation of his position by Parliament, the Honourable Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, the Minister of State in Charge of Tertiary Education Prof. Kwesi Yankah and the whole band of NPP media Communicators all waded into the matter, not to address the issues raised by Mr. Mahama, but to attack his person. Any time the other side of an argument leaves the issue under discussion to attack the personality of their opponent that must be a clear indication that they had lost the plot.

Following the NPP government’s spirited but failed efforts to denigrate Mr. Mahama’s intention to review the ‘Free SHS’ programme by organizing a stakeholders’ conference to deliberate on the way forward for the programme, the former President has since elaborated on his statement and clarified it even further, in much clearer terms as to the specific measures he would put in place to enhance the programme and its aspects which he would like to be reviewed.

Mr. Mahama stated on his Facebook page on 1st October, 2018, that he would undertake the following specific steps to restructure the “Free SHS” programme by doing the following.

These are not in any order of particular preference.

To immediately on assuming office, take steps to abolish the two-term double track system (the shift system introduced into the secondary school academic calendar in the 2018/2019 academic year) and would reintroduce the more efficient three-term per academic year.

To undertake a crash programme to complete the remaining of the 200 Senior High School projects which he started, but which have been abandoned by the Akufo-Addo regime, and to construct additional ones to create more classroom accommodation and access for students.

Bring back emphasis on skills training, technical and vocational training and education to provide students with more options in their career choices.
Improve learning outcomes, teaching, teacher development and supervision across all schools.

To call a national stakeholders’ conference to bring together headmasters/headmistresses, parents, teachers, educationists, labour unions, politicians, traditional leaders, religious groups, civil society organizations, students and others to further review and chart a sustainable course for the implementation of free education for our children and the country.

Preceding the post on his Facebook wall on October 1st, 2018 at 6.32pm, President Mahama stated: “Education is key to our country’s development. Free education is a public good, as was demonstrated by my administration. FREE EDUCATION MUST BE implemented in a manner that is sustainable and does not compromise quality.”

These two essential elements of our education system; sustainability and quality, are clearly seen as possible fatal casualties of the current haphazard implementation of the ‘Free SHS’ programme under Mr. Akufo-Addo.

The above five positions of former President John Dramani Mahama are the pillars on which he intends to base the review of the implementation of Ghana’s ‘Free SHS’ programme, in order to sanitize it from the conditions under which it is being implemented currently by Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo and his government.

It is important to revisit the origins of the ‘Free SHS’ education debate in order to clearly understand how the present state of affairs came about.

The concept of free education for Ghanaian children and youth is the brainchild of the 1992 Ghanaian Constitution. In its Article 25, the 1992 constitution of Ghana clearly laid down its edit on education for all Ghanaian children and demanded in no uncertain terms that basic elementary education be made free compulsory, and universal, up to the end of Junior High School (JHS). Our Constitution then decreed that secondary school education in all its ramifications of Senior High School, Technical and Vocational education should be made ‘progressively free’,(Article 25[1]{b}) and this could be extended to Tertiary education depending on availability of the country’s financial resources. This is understood to mean a gradual systematic implementation of the programme to accommodate the country’s finances.

Since the year 2008, when Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo became the perennial presidential candidate of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) for the first time, he had usurped the “Free Secondary School” concept in our 1992 Constitution as though it was his personal brainchild. It is not. Even though he failed to win the presidency on two previous occasions in 2008 and 2012 with “Free SHS” as his main campaign mantra, he did not give up on the idea. In 2016, he expanded his campaign promises to include Free SHS, One District-One Factory, One Village-One Dam, One Constituency–One Million Dollars, One District — One Warehouse, One School Child — One Bar of Chocolate per day, and several other irresistible mouth-watering promises, ‘Free SHS’ remained the lead campaign promise of Mr. Akufo-Addo with which he won the 2016 presidential election.

Not that the National Democratic Congress government under President John Dramani Mahama DID NOT do anything about free Senior High School education, he took the progressive approach to its implementation as dictated by the 1992 constitution of Ghana. In that regard in the NDC manifesto of 2012 the party promised to expand access in the SHS sector by constructing 200 new Senior High Schools, which were specially designed blocks, as part of the progressive implementation of the ‘Free SHS’ programme, and also granted scholarships to all day SHS students across the country. Boarding SHS students were being targeted for the neediest and vulnerable ones among them to be taken care of in the 2017 academic year. The then Mahama government however lost the 2016 elections and with it went down the progressively free implementation of “Free SHS” programme.

One constraint clearly identifiable as an impediment to the ‘Free SHS’ programme even before this Akufo-Addo version of implementation begun, was clear inadequacies in classrooms, boarding accommodation, science laboratories, dining halls, technical and vocational workshops to cater for the envisaged increment in numbers of students when the programme was fully rolled out. To create access for students and avert overcrowding in classrooms, dormitories, science laboratories, dining halls and washrooms the Mahama government began a project of constructing two hundred (200) new day Senior High Schools across the country in the period of 2012-2016. It also undertook the expansion of facilities in the over 500 existing old schools and sought to expand facilities in technical and vocational institutions. Never in the history of our nation had any government undertaken such gargantuan infrastructural projects in the education sector.

Over 50 of those 200 magnificent new day SHS blocks were completed and commissioned with some in use, while many of the 123 others under construction were at various stages of completion. Almost all the 50 new blocks which were completed and commissioned are now being used as new SHS schools with between 1,500 and 2,000 students in each school.

With the coming into office in 2017, of the Akufo-Addo government, they begun implementation of the ‘Free SHS’ in fulfilment of their campaign promise, though they were clearly ill prepared for the programme and chaos and confusion broke out as students could not get enough accommodation both for classrooms and for residence in boarding schools. The media was awash with pathetic scenes of students sleeping on verandas and under trees while lucky ones were crammed into dormitories and classrooms clearly not designed for such large numbers. Similar spectacles have emerged yet again this year in some SHS schools.

That poor situation remained the lot of students in most schools for most part of the 2017 school year. In its attempt to avoid repetition of the horrible situation it created in the 2017 academic year, the Akufo-Addo government decided to tamper with the traditional educational calendar, the trimester system by introducing a semester system by dividing the school year into two terms. In addition, the students were divided into two groups to run a shift system which was deceptively named ‘double track’ system with shortened number of weeks for the school term.

It is not only physical structures which are in short supply. School authorities all over the country have complained bitterly about the shortage of teaching and learning materials for students. Text books were not forthcoming in the first year of implementation of the programme. Out of the prescribed text books, only three were supplied in most schools. The situation with exercise books was not any better.

Worst of all, the government was not able to meet the cost of feeding boarding students as promised, leaving the schools currently indebted to food contractors who supplied food items on credit to them last academic year.

Overall, the ‘Free SHS’ programme as being implemented by Akufo-Addo is heavily laden with a lot of problems of all sorts, including but not limited to the following: Lack of physical structures for: on-campus accommodation, dormitories, classrooms, science laboratories, dining halls, bathrooms and toilets.

Text books and even exercise books were not supplied in adequate numbers.
Feeding grants were not forthcoming in the first year
Food contractors are owed huge arrears

In the face of these blatant inadequacies of the ‘Free SHS’ implementation, many prominent Ghanaians and organizations, including President John Dramani MAHAMA, the Lady Chief Justice, Sophia Boafowaa Akuffo, the Upper West Regional Synod of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, (Isodec), the Integrated Social Development Centre and the coalition of NGOs in education have all called on President Akufo-Addo to take a second look at the implementation of the ‘Free SHS’ programme with a view to correcting the current debilitating problems that have bedevilled a hitherto laudable programme, conceived by the makers of our 1992 constitution. All these calls have fallen on deaf ears with President Akufo-Addo hell bent on implementing the programme in its present form, with all its attendant problems.

What seemed to have stoked the present spate of attacks on President John Mahama, following his recently renewed pledge to review the ‘Free SHS’ programme if he was elected back to office in 2020, is the fact that Mr. Mahama has all but won the flagbearership of the NDC and is poised to lead that party again into the 2020 elections. In that case, the battle of 2020 would be a recast of the presidential election of 2016, with a reversal of roles, this time, with Mr. Akufo-Addo as the incumbent President and Mr. Mahama as his challenger.

Mr. Mahama feels vindicated in his progressive and systematic approach to the implementation of the ‘Free SHS’ programme looking at the chaotic and haphazard implementation that is being witnessed under Akufo-Addo. That is why he has proposed a four point agenda for reviewing the programme should Ghanaians return him to the presidency as a result of the December, 2020 elections.

There is no doubt that a large majority of Ghanaians agree with Mr. Mahama on the need for a comprehensive reordering of the affairs of the ‘Free SHS’ programme, should it serve the purpose for which it was designed in the constitution, judging from the number of prominent Ghanaians, educationists and education sector civil society organizations, all of which have called on the Akufo-Addo government to take a second look at the programme as it is being implemented now. The major fear is that the poor conditions under which teaching and learning is taking place under the programme do not augur well for the wellbeing of students and this coupled with the shortened academic year due to the introduction of the double track (trouble track) system would lead to very poor academic outcomes resulting in poor final examination results, which would jeopardise the future of our children.

Parents and students alike are apprehensive of what the future holds, anticipating with bated breath what the results of the 2020 West African Secondary Schools examination (WASSCE) would be.

The greatest fear of Mr. Akufo-Addo and the New Patriotic Party is clearly that Mr. Mahama would take due advantage of the difficulties in the dismal implementation of the ‘Free SHS’ to campaign against them in the 2020 elections. Certainly this is an opportunity no astute politician with his or her head properly screwed on his neck would miss and Mr. Mahama would do well to milk the situation to his utmost advantage and that of his party, the National Democratic Congress, though he is well known as a very decent politician most reluctant to take advantage of his opponents.

Mr. Mahama the presumptive flagbearer of National Democratic Congress, judging from goings-on in the party so far, has landed the first salvo of the battle royal for the coming 2020 elections and Ghanaians would eagerly await the eventual outcome of the ensuing battle for the hearts and minds of the electorate.

Columnist: Eric Ametor-Quarmyne

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