The much talked-about Free Senior High School (SHS) education promised by the New Patriotic Party (NPP), led by then candidate Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo during the 2008, 2012 and 2016 electioneering campaigns, is set to kick-start in September, this year.
The take-off of the major Free SHS programme will change the future of the country, giving access to all Ghanaian children of school-going age, according to some educationists.
It was one policy then President John Mahama and his National Democratic Congress (NDC) – now in opposition – said was over-ambitious and merely intended to deceive Ghanaians in order to win their votes.
But, speaking at the 60th anniversary celebration of Okuapemman Senior High School at Akwapim-Akropong over the weekend under the theme, ‘One Vision…Many Lives,’ President Akufo-Addo said, “It is time to use the proceeds from our national resources to help educate the population to drive our economic transformation.
“Instead of the revenues from our minerals and oil resources ending up in the hands of a few people, I am of the firm belief that the most equitable and progressive way of using these revenues is to educate and empower our population.”
He decried the fact that in this day and age, some Ghanaians still cannot make it to the classroom.
That, he said, “is something that cannot and should not continue, insisting, “We must ensure that every child in Ghana gets an education.”
In that regard, he indicated that “the proposal made during the 2008, 2012 and 2016 elections, for all of Ghana’s children to attend public senior high school for free is the beginning of that vision; we now have the opportunity to make the vision real.”
In effect, President Akufo-Addo noted, “The Government of Ghana will fund the cost of public senior high schools for all those who qualify for entry from the 2017/2018 academic year onwards.”
To a rapturous, spontaneous applause from the gathering, he posited, “Let me take this opportunity to spell out clearly what we intend to do so that no one in our country is left with any doubt; by free SHS, we mean that in addition to tuition which is already free, there will be no admission fees, no library fees, no science centre fees, no computer lab fees, no examination fees, no utility fees.”
On top of that, Nana Akufo-Addo announced, “There will be free text books, free boarding and free meals; and day students will get a meal at school for free.”
He indicated that “Free SHS will also cover agricultural, vocational and technical institutions at this high school level.”
The president then rolled out a comprehensive plan for the education sector.
“I also want to state clearly again that we have a well thought-out plan that involves the building of new public senior high schools and cluster public senior high schools,” he revealed.
He observed, “That we [referring to leaderships of the country] have been unable to give all our citizens the education which has enabled the countries of the west and of Asia to thrive is the missing link in our economic development.
He stressed, “I am committed without any equivocation, without any reservation, without any doubt, to take Ghana to the stage where public senior high school education will be free for every Ghanaian child. 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. 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 are 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.”
He has also promised to help refurbish Okuapeman’s school science resource centre for them.
“For those of you students listening to me today, I say you are living in perhaps the most exciting times in our history; most of you have grown up living under the longest interrupted democracy and stability in our history.
This period has also coincided with the longest sustained period of growth in our economy.”
Despite the challenges the country faces, President Akufo-Addo was more than convinced that “democracy has been good for our nation and I’m convinced it will be even better still for us. Some say ‘this is our time;’ I say this is your time and tomorrow will be the time of your children.”
He recognized the role of teachers in the educational sector, saying, “A well trained, confident and contented teacher is at the heart of my government’s delivery of quality education. The views of teachers will be sought on educational policies, innovation and implementation.”
Also, Nana Akufo-Addo assured, “Their professional development and needs will be treated with respect and we shall ensure that teachers’ salaries and allowances are paid regularly and on time.
“Teacher trainee allowances as already announced by the vice president, will be restored in the first budget of the Akufo-Addo presidency scheduled for next month.”
There was another round of spontaneous applause and cheers from the crowd.
In addition to these, he stated, “My administration will also focus on the provision of incentives that will motivate teachers and reward their hard work in the classroom; government will collaborate with GNAT [Ghana National Association of Teachers], NAGRAT [National Association of Graduate Teachers] and other teaching associations to facilitate an affordable housing scheme for teachers.”
President Akufo-Addo promised that teachers would be afforded the opportunity to upgrade their qualifications and “we are in to make the teaching profession once again a proud choice.”
Present at the ceremony were Education Minister, Dr Mathew Opoku Prempeh; Information Minister, Mustapha Hamid; Minister for Regional Reorgansisation and Development, Dan Kwaku Botwe; Member of Parliament (MP) for Akuapim North, Nana Ama Dokua Asiamah-Adjei and Director General of the Ghana Education Service (GES), Jacob Kor.
Also present were the chief of Mamfe, Osabarima Nana Ansah Sasraku III, who doubles as the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the school; Robert De-Graft Agyarko, member of the 1987 year-group of Okuapeman Senior High School, who was the guest speaker; former Minister of State at the office of ex-President Mahama, Elvis Afriyie Ankrah and his colleague Deputy Minister for Health, Victor Bampoe Addo [both old students], Peace FM’s, Kwami Sefa Kayi and Joy News’ Israel Laryea [both alumni] who served as MCs for the programme.
By Charles Takyi-Boadu, Presidential Correspondent