Opinion: Stop peddling lies, Mahama won’t cancel Free SHS

Credit Nana Kofi Acquah for The New York Times

Every moment is an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of those who need help. The greatest legacy a leader can leave behind is the number of lives he/she was able to touch while alive. It is worthless, needless and in fact, wicked for any leader to selfishly amass wealth while the people suffer as it is widely perceived today. For that matter, the goal of every good and visionary president of a nation must be to ensure that the necessary structures are put in place to minimize the suffering of the citizenry.

And this is the sort of thinking that guided former President John Dramani Mahama in his infrastructure agenda during his term in office as president. The African Development Bank (AfDB) estimates that deficient infrastructure reduces Sub-Saharan Africa’s output by about 40 percent, and believes that, to attain middle-income levels, Africa must double its investment in infrastructure. African nations at present invest about 2-3 percent of GDP in infrastructure. By contrast, China invests about 9 percent of its GDP in infrastructure projects.

According to Stephen Hayes, infrastructure is probably the single most important need for Africa to develop. Stephen is the president of the Corporate Council on Africa, a group that promotes US-Africa ties. And as maintained by my good friend, Benjamin Essuman, the difference between a developed and a developing nation is infrastructure.

President Mahama never went wrong with his agenda to develop infrastructure in Ghana to ameliorate the suffering of the poor. And because of time and space I’m going to concentrate on some portions of his basic healthcare and secondary education policies.

Apart from the huge investments the Mahama government made towards the construction of Teaching Hospitals, Regional Hospitals, District Hospitals, Polyclinics, Health Centres and Institutional Hospitals such as the brand new 500-bed Military Hospital in Sewua in the Ashanti Region, 130-bed Maritime Hospital in Tema and the 104-bed Police Hospital Expansion in Accra, what gladdens my heart is the numerous Community-based Health Planning and Service Compounds (CHPS Compounds) his government built.

In all, Former President John Mahama in his quest to bring healthcare to the doorsteps of the rural poor, built 2,860 CHPS Compounds. Each CHPS Compound has features including a General OPD, Delivery Room, Consulting rooms, Nurses Station, Labour Ward and accommodation for staff. This could serve a community of about 5,000 people; which means that the total of 2,860 CHPS Compounds Mahama built will cater for about 14 million of our rural folks, reducing the situation where poor rural dwellers have to travel several kilometres to access emergency health needs such as snake bites, maternity care, accidents, malaria, hypertension, etc., in which case most of them unfortunately die before they get to the next available health post. What a relief!

The vision of President Mahama to provide students of second cycle schools with free education devoid of suffering and excessive problems is not different from what he did in the health sector. He started the building of 200 Community Day Schools, popularly known as the E-blocks to enhance the intake of more students.

As much as the free SHS policy is a good thing, President Akufo-Addo’s government did not think through its implementation to ensure that students of the programme do not learn in an irritating inconvenience.

According to many analysts and education experts including Mr Kofi Bentil, policy analyst and Vice President of Imani Centre for Policy and Education, the poor implementation of the programme will destroy the quality of education in Ghana.

There is a South African saying worth considering here. It says, “Destroying any nation does not require the use of atomic bombs or the use of long range missiles. It only requires lowering the quality of education and allow students to cheat in examinations.”

These signs are already manifesting in Ghana; ill-prepared students of the first batch of the Akufo-Addo’s Free SHS during their final examination, went on rampage and even had the temerity to insult the President of the Republic for not given the opportunity to cheat, something unprecedented in the history of the country.

As a result of poor planning and congestion in dormitories, many students were placed in day schools very far away from their homes, forcing parents to rent hostel rooms for their wards, aside the risk of lack of supervision and exposure to danger.

The Public Interest and Accountability Committee (PIAC) of Parliament revealed in a report not too long ago that the Free SHS policy is saddled with substantial challenges that must be addressed within the shortest possible time to avert the collapse of secondary education in the country.

One of the critical concerns of PIAC was that majority of the schools it visited had insufficient classrooms, beds, laboratories and equipment; poor or inadequate staff quarters, the prevalence of bed bugs, lack of infirmaries and where they exist, there are no qualified nurses to man these facilities. A case in point was when the PIAC team arrived just in time, to save a student who had just had an asthma attack in one of the schools, with no infirmary and no vehicle to convey the student to a health facility.

Besides, the critical teaching staff running the double-track system have no holidays or breaks, as they need to be present during each track to teach, something which has affected and affecting the quality of teaching and learning in public Senior High Schools.

One of the key recommendations made by the Committee of Parliament was that government must expedite action on the provision of infrastructure facilities to end the double-track system, extend contact hours, and relieve staff of the attendant extra pressures. This is exactly what the visionary John Dramani Mahama saw ahead, and started the construction of the E-blocks as a precursor to his free SHS five years ago.

Unlike Akufo-Addo’s policy which started with only first year students, the free education policy of President Mahama covered all day students, 320,488 in all. They were made up of 111,212 first-year, 109,731 second-year and 99,753 third-year students. In fact, almost all fees were absorbed by government; each student had to pay only GHC5 a term. You heard me right. I mean only FIVE GHANA CEDIS was paid a term by each day student. To demonstrate its resolve to successfully kick-start the programme, the government of President Mahama released GHc12.2 million to the Ministry of Education to pay for first term fees in September, 2015.

The big question is: could someone who started the Free SHS with such tremendous ideas turn round and cancel it? Emphatic no! That is clearly a vile propaganda from the desperate camp of President Akufo-Addo who has nothing to show except an ill-managed Free SHS policy after borrowing about three times what his predecessor took as loans for massive infrastructure which are visible across the length and breadth of the country.

I wish to reiterate President Mahama’s solemn promise that when given the mandate to rule Ghana on 7th December, 2020, he will not cancel the Free SHS policy, but will make it better by abolishing the double-track system and expanding the policy to cover the over 280 private SHS in Ghana. This absolutely defines a leader who thinks of his people, and comes out with policies that will lessen their burdens and suffering.

By Anthony Obeng Afrane

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