On Thursday April 11, 2019 Former President John Mahama and his NDC leadership organized a lecture on the State of Education in Ghana at the University of Cape Coast Auditorium. Statements from this public lecture and its aftermath almost bordered on presidential misconduct on the part of a former Head of State who should have known better not to rail against the implementation of an entrenched clause in the 1992 constitution of Ghana.
Obviously former President John Mahama and his team were already in a campaign mode well ahead of the December 2020 general elections with focused and unveiled attacks on the free SHS policy just as our dear President Nana Akufo Addo had made free SHS his singular overriding campaign promise since 2008.
Apparently former President Mahama is dwelling on outstanding teething problems of the free SHS policy hoping to claw back the solid political gains that the ruling NPP government has registered with free SHS. This is a tall order for the former President and his team who are engaged in a questionable remedial campaign for power in 2020.
All our dear President Nana Akufo Addo and his capable team will have to do for another well-deserved popular mandate for four more years is to engage with SHS students, teachers and parents alike to dispassionately discuss, identify and correct all bottlenecks in the implementation of the free SHS programme.
Entrenched Constitutional Provision
The free SHS policy is a genuine effort of Nana Akufo Addo and his NPP government to fulfil the requirement for Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE) as entrenched in the 1992 constitution. As strong advocates for the rule of law and strictly following the guiding principles of the Great Elephant Tradition, Nana Akufo Addo and his team knew clearly well that there is the urgent need to trigger this constitutional provision for free education.
The framers of the 1992 constitution have all experienced in practical terms right here in Ghana the remarkable benefits of free education and therefore entrenched it in the constitution. In the eight years of former President John Mahama and his NDC administration, they rather tried to apply a narrow interpretation of the same constitutional provision that talks of “progressive introduction of free education,” as compared to Nana Addo’s categorical free SHS policy.
Secondly, our dear President Nana Akufo Addo was fully aware how the free SHS policy neatly fit into NPP’s national industrialization agenda. The agenda provided for a well-qualified and highly productive labour force that can possibly enter directly into the job market right after Senior High School. On assumption of office in 2017, Nana Akufo Addo therefore raised basic education to SHS level and subsequently triggered the constitutionally mandated FCUBE policy at that level that same 2017/18 academic year. The response was phenomenal but the policy came with its corresponding teething problems.
During the 2017/18 academic year, determined not to leave any graduating JHS student behind, the government paid for the BECE registration fees for all final year students. That in part resulted in more than doubling the size of the 2018/19 SHS first year intake as compared with the 2017/18 intake. The Ghana Education Service then resorted to the gold and green double track intake solution as a stop-gap approach.
Other teething problems found expression in intense pressure on scarce resources including school infrastructure, teaching staff and teaching materials. The problem was further compounded by a totally depleted GETfund. As we speak, the government is working round the clock to find lasting solutions to these teething problems.
How can former President/NDC Flagbearer and his 2020 campaign team be trusted to provide solutions to teething problems arising from rolling out the free SHS programme? This is a pro-poor education policy they don’t believe in and even want to scrap. Their negative criticisms can only negatively impact the good options available and must therefore be ignored.
Former President/NDC Flagbearer John Mahama has gotten the import of free SHS education policy of our dear President Nana Akufo Addo all wrong. For a former President of the Republic who had sworn the presidential oath three times to protect and defend the constitution of Ghana now to be seen railing against the constitutionally mandated FCUBE and by extension free SHS is hypocrisy at its highest.
Getting the Message Clear
The message must be sent out clearly and strongly. At this critical stage of our development, our blessed homeland Ghana must first catch up with itself. We are not even talking of catching up with the Asian Tigers. For the first time in Ghana’s history, the Great Elephant Tradition is about to take Ghana on a development trajectory never before experienced in our lifetime. It is a trajectory of rapid national transformation anchored in systemic and sustainable industrial development with skilled and highly productive labour force coming from nowhere but from our youth.
However, we must first eschew all unworkable leftist and socialist experiments and all self-defeating revolutionary hypocrisies of the past. It must from now be understood that the free SHS education policy forms an essential part of the catch-up plan that must all fall neatly in place over the long haul. Secondly, it would be counterproductive at this stage to put such pro-poor national policies as free SHS, national health insurance, and labour intensive export-driven agro-processing and manufacturing in the hands of those who don’t understand them and who would just want to take advantage of them for their own parochial interests.
Of course, practical and durable solutions to our teething free SHS problems would eventually be found from the myriad of available options. Not those proffered by former President/NDC Flagbearer John Mahama who is now up for a remedial campaign in 2020 for whatever reasons.
On 7th January 2021 when the abysmal failure of his 2020 remedial campaign is reconfirmed, former President John Mahama should answer why such a statesman should choose to rail against the implementation of an entrenched clause in the 1992 constitution of Ghana. He should also answer why he should not be stopped from carrying himself as a dignified former Head of State and not continue to enjoy all the perks that go with that position.