Today, Monday, September 11, 2017, all senior high schools (SHSs) across the country reopen to begin the 2017/18 academic year.
Ordinarily, the reopening would have passed without any fanfare, as the reopening of SHSs is a normal occurrence.
However, this particular reopening is significant in more ways than one.
In the first place, it is the first time in many years that first-year and continuing students are reporting to school on the same day.
More importantly, today marks the beginning of the government’s eagerly awaited flagship educational programme, the free SHS policy.
Preparation for launch
As all SHSs throughout the country prepare and ready themselves to welcome fresh students to begin the academic year today, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo is expected to officially launch the programme at the West Africa SHS (WASS) at Adentan in the Greater Accra Region tomorrow.
When the Daily Graphic visited WASS yesterday, it observed that all the kerbs on the road leading to WASS were being white-washed, while all outgrown weeds had been mowed to give the entrance of the school a facelift.
Even though those doing the painting would not talk to the Daily Graphic, sources close to the school explained that the painting was in anticipation of the President’s visit to the school tomorrow.
They said final touches would be put in place on the school compound today to make it fitting for the launch of the educational milestone.
At the Okuapeman SHS earlier this year, President Akufo-Addo had spelt out what was entailed in the free SHS policy.
“Let me take this opportunity to spell out clearly what we intend to do, so that no one in Ghana is left in any doubts. 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; there will be free textbooks, free boarding and free meals, and day students will get a meal at school for free.
“Free SHS will also cover agricultural, vocational and technical institutions at the high school level. 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,” he explained.
Free SHS and SDGs
The free SHS policy is in line with the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Four, Target One, which states: “By 2030, all boys and girls complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education, leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes.”
It also stipulates that by 2030, all girls and boys will have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education, so that they are ready for primary education.
Era of financial constraint
The policy effectively marks the end of the era when financial constraints were a barrier to the aspirations of children who wanted secondary education in the country.
The free SHS/technical and vocational education and training (TVET) programme is a package comprising the removal of cost barriers, the physical expansion of school infrastructure, improvement in the quality of secondary education, equity and the acquisition of skills for employment.
Statistics available indicate that on the average more than 140,000 students are either not placed by the Computerised Schools Selection and Placement System (CSSPS) or placed but do not enrol, largely because of financial barriers, every year.
Out of the number of students placed by the CSSPS yearly, more than 25 per cent do not enrol, while the northern scholarship admission and placement trend shows that an average of 11.48 per cent of candidates placed by the CSSPS do not enrol.
For instance, in 2013, out of the 352,202 candidates who were placed, 90,604 did not enrol, while in 2014 the number of candidates who did not enrol, although they qualified, was 113,260.
In the case of 2015, the number of candidates who did not enrol was 115,363, while that of 2016 was 111,336.
As Ghanaians wait for the official launch of the free SHS policy tomorrow, it is hoped that these figures will drop significantly, as is evident in the north of the country where SHS students benefit from the northern students scholarship.