Should the Akufo-Addo’s government numerous and purposeful social intervention policies and programmes go according to schedule, the ever-widening social mobility gap will most likely be reduced to the barest minimum.
In theory, by introducing the Free SHS, Akufo-Addo is graciously working towards the reduction of the canker of poverty.
Education, in practice, drives the development of a nation, thus the logical approach to improving accessibility and quality is not through political rhetoric and unfulfilled promises, but through well-thought through policies such as the Akufo-Addo’s Free SHS.
Given the enormous benefits therein education, it is, indeed, prudent and somewhat forward-thinking for Akufo-Addo’s government to seek to bridge the ever-widening social inequalities chasm through rational distribution of national resources in the form of Free SHS.
And more so the fact that the erstwhile ambivalent NDC government needlessly left behind a huge debt stock amid harsh socio-economic standards of living, it is, indeed, commendable for Akufo-Addo’s government to afford to implement the seemingly admirable, albeit costly social intervention such as Free SHS.
If we stroll down memory lane, one unique campaign message that dominated the 2008, 2012 and 2016 general elections was the poverty alleviation Free SHS.
While candidate Akufo-Addo and his NPP were promising to implement Free SHS if voted into power, candidate Mahama and his NDC were all over the place campaigning vigorously against the policy.
Regrettably, however, Ghanaians mistakenly bought into NDC’s ‘message’ in two consecutive elections (2008 and 2012) and turned down the seemingly advantageous Free SHS offer.
But lo and behold, on 7th December 2016, the good people of Ghana saw the light and gave the Free SHS ‘promiser’ (Akufo-Addo) a massive endorsement.
To his credit though, within a year into his four-year mandate, President Akufo-Addo estimably implemented the Free SHS to the delight of Ghanaian parents and their children.
Sadly, however, no less a person than Ex-President Mahama has conveniently and persistently been criticising Akufo-Addo for implementing the Free SHS policy, allegedly, at the expense of other developmental projects (see: ‘Free SHS crippling other sectors-Mahama, classfmonline.com/ghanaweb.com, 24/02/2018).
Former President Mahama was quoted to have lamented during one of the NDC’s unity health walks: “The problem this government is facing and it is in their own interest, is that, Free Senior High School is absorbing all the fiscal space they have and so almost every money you have, you are having to put it into Free Senior High School. So you can’t pay District Assemblies Common Fund, you can’t pay NHIS (National Health Insurance Scheme), you can’t pay GET Fund (Ghana Education Trust Fund), you can’t pay other salaries and things because all your money is going into Free Senior High School.”
Rightly so, observers can draw and adverse inference from the preceding criticisms that Mahama does not fancy the Free SHS, and therefore he is not ready to spend huge amount of money to run the policy.
It is, therefore, not the least surprising that Mahama and the minority NDC operatives prefer “progressively free” (whatever that means) to NPP’s comprehensively free.
In fact, unless I come across as the worst performer in mathematics, I cannot fathom how and why the NDC’s ‘Progressively Free SHS’ of GH48 per student is better than the NPP’s GH1844.27 per student a year.
Dearest reader, isn’t it worrying that after campaigning and voting against the poverty alleviation Free SHS during the 2016 election, albeit unsuccessful, the NDC operatives now have the brashness to protest vehemently against the Free SHS implementation?
But in spite of the initial exigencies, the Free SHS will suffice. So the endless attacks and unfair criticisms will not and cannot bring the scheme down.
For, if nothing at all, the Free SHS policy will bring enormous benefits to the students, parents and the nation as a whole.
Of course, the universal free education has been introduced in a number of jurisdictions across our own continent, Africa.
It is, therefore, heart-warming to state that, in spite of the initial challenges, the policy has sufficed in those jurisdictions. So, why not in Ghana?
In 2007, Uganda became the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to introduce free universal secondary education. Under the secondary scheme, students who get specific grades in each of the four primary school-leaving exams study free in public schools and participating in private schools.
The government of Kenya, in 2002, declared a universal free primary school, and followed it up with a free secondary schooling education programme in 2008.
In Namibia, a former South African colony under apartheid, primary education was declared free in 2012, while secondary education became free from 2016.
The poverty alleviation Free SHS policy, in fact, reinforces the United Nations vision on human development and the right to development.
We should, however, not lose sight of the fact that per the right to development, development is shifting from the conventional approach to human rights approach, whereby the focus is on equity and social justice (Mansell and Scot 1994).
It was against that background that the international community agreed to work in valence to assist the underdeveloped nations in line with the provisions of the UN Declaration on the Right to Development.
So far there have been concerted efforts by the international community to concretise the Right to Development by first implementing the eight Millennium Development Goals with a view to developing a global partnership for development (Alston 2005).
Apparently, the MDGS came to an end at the end of 2015 and replaced with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Under the Sustainable Development Goals, every country would be obliged to meet the targets set therein (UN 2015).
Let us face it, though, as the international community heads toward implementing and monitoring the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals agenda, the human development approach remains useful to articulating the objectives of development and improving people’s well-being by ensuring an equitable, sustainable and stable world.
In hindsight, human development – or the human development approach- is about expanding the richness of human life. It is an approach that is focused on people and their opportunities and choices.
Human development, in reality, focuses on improving the lives of people rather than assuming that economic growth will lead, automatically, to greater wellbeing for all.
In other words, human development is about giving people more freedom to live lives they value. In effect, this implies developing people’s abilities and giving them a chance to improve their lives.
Take, for example, educating a large number of children would build their skills, but it is of little, or no use if they are denied access to jobs, or do not have the right skills for the local labour market.
Basically, human development is about more choices. It is about providing people with opportunities.
The human development approach, developed by the economist Mahbub Ul Haq, is encapsulated in the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s work on human capabilities, often framed in terms of whether people are able to “be” and “do” desirable things in life. Examples include-Beings: well-fed, sheltered, healthy; Doings: work, education, voting, participating in community life (HDR 2015).
Since 1990, 2 billion people have been lifted out of low human development, extreme income poverty has been reduced by more than a billion. Every region of the world has seen Human Development Index (HDI) gains (HDR 2015).
In a grand scheme of things, the process of development – human development – in the form of Akufo-Addo’s free SHS, should at least create an environment for people, individually and collectively, to develop to their full potential and to have a reasonable chance of leading productive and creative lives that they value.
In sum, some of us, as a matter of excellence, will always choose Akufo-Addo’s Comprehensively Free SHS over Mahama’s Progressively Free SHS.
K. Badu, UK.
Columnist: Kwaku Badu