Gertrude Afiba Torto
Faculty of Educational Foundations, College of Education Studies, University of Cape Coast – GHANA
The implementation of policies to
make education free
The ultimate goal of education is to help an individual navigate life and contribute to society, and for a whole country, it is the “premise of progress” (Kofi Annan, former U.N Secretary- General). Therefore, when a huge percentage of the country’s citizens are not being educated, the country could be plunged into doom. When a strong foundation in education is laid, it gives the people the power and liberation from colonialism, to forge ahead and build a strong workforce for the country. Thus, every government needs to make education, especially the foundation, accessible to all its citizens.
Ghana’s basic education, until 2019, started from kindergarten 1 through to Junior High School 3. Ghana being a developing country, saw the need to empower its people through educating the citizenry, therefore, after the government tried implementing policies that will subsidize or make education free.
Governments of Ghana, in the past, launched and implemented various policies that will ensure that all school children had equal access to and participated in basic education. This was in a bid to demonstrate their preference for education for all. Some of these policies were The Accelerated Education Development Plan (ADP) of 1951, The Education Strategic Plan (ESP) for 2003–2005, and the free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (fCUBE) policy for 1995–2005 ((Acheampong, 2009). Ghana launched the fCUBE, in 1995, which was supported by the World Bank Primary School Development Project (PSDP) to ensure that all children of school-going age were enrolled in school. This policy had the vision of making basic education accessible to all Ghanaians living in all areas in Ghana, whether in the urban, peri-urban, or rural areas of the country, to conform with the 1992 constitution of Ghana concerning education which reads,
All persons shall have the right to equal educational opportunities and facilities and with a view to achieving the full realization of that right, basic education shall be free, compulsory, and available to all (Constitution of the Republic of Ghana, 1992).
Ingraining measures to sustain this law, the government of Ghana implemented the fCUBE which covered the non-tuition fees of pupils whilst parents bore some educational expenses. The fCUBE was therefore a cost-sharing policy. The aim of the government was perhaps to ease the burden on parents and guardians concerning school expenses.
A lot of sensitizations went on to inform parents and guardians about the need to send their wards to school. The policy was also to ensure that no child of school-going age was to be turned away from school for non-payment of fees. So, though pupils were required to pay some fees, the non-payment did not allow school authorities to send pupils out of school. However, research reported that ‘a persistent 40% of children between 6 and 11 years in Ghana’s schools remained out of school as of 2003 (UNICEF, 2007). This statistic indicated that the vision of the fCUBE had not been achieved. The non-achievement of this vision, perhaps, was a result of education not being free.
In 2004, under the leadership of a newly elected democratic government, Ghana abolished the payment of school fees at the basic level and in addition, introduced the Capitation Grant and the School Feeding Program. This was to further help attain and perhaps to maintain education for all as a way of attaining universal access to basic education and also to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets (2 and 3), (Ampratwum & Armah-Attoh, 2010). These policies increased enrolment greatly, but there were still children who were out of school. Whilst the fee abolition and the capitation grant policies covered all public basic schools, the feeding program was limited to some selected schools; schools that had poor enrolment.
School feeding program as a
strategy to boost enrolment
The School Feeding Program (SFP) is one where the government ‘provides food to children in primary schools in poor and deprived communities to increase enrolment and retention’ (Salifu; Boateng & Kunduzore, 2018, p. 4.). It is important to note that not all schools in Ghana enjoyed this SFP as the SFP was practiced in schools with low enrolment rates and in schools that were set up in very poor communities. This could mean that pupils in schools where the SFP is not taking place may continue to play truant or drop out of school. There were however successes that were chalked with the implementation of the SFP. Studies conducted on the SFP in Ghana and in other countries where this has taken place revealed that through the implementation of the Program in many basic schools, enrolment and retention in the area increased (Iddrisu, 2016; Kristjansson, Robinson, Petticrew, MacDonald, Krasevec, Janzen, & Shea, 2007; Osei-Fosu, 2011).
The capitation grant scheme
The capitation grant is a scheme introduced by the government where each pupil enrolled in a school receives an amount of GH 4.50. This amount of money was given to the heads of schools for running the school. This money was to cater to the non-tuition fees for each pupil. This grant was to make basic education attractive, especially to the poor who could not afford to pay for education. Research has proven that the introduction of the capitation grant came with it an increase in enrollment at the basic level of education (Northern Network for Education Development (NNED) & Ghana National Education Campaign Coalition and Northern Network (GNECC), 2006).
The grant has however suffered some challenges. Some of these challenges are: cumbersome procedure of accessing the grant by headteachers who have to travel to the district capitals to submit their budgets to the district budget officer, bank charges that ultimately reduce the money received by the school, delays in releasing the money, just to mention a few.
How free is Ghana’s basic education?
When the fCUBE was introduced, it was a cost-sharing policy. Parents were to pay for expenses other than the tuition fees. Parents and guardians were made to pay for sports fees, cultural fees, and examination/printing of questions fees. Whereas some of the fees were approved by the Ghana Education Service, others were non-approved fees which schools collected from pupils. In addition to these fees, pupils were to purchase their school uniforms and stationery. In 2004, the payment of the extra fees such as sports, culture, and others were canceled as the capitation grant was introduced by the government. However, pupils were still made to buy supplementary books and school uniforms. Schools conducted extra classes after school hours and pupils had to pay for that also. Some schools introduced Friday uniforms for the pupils and these were sold to them. These were in a bid to generate income for running the school, as the capitation grants were always delayed (Foli, 2019). However, these payments did not make education free.
Free education at the Senior High
In 2019, Ghana had a major curriculum review where basic education was now defined to cover Senior High School (SHS) education. That is, basic education starts from kindergarten through to the SHS. The government also introduced the free senior high school policy where students enjoy free tuition, textbooks, and stationery, free boarding facilities for those who go to the boarding schools, free lunch for day students, and school uniforms for all. This was a promise presented in a political manifesto by the present government. This free education policy was seen as a good step taken, by the people of Ghana, especially for the poor masses who hitherto could not send their wards to the SHS.
However, the kindergarten, primary, and JHS levels had not received any beefing up with regards to free education. Though pupils at these levels (kindergarten, primary, JHS) do not pay fees, they still buy their stationary, uniforms, school bags, etc. Textbooks to be distributed by the government were unduly over delayed, and pupils went to school without available textbooks. Teachers had to look for information on the internet to teach their pupils. Some headteachers even had to suggest to parents to buy some textbooks for their wards. Thus, even though the president is doing a great job by making SHS education accessible for all, the foundational level is still weak, since the former ‘canker’ fighting free education at this level is still inherent.
The need to regard education as a
fundamental human right
With all the efforts made by various governments to make basic education free, there is still a huge percentage of primary school level children who do not complete the primary level of school in the country. According to the Ghana Education Fact Sheets (2020), 31% of males and 28% of females dropped out of school. There is also 7% of children who should be at the primary level, out of school in the country as of 2020. Again, 29% of children aged between 3 years and 4 years who should be enrolled in an early childhood center, are not in school. The statistics show that the majority of the percentage of children who are either not in school or dropped out happen to be in the rural areas.
Again, not every JHS student gains admission into the SHS. This means that not all students complete basic education. Measures, therefore, need to be taken so that a greater percentage of students in Ghana can complete basic education. The right to education is not spelled out as a fundamental human right where a person who has been refused education could seek redress. As it stands now in the constitution of Ghana, education is a right but being out of school does not attract any punishment by the government. Until education is placed on the same level as the right to life and made completely free, some parents and guardians will have an excuse to deny their wards the right to education.
Currently, in some rural areas in Ghana, the structures put in place for schools are not welcoming and attractive. There are still schools set up under trees as reported by Mohammed Ibrahim on Zaaradio that Ghana has 5,403 schools with deplorable school structures, with 2,417 schools under trees across the country (2021). Some schools lack qualified teachers because those schools are situated in deprived communities without accessible roads, potable drinking water, electricity, and other basic amenities, where no teacher would want to live. According to Kofi Annan, “Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy, and sustainable human development.” There is, therefore, the need for government to provide amenities in all areas in the country to attract teachers to those communities to work. Education should also be made free especially for the poor so that they can send their wards to school. It is only then that some form of punishment could be meted out to guardians who keep their wards out of school. When these measures have been put in place and are working out well, then the vision of achieving the 1992 constitutional right to education would be met.
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