A former Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana, Professor Emeritus George Benneh, has stated that a free senior high school (SHS) education could be implemented in the country, provided it is backed by the needed commitment by leadership.
According to him, the most important resource for a nation’s economic development is human capital, adding, “I think that is what a free SHS policy seeks to achieve.”
He was of the belief that such a policy was going to plough back into the economy an empowered human resource base.
Presidential candidates of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), the Convention People’s Party (CPP) and the Progressive People’s Party (PPP), have all promised to make SHS education free, if elected into office in the December elections.
The flag bearer of the lead opposition, the NPP, Nana Akufo-Addo, told a gathering at the Institute of Economic Affairs recently that his administration planned to spend GH¢78 million on the implementation of the policy.
The figure, according to Nana Addo, is expected to increase to GH¢774 million within four years of implementation.
The PPP has also proposed a free compulsory and continuous education to SHS level, which would cost the country GH¢4,747,812,158 in the first year of implementation, increasing to GH¢8,888,511,990 over four years.
The CPP, though believes SHS must be free, would set up District Opportunity Industrialisation Centres to cater for the portion of high school graduates who do not qualify for SHS, according to its flag bearer, Dr Abu Sakara Foster.
The subject has generated huge controversy on the workability of such a proposal.
But the one-time Finance and Economic Planning Minister says other countriess which were less economically endowed than Ghana had shown the way that education could be provided to boost national development.
Prof. Benneh was speaking with the Daily Graphic at his residence in Accra.
“It is just an issue of commitment and the outlining of procedures to ensure that it works. Putting such a percentage of our country’s Gross Domestic Product into education, I think, is a worthy investment and if the government would consider it, I think it would work,” he said.
He said the countries that had overtaken Ghana in terms of economic development had succeeded due to an enhanced human resource which was empowered through education.
‘“Education, education, education”, that was how the former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, set out his priorities for office when he was asked his three top priorities during the Labour campaign to put classrooms at the top of the political agenda,’ he said.
“In our country, there is a lot of human capital wastage. A lot of people are denied the opportunity to develop their capacity and contribute to national productivity because they are not empowered,” he added.
According to him, whiles pursuing a free SHS policy was appropriate, there was a deliberate need for efforts to boost teacher motivation to ensure that they are able to put in their best especially in hard-to-reach communities.
The former President of the Association of African Universities, also called for quality infrastructural base to be put in place to ensure that the pressure that such a policy might trigger was adequately contained.
“Above all, it is important for us to invest hugely into science and technology education. This would produce innovative students who would create employment and not wait for the government to employ them. This is how the Malaysians and Singaporeans have gone past us in terms of development,” he said.
He, however, stated that the debate as to the policy’s workability or not must be devoid of sensational party sentiments to ensure that the most constructive of suggestions were taken on board for implementation.
“Thankfully, we have a working democracy that allows for dissent and so all of us, irrespective of our political differences, would have an opportunity to criticise and query any input so we can have the best of it for ourselves. Once we all agree that it is the positive way to go at this point in our national development, let’s put our differences aside and see that it works no matter who is in power,” he said.
He said past educational policies had failed to yield the expected outcomes because their implementers did not back their efforts with strong commitment.
“I think that we’ve made a lot of gains as a country and we need to solidify our achievements to ensure that our people benefit directly,” he added.