According to VVOB “A good quality education is one that provides all learners with capabilities they require to become economically productive, develop sustainable livelihoods, contribute to peaceful and democratic societies and enhance individual well-being”. If this aim is to be achieved, then it requires equity in education for all. “The World Declaration on Education for All, adopted in Jomtien, Thailand (1990) and the Dakar Framework for Action (2000) set out an overall vision: universalizing access to education for all children, youth and adults, and promoting equity.
This means being proactive in identifying the barriers that may be encountered in accessing educational opportunities and identifying the resources needed to overcome those barriers. Equity in education is therefore the means to achieving equality. It intends to provide the best opportunities for all students to achieve their full potential and act to address instances of disadvantage which restrict educational achievement.
It is important to note that MDG 2, concentrated on achieving universal primary education for all boys and girls of school going age, but it was silent on free education. The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 4 on the other hand is to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. In a way, the SDG number 4 places some emphasis on free education.
It is in line with the Sustainable Development Goals 4 that government is coming out with the free SHS policy. We believe this is to ensure achieving inclusive and quality education for all to reaffirm that education is one of the most powerful and proven vehicles for sustainable development. This goal will ensure that all girls and boys complete free primary and secondary schooling by 2030. It also aims to provide equal access to affordable vocational training, to eliminate gender and wealth disparities, and achieve universal access to a quality higher education.
The free SHS policy is a bold decision government has taken. Its full implementation requires that government bridges the gap between the poor and the rich as far as access to quality education is concern. Government must create the enabling environment by providing the needed infrastructure and facilities to enable the poor especially, to get access to quality education.
If the free SHS policy is to work efficiently, then government has to ensure that every child irrespective of where he/she is, must have access to education. It is the responsibility of government to ensure that more schools are built for easy access. In addition, ensure that well trained and qualified teachers are posted to the schools for efficient education delivery. Not that alone, government must make funds available to the Ghana Education Service and for that matter the Regional and District Directorates of Education as well as the second cycle Institutions to enable them function effectively. Teachers should also be well resourced and motivated for effective teaching and learning delivery. Currently, the delay in releasing feeding grants to schools in the three northern regions should serve as an example to us in trying to implement the free SHS programme.
Furthermore, the schools must be supplied with the needed teaching and learning materials. Effective and quality education cannot be achieved in a situation where textbooks, chalk or markers, science equipment, etc would not be available for use by teachers and students.
It should be observed from the above that to achieve quality education it requires quality teachers, quality teaching and learning materials, quality environment and above all financing. Now, how does government source funds to implement the free SHS policy: Government needs to be proactive in its taxation systems. Government should employ a tax efficient system to generate enough revenue for the purpose.
Government should make sure that all leakages of tax evasion are sealed in order to gain more. According to a research by Action Aid; “It is estimated that the government of Ghana gives away about $1.2 billion every year in harmful tax incentives. This money should properly be collected to form part of the national budget. 20% of this tax incentive granted annually could restore more than 600,000 extra places for children in school or feed 6 million children annually, or yet still employ extra 92,000 teachers”.
The provision of Free SHS is a good policy but its success will require a high level of commitment from all stakeholders in education especially government. It is our expectation that the needed commitment will be demonstrated by all for the benefit of the present generation and posterity.