The Public Interest and Accountability Committee (PIAC) has raised a series of concerns with the government’s implementation of the free Senior High School (SHS) policy.
Observations made by PIAC suggest that some key issues are hampering the effective implementation of the policy as well as affecting the quality education being provided at the second cycle level.
PIAC in its 2018 and 2019 monitoring report noted that about GHS680 million was allocated for the programme in 2019, as against GHS 415 million in 2018.
The report observed that though the policy directly resulted in improved enrolment and feeding of students, supply of textbooks, uniforms and jerseys, and the early reporting of students to school; a lack of, or inadequate infrastructure, an over-burdened critical teaching staff, a dumping of poor-grade students particularly in deprived schools, as well as delays in releasing funding, were threats to the Free SHS program.
Additionally, it emerged that there is no transparency in the selection of suppliers for the schools. According to PIAC, the lack of advice to recipient schools on the value of goods supplied portends a corruption risk as the lack of transparency provides cover for cost manipulation.
The lack of cost information also makes it difficult to complete the school accounts as the various schools indicated that their request for advice has so far been ignored.
“Some schools experience delays in receipt of funds, sometimes transferred in tranches within or across terms. About 85 percent of the schools visited had to rely on the funds of the non-free SHS students to cater for all streams of students until funds are disbursed from the Free SHS Secretariat. If this is not addressed, it will impact negatively on the running of the schools when the programme runs a full stream,” portions of the report read.
PIAC also monitored that, the abolition of cut-off grades in the admission of students has led to a situation of dumping of poor-grade students in schools, particularly deprived schools.
To tackle the challenges that have fraught the implementation of the Free SHS, PIAC proffered solutions which among other things included the provision of more infrastructure and staff to end the current double-track system.
Moreso, PIAC is asking the government to reintroduce the cut-off points for prospective SHS students as some students with poor results find it difficult to cope with academic work along the line.
The Committee, therefore, encouraged that:
Vigilance on the part of school authorities in monitoring the quality of supplies, such as inspecting the expiry dates among others. This will prevent the suppliers from using the schools as dumping grounds.
In order to avoid the recurrence of over and undersupply of food items, supply of food items by the Buffer Stock Company should be based on orders from the schools.
Supply contracts for uniforms and house vests should be given out early enough to forestall delays.
The Committee strongly recommends full transparency in the delivery of supplies to the schools and in particular the Buffer Stock Company must ensure that all goods supplied are accompanied by advice on the value and quantity of the goods.
Cut-off grades (thresholds) for admitting students should be restored, as students with poor grades struggle with subjects during the course of the term.
The Ghana Education Service should pay more attention to the basic schools to improve the quality of students for the second cycle schools.
Government must ensure that disbursements to the schools are done expeditiously as the non-free SHS students phase out, to avoid closure of the schools and disruptions to the academic calendar. Technical and Vocational Schools should be adequately resourced with the necessary equipment and teaching materials. Government must expedite action on the provision of infrastructure facilities to end the double-track system, extend contact hours, and relieve staff of the attendant extra pressures.
The Committee welcomes the streamlining of the guidelines on the operations of the PTAs where Parents Associations are now allowed to operate as voluntary associations outside the control of the school authorities.
The PIAC report was aimed at obtaining first-hand information on the progress of implementation of the policy, the challenges and opportunities, and identifying areas for improvement.
This was done in line with the Committee’s mandate of monitoring and evaluating compliance with the Petroleum Revenue Management Act, 2015 (Act 815) as amended in the management of petroleum revenues, and conducting independent assessments of the management and use of these revenues.
It covered 51 schools across eight (8) regions, comprising, Ashanti, Brong Ahafo, Central, Greater Accra, Northern, Upper East, Upper West and Western regions.