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Free SHS and teething funding issues

By: Ama Amankwah Baafi
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FLASHBACK: President Akufo-Addo and Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia in a pose for the cameras after they jointly unveiled the Free SHS Logo at the Flagstaff House last two years.
FLASHBACK: President Akufo-Addo and Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia in a pose for the cameras after they jointly unveiled the Free SHS Logo at the Flagstaff House last two years.


The Free Senior High School (FSHS) education policy in all public SHSs and technical/vocational institutions (TVETS) in Ghana can be described as one of the important government social intervention programmes considering the net effect on the citizenry.
If there has ever been a time when an intervention has been that impactful and the benefits had spread among the wider Ghanaian populace, then it is the FSHS, which has no doubt brought so much financial relief to parents and guardians.

Indeed, government’s decision to invest a chunk of the country’s resources into the implementation of its flagship programme comes with the challenge of finding money to fund the programme, which has a mixed source of funding, with the government relying on the country’s oil revenues.
Looking at the bigger picture, is the issue of sustainable funding for the programme which arguabably is the most transformative intervention.

Actual cost
An economist and former Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana, Prof. Ernest Aryeetey, is projecting that it will cost the country GH¢3.3 billion to fund the FSHS Policy in the coming academic year.
The amount, which is exclusive of salaries for staff, is almost thrice the GH¢1.3 billion that was budgeted for the policy in the 2018 budget.
However, an amount of GH¢679.6 million has been earmarked for the programme, out of a total GH¢2.1 billion oil money allocated to the Annual Budget Funding Amount (ABFA) for 2019. It is unclear how the government is going to make up for the shortfall in funding.

Funding challenges
At the inception of the FSHS, most of the schools prepared their budgets and expected 100 per cent disbursement, but it seems not to be so. The government is disbursing a percentage and the rest provided in terms of supplies.
Some schools have said they received slightly above the stipulated 20 per cent of their projection. However, they did not receive any written advice to spending.
Again, the government under the programme announced that it would provide free core textbooks to the schools and was silent on elective textbooks. At the same time, it issued a directive to the schools not to sell textbooks.
Consequently, the management in beneficiary schools are facing challenges in getting the students to get their elective textbooks on their own. Parents have refused to buy for their wards, because to them, the government says they should not pay for anything.
The situation, some head teachers say, is making teaching and learning difficult and have appealed to the government to include elective textbooks under the FSHS.
The management of some schools also complain that government grants, subsidies and scholarships are not received on time.

Other challenges
There are challenges with food supplies to the schools as some of them have recorded instances of receiving flour when they are almost expired. However, through vigilance of storekeepers, they can detect and notify the suppliers for replacement.
Such supplies include maize, flour and palm oil.

Non-disclosure of prices
Another common trend in the FSHS policy is that the schools have no idea the unit price of the supplies as the suppliers never disclose it to them, except the quantity due them.
In some instances, supplies are sent to the schools from as far as Accra, whereas such products are in abundance in their regions; causing a delay.
Some experts have said that weak grades being admitted to the schools is a threat to the sustainability of the programme, with some aggregates as high as from 45 to 52.
Such students may need additional contact hours to lay the foundations.

Enrolment
The FSHS policy has no doubt put a stress on existing facilities as the schools try to accommodate the numbers. Most schools are battling the invasion of bedbugs, which some have attributed to the lack of adequate ventilation due to the increase in numbers.

Public views
    Some Ghanaians believe that a cut-off point of at least aggregate 30 for enrolment is important to ensure a fair ranking of the schools, or else some will always be ranked low.
Others say parents must show some commitment to their wards and get textbooks for them to enhance teaching and learning.
To some, the loopholes in the supply of items for the programme leaves room for corruption and hence needs to be checked. At least, the schools should be provided the price per unit for their assessments and records.

Expenditure 
The government spent GH¢800 million on the FSHS in the 2017/2018 academic year. A breakdown shows that GH¢209 million was expended in the second term and same amount was spent in the third term.
A total of GH¢600 million was earmarked for the first term of the 2018/2019 academic year, which began in September last year, of which GH¢400 million was to be spent on the fresh students and GH¢200 million for the continuing students.
Enrolment at the beginning of implementation of the free SHS was about 361,771 students. In the first term, a total of GH¢400 million, representing one third of the total funding requirement, was used to support the programme.
The Minister of Finance, Mr Ken Ofori-Atta, said in 2018, 270,000 students (90,000 in 2017/2018 and 180,000 in 2018/2019) benefited from the FSHS.
The enrolment in 2018 was 490,882, representing an increase of 36 per cent over the 2017 enrolment of 361,771.


Recent developments
The Ghana Education Service (GES), in a bid to streamline and review all monetary issues, has suspended the collection of levies in the name of parent-teacher associations (PTAs), alleging a proliferation of various levies under the guise of PTA levies.

Again, it has directed all heads of SHSs to strictly comply with the stipulated fees for the 2018/2019 academic year.

It said, “For the avoidance of doubt, the total fees for the SHS and TVET Year Three boarding students for the 2018/19 academic year are GH¢1,606.60 and GH¢1,636.60 respectively.
“Any fees already paid by a student in excess of the approved fees for the first semester should be credited to the student’s account for the second semester.”
 
2019 budget
An amount of GH¢679.6 million has been earmarked for the FSHS programme, out of a total GH¢2.1 billion oil money allocated to the Annual Budget Funding Amount (ABFA) for 2019.
This amount, which is GH¢223.7 million more than the previous year’s allocation of GH¢455.9 million, is expected to help address some of the teething challenges.
Mr Ofori-Atta said in 2018, 270,000 students (90,000 in 2017/2018 and 180,000 in 2018/2019) benefited from the FSHS.
The enrolment in 2018 was 490,882, representing an increase of 36 per cent over the 2017 enrolment of 361,771.