Full text of President’s speech at launch of free SHS

Today is a very happy day for the good people of Ghana, for the government, and for me personally.
I am here, this morning, to perform a very pleasant task: to launch the commencement of the Free Senior High School policy. When I proposed this policy in 2008, many were those who said Free SHS could not be done.

The idea was ridiculed, and was described by propagandists as a vote-buying gimmick, even though, ironically, it did not win me that election. I was labeled a liar by my opponents, who went on to state that Free SHS could only be possible in 20 years time. Nonetheless, the Ghanaian people were discerning, and believed it was possible.

The culmination of that belief, inter alia, resulted in the decisive victory won by the New Patriotic Party and my modest self in the elections of 2016. I made the pledge of providing every Ghanaian child with access to senior high school, because I know that knowledge and talent are not for the rich and privileged alone, and that free education widens the gates of opportunities to every child, especially those whose talents are arrested because of poverty. A government may not be able to make every citizen rich.

But, with political will and responsible leadership, a government can help create a society of opportunities and empowerment for every citizen, and I know no better way to do so but through access to education. Any country that aims to transform itself into a modern productive player in the global marketplace must get its educational policies right.

Our economy, for over a century, has been dependent largely on the production and export of raw materials.
This cannot, and will not create prosperity for the masses of Ghanaians. We must move from being a natural resource producer to a value-added producer, adding value to our natural resources, and, thereby, reaping higher benefits from them. A recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has estimated that providing every child with access to education and the skills needed to participate fully in society would boost GDP by an average 28% per year in lower-income countries for the next 80 years.

The countries that have made rapid progress around the world put education at the heart of their development. In the mid nineteenth century, the United States of America began to transition to publicly funded high school education. It must have been a daunting prospect at the time – paying for the education of so many children, for such an extended period of time out of limited public resources, transferring a potential workforce away from immediate productivity for an investment like schooling.

But the experiment paid off. America set herself up for 20th century success, creating a workforce fit for rapid economic development, which has inspired the emergence of the most powerful economy so far known to human history. Indeed, other nations, who began their lives as independent states at the same time as we did, like Singapore, Malaysia and Korea, have emulated a similar model and have also achieved great economic success.

In fact, in their case, they followed Japan’s excellent example. Ghana, under my leadership, is determined to follow suit. Education creates social mobility. Market women and fishermen, farmers and traders, entrepreneurs and workers, taxi drivers and artisans, hawkers and kayayei, and, indeed, every mother and father, all hope that education will help their children escape poverty and give them access to a good life.

Currently, at every stage of education, our children are falling out of the system. To our continuing shame, some children born in this country never make it to a classroom. Available data must be of great concern to us all. Over the last four years, an average of 100,000 BECE graduates, who are placed in our public senior high schools each year, do not take up their place.

This means that, in the next decade, about one million of our young men and women would have had their education terminated at junior high school. Such a situation is totally unacceptable, and I am determined to end it. This is why my government is, today, beginning the implementation of the Free Senior High School Policy. This year, the number of students, who could not have access to senior high school, has dropped to 36,000, not because of the cost of high fees, but because, unfortunately, they could not attain the requisite qualification mark.

The policy enables this much reduced number to re-sit the BECE, and, hopefully, join the system of further education. To ensure that no child is denied access to secondary education, we are removing one of the biggest obstacles that currently stand in their way: cost. The cost of providing free secondary school education will be cheaper than the cost of the alternative of an uneducated and unskilled workforce that has the capacity to retard our development.

Leadership is about choices – I have chosen to invest in the future of our youth and of our country. We have decided to use the proceeds from our natural resources to help educate the population to drive our economic transformation. Instead of the revenues from our mineral and oil resources ending up in the hands of a few people, the most equitable and progressive way of using these revenues is to educate and empower our population to strengthen our nation. In so doing, we would be on the way to achieving UN Sustainable Development Goal no.
4, which calls for inclusive and equitable education, and the promotion of lifelong opportunities for all. As co-Chair of the Advocacy Group of Eminent Persons of the SDGs, their implementation is a matter of the highest public priority for me.

Today, we throw open the doors of opportunity and hope to our young people. From this day on, we lift the financial burden off our parents, and the heart-rending anxiety that accompanies the beginning of every school term.
We have a sacred duty to our children and the generations beyond in ensuring that, irrespective of their circumstances, their right to an education is preserved. That is why government has decided to absorb all senior high school fees that have been agreed between the Ghana Education Service Council and the Conference of Heads of Assisted Secondary Schools (CHASS). I want every Ghanaian child to attend secondary school not just for what they learn in books, but for the life experiences that they will gain. I want each of them to look in the mirror in the morning, every morning, and know that they can achieve anything they dream of when they complete their studies.

I want them to be confident that what they study is relevant to the demands of today, and of tomorrow. I want every Ghanaian child to be comfortable in the knowledge that, when they work hard, they will be as capable as anyone else in the world. And I want parents to look upon their children with pride, as they watch them mature into self-confident adults.

Nananom, ladies and gentlemen, a key component of the policy must be the provision of quality education. Government is collaborating with various partners to implement major programmes and interventions such as the Secondary Education Improvement Project (SEIP), the expansion of physical infrastructure, and free supply of core subject text books to students. Central, too, to the prospects of this policy is the teacher.

A well-trained, confident and contented teacher is essential in the delivery of quality education. If we are to succeed as a nation, and if we accept that education is central to national development, then it is clear that quality teacher training is vital to our nation’s development. It is for this reason that we are committed to teacher professional development through schemes such as Transforming Teacher Education and Learning (T-TEL).

Government continues to implement T-Tel at a cost of 17 million pounds sterling. T-Tel is a four-year Government of Ghana programme supported by the UK’s Department for International Department (DFID).
It seeks to transform the delivery of pre-service teacher education in Ghana, by improving the quality of teacher education and learning through support to all public Colleges of Education from 2014 to 2018.

The programme will enhance quality education delivery in our Colleges of Education, and we look forward to its continuous implementation after 2018. The restoration of the teacher trainee allowance, which also begins today, is part of the comprehensive policy of engendering the production of quality teachers.

Nananom, ladies and gentlemen, government, as was done under the administration of that outstanding Ghanaian statesman, the former President, His Excellency John Agyekum Kufuor, intends to pursue the policy of upgrading 42 existing senior high schools to model schools, as was done in the case of West Africa Senior High School. We believe this is an important step towards delivery of quality education.

Technical and vocational skills are crucial to our industrialisation agenda, and we are committed to making them attractive to young people. The Free SHS policy will cover pupils who gain admission to technical, vocational and agricultural institutions. Currently, technical and vocational education delivery in Ghana is fragmented under 18 different Ministries, each with different enabling Acts and mandates. This has affected system governance, development and coordination for efficiency, quality and relevance of training provision.

To confront the challenges, work has commenced to align all public TVET institutions under the Ministry of Education to provide effective policy direction and co-ordination in skills development. Government has also reserved 30% of places in the top 82 senior high schools to students from basic public schools. Currently, these top schools are almost wholly populated by students from junior high private schools with good performance at the BECE, relative to the basic public schools.

Under the Free SHS policy, we will ensure that students from basic public schools have equal opportunity to enrol in any of the top senior high schools in the country. We believe this is crucial in ensuring that we do not inadvertently encourage a permanent class divide, where a child from a background, whose parents are unable to afford junior high private school education, is pre-destined to be excluded from the top senior high schools in the country. That is unconscionable, and potentially dangerous for social cohesion.

Nananom, ladies and gentlemen, as is with all human endeavours, we will certainly face challenges in the implementation of this policy of free SHS, despite our best preparations and efforts. We may falter, but, by the grace of Almighty God, we shall not fall, for we will be ready, in all humility, to accept inputs and criticisms aimed at improving the policy. The policy is not about the NPP or the NDC.

The beneficiaries will not only be those belonging to NPP members or sympathisers. They will be Ghanaians from all walks of life and from all political persuasions. This is about Ghana, and how best to build a progressive and prosperous nation for this and future generations. Its constitutionality is not in doubt. All Ghanaians should support the policy to ensure its success. To our “freshers” who are about to start a new chapter in your education, you have every reason to be proud of yourselves. Study and work hard, and avoid all negative tendencies, so that you grow up to be responsible citizens and assets to this nation.

Seize the opportunity of having the good fortune to be admitted into this good school as pioneers of this exciting, new venture in our national life. Ghana needs your skills and talents, and I know you will not fail us. I wish to thank all those who have worked so hard this year to ensure that this policy sees the light of day. Your contributions have been invaluable, and your sacrifices will not be in vain.

A grateful nation will acknowledge them. To the Minister for Education, Hon. Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh, Member of Parliament for Manhyia South, who has provided such dynamic leadership for the realisation of this all-important initiative, I say a big Ayekoo.

I daresay, by the end of your term of office, you will have joined the pantheon of great Ghanaian Education Ministers, Kojo Botsio, Francis Buah and Yaw Osafo Maafo.

I thank the Headmaster, the staff and students of West Africa Senior High School, Adenta, for this opportunity to share this historic day with you. I hope my presence here, with all that it entails, has not been too disruptive of your normal routine, but, as I hope you will understand, I had to come.

Thank you, and may God bless us all and our homeland Ghana