Free SHS Policy: A transformative educational initiative

Free SHS Policy 2

Stories and facts

In September 2017, the Ghanaian government, under President Nana Akufo-Addo, introduced the Free Senior High School (Free SHS) education policy.

This initiative, which originated from the President's 2016 election campaign, has since become a cornerstone of Ghana's educational system. The policy focuses on themes of access, equity, and equality, aligning with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals to ensure adequate learning experiences for all students.

Various government departments, including the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, Ghana Education Service, and the Ministry of Education, are tasked with ensuring the policy's efficiency and further development.

A comprehensive review of Ghana's previous high school policies revealed inefficiencies in key areas such as access, quality, and management of education. The fifth Education Strategic Plan (2010-2020) and the 2008 Education Act influenced the Free SHS policy, aiming to address these issues and improve the educational framework.

Since Ghana's independence in 1957, several reforms have been made to adapt the educational system to suit the nation's unique cultural and social needs. Notable efforts include the 1961 Accelerated Development Plan (ADP), which sought to achieve universal primary education by abolishing tuition fees and increasing enrollment.

While the Free SHS policy is accessible to all high school students, it primarily aims to benefit those in rural and disadvantaged communities. Initially, high-achieving students in these areas were awarded scholarships and internships. The policy's broad accessibility has created more equitable means of funding and educational opportunities, particularly for poorer students and their families.

Upon its introduction, the Free SHS policy faced public disapproval due to concerns about increased taxes and pressures on students. However, the policy has since garnered overwhelming support, particularly for its role in reducing literacy barriers and enhancing economic and social development. It has also relieved parents of financial burdens, allowing them to focus on building family resilience and social welfare. The policy has successfully deterred adolescents from social vices and encouraged them to contribute positively to their communities.

The policy required collaboration among governmental and non-governmental institutions, as well as political parties, to ensure its success. Despite initial socio-economic debates, political actors focused on providing both quality and quantity in education. The policy's socialist underpinnings ensured collective production and management without political prejudice.

Educational institutions have conducted research to assess the policy's effectiveness. The number of students enrolled in secondary high school has significantly increased, particularly benefiting those in rural areas. Students now receive free textbooks and learning materials, previously reserved for full scholarship recipients.

The policy has encouraged more students to pursue tertiary education and join career fields in the public sector. It has expanded the labor market with more educated individuals, contributing to national development. The Free SHS policy aims to bridge the gap between students with higher economic capital and their disadvantaged peers, promoting economic growth.

The policy has fostered political engagement and awareness among young people, building voter confidence and trust in the government. It has improved political awareness and functionality within Ghana, demonstrating that democratic policies can effectively support societal development.

The policy has lifted financial burdens for most parents, allowing them to support their children's education without relying on scholarships or private benefits. It covers both primary and secondary educational expenses, relieving caregivers of the obligation to prioritize some children over others based on financial cap  ability.

In 2018, the government introduced the Double Track System to accommodate the increasing number of high school enrollments resulting from the Free SHS policy. This system, comprising Green and Gold tracks, allows schools to take in more students by alternating semesters. Despite criticisms regarding consultation with educators and school facilities, the system has improved educational resources and reduced classroom congestion, contributing to students' academic and social progression.

The Free SHS policy is a testament to Ghana's commitment to educational equity and quality. By addressing financial barriers and expanding access to education, the policy has significantly impacted the nation's economic, political, and social landscape. The introduction of the Double Track System further exemplifies the government's dedication to accommodating and supporting all students in their educational journey.

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