columnBy Joe Effah-Nkyi
On the 14th October, 2012, 43 year old Felix Baumgartner from Salzburg, Austria took breathtaking leap through the earth's stratosphere in the space of 9 minutes 3 seconds. The salient point here is that he achieved what most people would consider impossibility; i.o.w, his resolve to tumble down from that unimaginable altitude was too big a vision to achieve under that circumstance within the public discernment; yet he ultimately made it. One fundamental lesson which became so obvious is that; if we wait for circumstances to be perfect, we may never begin, in that in spite of initial glitches, Felix took calculated risk in deciding to jump. We are therefore taught that, in life situations, anything is possible provided you have the mind, the drive and the team to actualize your set goals and vision.
This lesson really accentuates Nana Addo's call for the free SHS education which also embodies vocational, technical training without hesitation. It is now or never if really the country is to catch up with the Korea's, Malaysia's, etc. in placing premium on human capitalization to provoke systemic development as a sovereign state.
His Excellency John Mahama and the National Democratic Congress (NDC) government are of the view that the vision for free SHS education is just too gargantuan and capital intensive and for that matter it is beyond the capability of the state. But, in the words of Azim Premji; "If people are not laughing at your goals, your goals are too small." It is time we take a cue from the exploit of Felix Baumgartner and have the conviction that the free SHS education is feasible despite perceived obstacles confronting other areas of the Ghanaian economy. We have the resources. It all boils down on its prudent utilization but most importantly, leadership. It's all about policy selectivity of individual political party.
Interestingly, with the exception of John Mahama's NDC, the entire political topography of Ghana is inundated with calls from almost all the various flag bearers, voraciously, espousing for the free universal basic education policy up to SHS level, if by God's intervention any of them is given the mandate by the Ghanaian electorate to assume the reins of government; with Nana Akuffo Addo as the principal protagonist. The question one may therefore ask is; why would such flag bearers of diverse political traditions tow one common objective? The possible answer could be that in the scheme of things, these contending political parties may be conniving, condoning and conspiring to get rid of the incumbency. I don't ascribe to this line of perception considering the fact that all these political parties have their own political as well as philosophical orientation and therefore champion different political virtues.
For all intent and purpose, there is no way CPP could abandoned the Nkrumaist/socialist ideology for Busia/capitalist philosophy and vice-versa. Incontrovertibly, although still holding on to ones political tenet, the espousal of policies and concepts that are adopted by political leaders, lately, are not done in isolation but are generally due to the surging forces of globalization. e.g. Talk about globalised technology which continue to spread like wild fire, thereby breaking geographical bounds and influencing policies across polities. One can therefore still not stick to the old way of doing things. There have been the need for a complete paradigm shift as far as governance, policies, concepts are put into contextualization.
To buttress the above declaration, classical examples of countries that are presently ensuring good governance through prudent policy of availability of free education in various forms could be cited. The Scandinavian countries, Uganda, Botswana, etc. notwithstanding, the Imo state of Nigeria with a population of approximately 40 million is a shining example in this regard in West Africa. The Imo state government has even gone the extra mile by not only making free universal education from nursery up to the university level, but has succeeded in instituting a student loan scheme where qualified students to the countries tertiary institutions are made to access lump sum of money. After graduation two-thirds of the amount is written off leaving one-third which is deducted at source after gainful employment.
Obviously, the circumstances of Imo state absolutely differ from that of Ghana which is a sovereign state. The resources of Ghana with approximate population of 25 million according to recent population census conducted are controlled by the central government, whereas Imo which is (gubernatorial), is a state superintended by an elected governor.
Apparently, if a gubernatorial state with a vast population of approximately 40 million is able to make such ambitious social intervention that would obviously lead to extricate its citizens in the long foreseeable term then why not Ghana, with lesser population density. Some skeptics may raise an argument that such social interventions may invariably be dependent on resources. Yes, Imo has abundant crude deposit, but mind you, it is a single state and for that matter the utilization of resources has some element of control emanating from the federal government.
The central government of Ghana absolutely controls the vast natural resources on behalf of the entire population. For this reason the social intervention of free SHS education should not in any way impede government programs. With the discovery of oil a chunk or proportional percentage of the revenue accruing could, undoubtedly, be channeled to fund the laudable scheme being propagated by Nana Addo-Dankwa Akuffo Addo, Dr. Paa Kwesi Nduom and a horde of distinguished personalities who have seen the urgent need for such social intervention of immense magnitude.
Holistically, education has become a way of life in this epoch of globalization. It is therefore not for nothing that free universal basic education is one of the eight thematic areas captured in the MDGs set by the UN body to ensure that by 2015, a country like Ghana could have holistically made enormous stride in this direction.
The proponents of the 'progressive' implementation of the free SHS policy over a period of 20 years or even more have forgotten that greater population of the masses live in the rural enclaves where poverty is so endemic; for that matter they expect prompt solution to their existing problems and challenges, nothing else. It's like postponing one's happiness to a later date. These unfortunate rural folks are confronted with harsh inhibiting financial barrier; to the extent that, many of their children have no option than to be used as the 'sacrificial lambs' to pave way for other siblings to access education due to frightening overall cost component. This is the tragedy of the Ghanaian child. It's time as a sovereign state we 'seize our moments'. The implementation of free SHS education would, indisputably, empower the youth of this country to equally and enthusiastically identify and take advantage of the abundant opportunities that globalization has come to offer just like their counterparts in the Asiatic and the Western world.
To emphasize the essence of holistic education, Socrates was once quizzed; "what is the difference between an educated man and an uneducated man?" "The same as between a living man and a dead body", Socrates retorted. Our own Nelson Mandela was right when he postulated that, "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." Both the western world and the Asian tigers realized the need for free basic education and even up to tertiary level; hence their decision to ensure that education was liberalized to cater for every school going age irrespective of one's social, political or ethnic inclination. Today, what do we witness? An Elite and disciplined society. This has invariably translated into developmental infrastructure at unprecedented proportion that is anchored on booming economy across all sectors. Added to this, most importantly, is the psyche of the people which have prudently been positively altered.
It's so unfortunate that such a unique proposition of policy is being politicized. In my conviction, free education should not stop at the SHS level. Extending it up to the tertiary level should be the best option in our present circumstances. This arguably is best for the ordinarily Ghanaian proletariat and the less privileged, more specifically at a time where the chunk of the masses are confronted with heightened unemployment rate. All hands are expected to be on deck to actualize such realistic policy, so that we would all be beneficiaries and partakers from the national kitty. For some of us, this rational life-saving policy is long overdue.