The problem with Mr. Lee Ocran, Minister of Education in the Republic of Ghana, is that he appears unable to differentiate the demands of his high office from dabbling in partisan politics, when the chips are down.
Asked by the Conference of Heads of Assisted Secondary Schools (CHASS) to consider allowing schools to increase feeding cost of school kids from GHÂÂ¢1.80 per child per day, pegged two years ago, to GHÂÂ¢2.50, the Minister veered into partisan political rhetoric.
"If GHÂÂ¢1.80 is insufficient and could lead to poor quality of food to students, then what will the quality be like if it is free, as the NPP is proposing under its free SHS policy?" he queried.
Apparently, CHASS had called for an increase in the feeding allowance because of rising cost of food items on the market. But, instead of aiding our schools to find a solution to the insufficient and poor quality of food served to our kids, the Minister found the demand an opportunity to shoot down the free SHS policy being proposed by the New Patriotic Party, when the problem lies squarely with rising cost of goods and services.
In an interview with an Accra radio station, Mr. Lee Ocran, who walked into political office with the National Democratic Congress from exile in London, following the December 31 coup d'état, rubbished the demands from CHASS.
"I see, that is very interesting," Mr. Ocran is quoted to have said to the radio station. "You know, some people don't want to pay at all. This one, they are paying and the headmasters are complaining that what they are paying will affect the quality of meals. If it were free, what will the quality be like?"
Lee Ocran recommended to CHASS to speak against the NPP's free SHS promise if they think that it would compromise the quality of education. It should be clear that what CHASS is complaining about is not the source of the school fees.
They are complaining, because the GHÂÂ¢1.80 pegged more than two years ago cannot withstand the wanton increases in goods and services anymore. CHASS is asking for the cost of feeding to be made realistic to the cost of living, period!
Whether the fees are being paid by parents or the state, CHASS is asking for realistic feeding costs, which is the least headmasters and headmistresses could ask for. The market situation in Ghana is very hostile to meager incomes. That is the bottom line.
In spite of roof-top advertisements on a long running single digit inflation figure concocted by the Ghana Statistical Service, costs of goods and services are spiraling way beyond incomes. Instead of playing cheap politics with the serious issue of fee-free education, Mr. Lee Ocran would do well to admit that the economic policies of the government, of which he is an integral part, are in shambles.
Fee-free education does not mean that goods and services in our schools would not be paid for. It only means that the state of Ghana would pick up the bill for educating the Ghanaian child. It is a very bold policy initiative that would call for sacrifices in other spheres of national endeavour.
It would mean that instead of costing a six-unit classroom block at GHÂÂ¢300,000, with half the amount lining the pockets of unscrupulous state officials and their cronies, the cost would be pegged at the realistic price of, say GHÂÂ¢100,000, in order to free the extra GHÂÂ¢200,000 to feed our children in school.
It is one policy that ought to succeed, in spite of the money being thrown away, to ensure that crooks, and not our children, benefit from the resources of the state. Fee-free second cycle education is a must!