23 November 2012

Ghana: Basic Education Is a 'Public Need' and 'Public Good' and Should Be Free (Final Part)

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In the first part of this article, I made a strong case why basic education, including Senior High School (SHS) should be funded by the state.

I expressed joy that for the first time since 1992, an election is being defined by a public need and a public policy and indeed the election would be won by this single policy.

Using my life as an example, I proved a point that education is the best equalizing factor, giving the poor the opportunity to shatter the cycle of poverty.

I also proved in theory and in practice that the state was and is still the primary agent of development initiative; arguing that it is the state, not the private sector which can be an impartial provider of a good like free basic education.

I concluded the first part stressing that my vote is for a public policy that would benefit the mass of our children by giving them a solid foundation to develop their potential.

In this concluding part, I will dwell on the broad justifications in development practice on the need for African governments, including the current and future governments of Ghana to invest in education.

Africa's twin education crisis

Recently, the African progress Panel, which is chaired by our own Kofi Annan called on African governments to make a final push for the Millennium Development Goals, including education.

In a statement, Mr. Annan pointed out that Africa's twin education crisis is reinforcing inequalities and fuelling political instability, referring to both the quality and quantity of African education.

The report said between 2000 and 2009, the number of children out of school dropped from 42 million to 30 million, but - with the world's fastest growing population - Africa is still on track to have 17 million children out of school in 2025, a decade after the world's 2015 target date for universal primary education.

"Many African children are receiving an education of abysmal quality. Far from equipping themselves for a globalised economy, millions of Africans emerge from primary school lacking basic literacy and numeracy skills.

They face the prospect of marginalisation, poverty, and insecure unemployment", said Mr. Annan

Of 173 million young Africans aged from 15 to 24, an estimated one in five are unemployed, for example, a youth unemployment rate that is second only to the Middle East, according to the Africa Progress Panel report.

Indeed, social movements in the Middle East, collectively known as the Arab Spring, have highlighted the dangers of failing to create enough jobs for a growing youth population, according to the report.

"The common thread linking these movements is the shared sense of frustration and anger over unresponsive governments and the lack of jobs, justice, and equity," said Mr. Annan.

Ghana was conspicuously missing from the list of countries making some progress in basic education. Despite all the ugly noises our policy makers have made about eliminating 'schools under trees', it is Tanzania and Ethiopia which are showing the way that it is possible for free and quality basic education to be achieved with carefully guided policies backed by resources.

According to the progress report, both countries reduced out-of-school numbers by over 3 million in the first half of the decade after 2000. For this reason, the Africa Progress Panel wants to see a massive push towards the 2015 Millennium Development Goals, including education.

"Given the critical place of education in poverty reduction and job creation, we urge governments to deliver on the commitment to provide education for all by 2015 and to strengthen their focus on learning achievement," Mr. Annan said.

Let me repeat that it still beats imagination why in this day and era, a government that imposes huge taxes on its people is telling the electorate to wait 20 more years to implement a free basic education policy enshrined in our Constitution.

There is a general belief in development cycles supported by data that African governments, (including Ghana's current government) are not committed to their people's development.

What else could explain why the government is desperately trying to pour cold water on a policy that means well for all Ghanaian children. What would the government benefit if more poor and needy children do not have at least a minimum of Senior High School education?

To be honest, if I have to choose between two leaders as we are about to do on December 7, I will choose the leader who has a positive outlook to life- the leader who has the 'can do spirit' and the foresight.

I see that in Nana AKufo Addo. The renowned leadership coach, John Maxwell says, "Everything rises and falls with leadership", so it is not about lack of resources, but the vision of the leader.

Investing in people

In its publication "Can Africa Claim the 21st Century", the World Bank points out that Africa risks missing the enormous development opportunities in 21st unless its leaders (government) invested massively in its people.

Does this ring a bell to those that think Ghanaian children should wait for another 20 years to have free SHS? The Bank gave two reasons why governments cannot but, invest in education.

First, Africa's future economic growth will depend less on its natural resources,( which are being depleted at a faster rate and subjected to long-term price declines), but more on its human resources and labour skills.

Secondly, the Bank argues that investing in people promotes their individual development and gives them the ability to escape poverty. This, the Bank says, requires quality education and health, as well as some measure of income security.

"The future of most developing countries lies in their people. Poor countries, especially those in Africa must address their current human development needs, if they are to claim the 21st Century (World Bank, 2000).

This is the Bank, (the world's most authority voice on development) speaking. Why is anybody running away from investing in people's education and health? What is the secret agenda to keep majority of our people poor and ignorant, and in whose interest?

The World Bank stresses that growth in today's information-based world economy depends largely, on a flexible, educated and healthy workforce to take advantage of economic openness. Countries that stand out in this direction are Botswana, Mauritius, South Africa, Morocco and Tunisia (World Bank, 2000).

The World Bank's list of tools for investing in people are; (1) Achieving universal basic education (2) eliminating gender disparity in education (3) reducing infant and child mortality (4)reducing maternal mortality and (5) achieving universal access to improved health.

Conclusion

Given the mindset of our current leaders, I dare say that Ghana is one of the countries with the potential to develop its human resources as an economic weapon; but unfortunately we are lagging behind.

It's a shame! We may excuse those countries that have been held back by civil wars and ethnic conflict. Ghana has been largely stable since 1981. What held us back from developing our human resources is lack of foresight and commitment on the part of our leaders.

No more excuses. I will encourage any future government to even borrow to finance basic education when it comes to the crunch. What I totally disagree with, as do other well meaning Ghanaians is the use of our scarce public funds to settle judgment debts, while ridiculing the possibility of using the same public funds for social investments like free SHS.

On this score, Free SHS policy has my vote. Nana Addo Danquah Akufo Addo and the NPP have my vote. I stand for any public policy that would give opportunities to all poor and needy children to overcome poverty and that is free SHS.

The writer is a Development Communicator, a social justice campaigner, and a former editor of Public Agenda newspaper. The views expressed in this article are entirely his and do not represent the views of any organisation.

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