Unless President John Dramai Mahama quickly steps in, the Minister of Education, Mr. Lee Ocran, could be stoking up the fires of destructive demonstrations in public senior high boarding schools.
Mr. Ocran's surprisingly undiplomatic handling of the boarding fee problem (a problem created by him) could destructively affect the smooth running of the schools, especially, next term of the Academic Year.
By his letter dated October 15, 2012, Mr. Stephen Adu, Deputy Director-General of the Ghana Education Service (GES), informed heads of the public second cycle institutions that the government had approved the amount of GHÂÂ¢2.50 (Two Ghana cedis, fifty Ghana pesewas) as the new boarding fee to be charged by the school.
The approval date was October 10, 2012. The amount was to supercede the GHÂÂ¢1.80 (One Ghana cedi, eighty Ghana pesewas) previously charged. The letter was signed for the Director-General of the Ghana Education Service.
Imagine the consternation and mystification of the heads when another letter, signed by Mr. Charles Aheto-Tsegah, also a Deputy Director-General, went forth to cancel the new approved fee.
The letter was headed REVISION OF FEEDING FEE FOR THE 2012/2013 ACADEMIC YEAR, and read as follows.
"Heads of second cycle institutions are to note that the Honourable Minister of Education has directed that institutions are to revert to the old feeding cost of GHÂÂ¢1.80 (One Ghana cedi, eighty Ghana pesewas) instead of the GHÂÂ¢2.50 (Two Ghana cedis, fifty Ghana pesewas) approved for the 2012/2013 Academic year.
"Students who have already paid their fees are to be credited with the difference for the Second Term.
"Heads of institutions are to comply with this directive without fail." (End of the three-paragraph letter.)
The amazing thing is that by the time of the second letter cancelling the first one, the schools had re-opened for all levels of students, from SHS 1 to SHS 4. Naturally, the students had been fed on the new rate of GHÂÂ¢2.50
The question to ask is by what calculation did Mr. Ocran arrive at the conclusion that the GHÂÂ¢2.50 was too much, and that the old GHÂÂ¢1.80 would be more than adequate to feed the students?
Dear reader, note that by the time the second letter was sent to the heads, they had already fed the students. How do the heads refund or credit the accounts of the students for the following term?
You see, it is not as if the money had been collected but not used. Where is the refund to come from? From the pockets of the individual headmasters and headmistresses?
Did Mr. Ocran come to the conclusion of reverting to the GHÂÂ¢1.80 after consulting the heads, the school matrons, the students or experts in costing student meals?
Was he trying to make himself or the government look and sound popular with parents and guardians by this hopeless grandstanding in asking the heads to charge the old fee?
Remember, dear reader that heads of the Senior High schools cannot normally take the unilateral decision to charge the boarding fees they like without any input or authorisations from the Central Government through the Ministry of Education and the Ghana Education Service.
Of course, I recall the day heads nearly rebelled. For some time, heads were finding it extremely difficult to feed the students, and decided to do something about it.
They made a careful region-by-region survey, and the heads came to the conclusion that a certain amount had to be charged.
Naturally, the Ministry of Education and the Ghana Education Service (GES) dragged their feet. The Conference of Heads of Assisted Secondary Schools (CHASS) held an emergency, one-day meeting in Accra to take the decision to charge the agreed fee.
The Ministry and the GES caved in to the demand of CHASS, and I will tell you why. The ministry and GES officials had conducted their own survey secretly, and found out that their own proposed boarding fee was higher than that proposed by CHASS. That is why they gave in.
If you do not believe me, ask that education veteran, Mr. Alex Tettey-Enyo, Assistant Headmaster, Headmaster, Vice President of CHASS, District Director of Education, Headquarters Director of Secondary Education, Deputy Director-General, Acting Director-General and Minister of Education.
Along the way, Mr. Tettey-Enyo has picked up such purely non-education positions as PNDC District Secretary and NDC Member of Parliament.
It is my honest belief that what Mr. Tettey-Enyo does not know about education is not worth knowing. Before Mr. Ocran commits more blunders, he should take a correspondence course in education from Mr. Tettey-Enyo. But, let that pass.
Let me put diplomatic language aside and strongly advise Mr. Ocran to handle the matter of the boarding fees with great circumspection.
I do not know where Mr. Ocran will be after the December 7, 2012 presidential and parliamentary elections. If he remains Minister of Education, he will have to be very careful.
The history of demonstrations in our senior high schools has shown, and continues to show, quite clearly that in almost all the cases, food has at once provided the gun powder and the spark, or the spark that has ignited the gun powder of real or imagined grievances of students.
Complaints have centered on the quality of the food served, the time it is served, and even an unannounced change in the menu, especially when a favourite meal has been changed owing to circumstances beyond the control of the school. For example, a supplier could fail at the last minute to provide the foodstuffs for the meal.
There is something else which Mr. Ocran should know about boarding fees. The money does not go exclusively into feeding the students. Part of the money goes into replacing the serving pans, kettles, cleaning materials, and fuel (fire wood, charcoal, gas, etc.)
The next time Mr. Ocran visits a boarding school and he is given lunch before he leaves, he must know that the money for the lunch will not come from the pocket of the headmaster or headmistress.
During inter-school sports, boarding schools normally change the menu for the sports boys and girls. For example, if it is gari and beans lunch, the athletes may be given something different and considered more suitable, say jollof rice and meat or fish.
Mr. Ocran, as the late legendary Headmaster, Mr. T. A. Osei, once noted, the heads are your commanders in the field. By all means, check those whose behaviour and utterances hamper the educational enterprise. But be careful not to behave like a bull in a china shop.