President Nana Akufo-Addo has accused Joy FM of waging a campaign against his government’s flagship Free Senior High Schools (SHS) policy.
Speaking at a ceremony at the University of Cape Coast (UCC) on Saturday, May 29, where an Honorary Doctorate degree was conferred on him, he said that he was under the impression that Free SHS was approved by everyone including the political parties, until he learnt about discussions on the radio station.
“A radio station is currently running a campaign against Free SHS. During the last election, I got the impression that Free SHS was endorsed by all parties and all that was needed to do was keep improving it. Would a spirited defence of Frees SHS constitute an attack on press freedom? I wonder.”
His comment comes after Joy FM’s Super Morning Show, in the course of the week, offered headteachers, teachers, parents, students and the Deputy Director-General of the Ghana Education Service, an opportunity to discuss challenges being faced in the implementation of the government’s flagship programme, free SHS.
Among the challenges confronting the free SHS programme that were mentioned are; lack of accommodation facilities resulting in students sleeping on the floor, congestion in classrooms, inconvenience relating to erratic schedules for the double-track system, poor quality of food served to students, little attention to end of semester examinations and minimal contact hours.
Some of the teachers and parents commended government for the policy while others, whose wards are enrolled in various SHSs under the Free SHS policy, complained about the adverse effects of the policy on their finances.
According to some parents, they preferred paying school fees to having their children continue under the Free SHS programme. This is due to lapses in the rollout of the policy.
One of the listeners, Nana, a mother of two, said she spends about ¢8,000 each on providing her son and daughter, who are on the Green and Gold tracks, respectively, private lessons, to cover up for what they miss in school.
“When they started my boy was in the green track and the girl was in the gold track. I had issues with conscientising the girl to understand and to accept her state since her brother had started school and she hadn’t and it was creating issues for them at home.
“I realised my girl was lagging behind and the boy was far ahead of her because she was on the gold track and the green trackers were benefiting more than the gold trackers. So, I went in for teachers to assist with extra classes and I had to pay for that. It cost me 2,000 cedis per course and she had to take up four courses,” she said.
Another caller, who identified himself as Kojo, also raised the same concern, stating that, he pays 350 cedis on extra classes for his ward. He added that his son has taken just one terminal exam since he enrolled in school.
“In fact, the free education is causing we parents many problems. Currently, as my son is at home, I pay not less than ¢350 every month for classes, and besides, I have to buy data of not less than ¢60 every week.
However, President Akufo Addo said, “inasmuch as journalists have their opinions, there should be a legitimate expectation of seeking the other side or welcoming a reply to the other side of the stories they run.”
Apparently, the President is unaware of the fact that as planned, the Deputy Director-General of the Ghana Education Service, Dr Kwabena Bempah Tandoh was offered the opportunity, on Friday, May 28, to explain these challenges and assure Ghanaians of government’s commitment to resolving them.
“We will embrace them and we will address them. And then the next set of leadership of the Ghana Education service will continue to embrace and address these issues,” he told Hosts Kojo Yankson and Winston Amoah.
The Deputy Director of the GES also urged Ghanaians to embrace the programme as thousands of young people are benefiting from it.
“If we had not implemented double-track, 181,993 children wouldn’t have gotten seats in senior high school,” he stressed.
Dr Tandoh confirmed challenges relating to delay in release of funds which has crippled administration of the Senior High Schools since the beginning of the year.
“We all know the laws of this country. When there is a transition, whether it is the same government or not, the government cannot budget. Because you have to wait for the eventuality that there is a different government to come and budget for that year,” he explained.
Dr. Tandoh further revealed that, “there have been challenges in terms of the approval of funds for running the schools. But as I speak to you now, the Conference of Heads of Assisted Secondary Schools (CHASS) has received all monies for Form 2s and 3s.”
He also said issues relating to inadequate infrastructure will be addressed, “the Ministry is working through the Ghana Education Service. We’re sending our planning and infrastructure team out there to ascertain where especially furniture, is needed not just classroom furniture, but also dormitory furniture.”
Regarding the delay in food supply at the various schools across the country, Dr Tandoh admitted that there are challenges which will be duly resolved.
But President Akufo-Addo indicated, “it cannot be that everyone has a right of reply except members of the government and officialdom nor a challenge in the opinion expressed by a journalist constitute an attack of freedom of the press.”
“Let me end by addressing a particular line of the current argument about the rights and freedoms. I believe this has led to a new definition of the culture of silence. It goes along the line that when people in government and government policies are criticized and there’s a defence of the people of policies, it is intimidatory and leads to a culture of silence,” he stated.