Professional Web Design

Free SHS bill to be presented to Cabinet, SHS to be six years, BECE to be cancelled

Free SHS bill to be presented to Cabinet, SHS to be six years, BECE to be cancelled

The Free Senior High School Bill, 2024, will be presented to Cabinet for a debate this week.

The proposed bill, being drafted by the Ministry of Education, is to give legal backing to the provision of free and compulsory education at the senior high school (SHS) level.

The Minister of Education, Dr , said last Friday that the bill would also propose the decoupling of junior high school () from basic school and make it part of secondary school, thereby creating six years of secondary education.

The minister said another proposal of the bill was the cancellation of the Certificate Examination () as a precondition for gaining admission to the secondary level. Rather, it would be used for school selection purposes.

When passed, the certification for completing SHS would become the first level of formal certificate any student could obtain in the country, rather than the BECE certification, the Education Minister further stated. 

Why legislation

Interacting with selected journalists in his office, Dr Adutwum said the foremost reason to legislate was that the policy was not mandatory, and any government that came might do away with it if it did not see merit in it.

“What we need is a law that says there should be free, compulsory universal secondary education. This means the minimum education for the Ghanaian should be a senior high school and not junior high school,” the minister said, stressing “it is our responsibility to provide the support for them”.

State policy

The 1992 Constitution already guarantees free compulsory universal basic education (FCUBE).

The country's educational objectives under Article 38 of the 1992 Constitution provides in section (1) that “The State shall provide educational facilities at all levels and in all the Regions of Ghana, and shall, to the greatest extent feasible, make those facilities available to all citizens.”

Section two mandates the government to, within two years after Parliament first meets after the coming into force of the Constitution, draw up a programme for implementation within the following 10 years, for the provision of free, compulsory and universal basic education.

In sub-section three, the State shall, subject to the availability of resources, provide: (a) equal and balanced access to secondary and other appropriate pre-university education, equal access to university or equivalent education, with emphasis on science and technology; (b) a free adult literacy programme, and a free vocational training, rehabilitation and resettlement of disabled persons; and (c) life-long education.

High transition rate

Dr Adutwum said due to the Free SHS, the secondary level had more than 505,000 students entering first year this year, the largest enrolment ever in the history of the country.

However, he said, there were still others who had not attained the working age who refused to continue to the SHS but as things were, nothing could be done to compel them to be in school.

“If you don't mandate them to go, it is a pathway for crime; they will be on the streets. So we shouldn't give any child the choice to say I don't want to go,” the Minister of Education averred.

Dr Adutwum explained that Free SHS was good because it provided support that enabled every eligible student to take advantage of.

He cited the example of the five regions of the North where Free SHS had led to a higher percentage of students transitioning from JHS to SHS, saying if that trend continued “we are going to see an interesting story in Ghana in 10 to 20 years; the North will develop faster than the South”.

The Northern Region has 95 per cent transition from JHS to SHS this year. For and Savannah, the transition rate is 94 per cent, , 92 per cent, is the lowest in the North with 89 per cent, a figure which is still higher than that of every region in the South.

The Volta Region is the lowest in the country with 66 per cent, with also being in distress.

The minister underscored the importance about compulsion in improving the transition rate, else some talented Ghanaians who may have the transformative edge to change the country could be left behind.

“So, the free, compulsory and universal secondary education mandates that every child must go and that we provide the resources to make that possible so that some children don't take the liberty,” Dr Adutwum explained.

Cut-off point

The minister said before Free SHS, students with aggregate 28, for instance, were being turned away from public schools, giving rise to the mushrooming of private secondary schools.

“This is because the government took the position that our own children who went to the public schools and didn't do well in the BECE could not proceed to our own public senior high schools; it's a travesty,” he stressed.

“So, if we leave this to the politician who wants to cut cost and still tell the country that I'm implementing Free SHS, what is he going to do to bring eligibility to even those who get aggregate 24 or higher, referred to as the cut-off point,” Dr Adutwum said, underscoring the necessity of the bill.

Decoupling JHS, SHS

On the proposal to remove JHS from basic education and make it part of secondary education, he said that would provide six years of secondary education.

That would be accompanied by a gradual process of equipping the schools for them to perform at the high school level, he explained.          

Dr Adutwum said new schools to be built would have the JHS and SHS co-locating in the same compound, just as some SHSs with JHS were doing and how the ordinary level and advanced level students co-located on the same premises.

The bill also proposed the cancellation of passing BECE as a precondition for progression to the secondary level of education, but be used for the purpose of selecting SHSs to guarantee a smooth transition for all JHS students to SHS.

There will, however, be certificates at the end of SHS.

The bill, therefore, seeks to reintroduce a system akin to the old Middle School and Secondary School relationship, where the Common Entrance Examination was used for selection to the secondary school, while the Hall examination was for certification for either work or progression to other areas of education such as the colleges of education.

Other views

Although the Free SHS has since 2017 enrolled more than 3.04 million students in senior high school, questions have been raised about the feeding, accommodation, long vacation and uncertainty in the educational calendar for SHS students.

Many educationists and think tanks have called for its review to ensure that parents who could afford are made to pay for their children's education to raise some revenue to tackle the other challenges.

Last week, the Majority Leader, Alexander Afenyo-Markin, dared the Minority in Parliament to state its position on the legislation of Free SHS for the citizenry to know where the members stood.

“Clearly, the Minority do not want to commit themselves to the Free SHS policy,” he said. “Declare your stance”, he added. The Majority Leader disclosed the Free SHS Bill had received an Executive approval and the Minister of Education would soon introduce the bill to Parliament.

But in a sharp rebuttal, the Minority Leader, Dr Cassiel Ato Forson, rebuffed the assertions, saying, “For the record, let the people be aware that the has not said it anywhere and will not say this anywhere that we are opposed to a policy that will seek to sustain and improve the Free SHS policy.

“We are hearing from the Majority Leader for the first time that the government is considering a bill to be presented to Parliament called the Free SHS Bill. “It is important for us to reiterate that we cannot oppose a bill that we have not seen and we have said it nowhere that we are going to oppose such a bill,” he said.

Dr Forson, therefore, urged the New Patriotic Party to rather hurry up in presenting such a bill to Parliament. 

Latest from Education