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Akufo Addo’s Free SHS against Nkrumah’s ‘Free SHS’; Who can compare?

It’s significant to note that many of our contemporary political actors use Ghana’s first president Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah as the benchmark when assessing the performance of our leaders who ruled after Nkrumah’s overthrow on 24th February, 1966.

It thus offers an inner admission about the monumental legacy of Ghana’s first president. It may not be an acceptable view to many Nkrumah adversaries within the public space, but the constant reference to Nkrumah’s personality-cult and his works clearly, and by deduction, show his unmatched leadership in the annals of Ghana’s political history.

And so it happens that anytime Ghanaians call into question the deteriorating state of this administration’s flagship Free Senior High School programme, NPP adherents are quick to divert the conversation to the equation order, where they try albeit unsuccessful, to pitch their Free SHS mantra to Nkrumah’s educational legacy.

That’s to compare Akufo Addo’s Free SHS to Nkrumah’s education legacy which many, even some NPP folks had previously considered, is the best ever, until their parochial perceptional dictate, induced by partisan consideration, suddenly made them change the narrative how Nana Addo’s “Free SHS masterpiece” has upstaged Nkrumah’s education legacy.

The recent tirades by Ernest Owusu Bempah, the Communication Specialist of the Ghana Gas Company that Akufo Addo’s Free SHS alone settles the debate about who is the best president Ghana has had since independent, is one of the many deceptions deployed by this administration, to cover up for the ailing Free SHS concept.

In effect that singular feat, in the view of Owusu Bempah does not only settles the debate; but also it makes Akufo Addo bigger than Kwame Nkrumah. Indeed, none should be surprised by what many have described as warped analysis of the former Nana Konadu protégé.

And where else would he make such infantile preposition, one observer mocked. Of course, he made the call on pro-NPP Television station, Wontumi in Kumasi. It was a means of tickling the fancy of all other NPP faithful who were with him on the programme.   And they burst into a prolonged laughter.

For starters, the Akufo Addo Free SHS concept is a prescription of the 1992 constitution and not an intuitive master-brain of the President. The provision says there should be Free Compulsory Universal education for Ghanaian children of school going age, from Kindergarten to the Senior High School.

Even at that this government has artfully, limited the implementation of the Universal Education concept, to the Free aspect of the programme, eliminating the compulsory element; and the fact that the free schooling concept should cover every basic public schools to the secondary levels.

As it stands now, headmasters/mistresses of Senior High Schools fear to talk about the inherent problems in the Free SHS concept for fear of being persecuted. Why? Because the administration is trying very hard to gag people from exposing the façade and the cover-up in the Free SHS idea.

Parents and teachers have therefore adopted various strategies of aiding the schools with some funds in order for their children to enjoy their stay in school. These are often done through the transfer of mobile monies secretly to the schools to help keep their schools running.

In other instances, Patents Teacher Associations, (PTAs) have contributed financially to the schools in the hope that their wards can stay through the academic calendar without disruption. With all these underground interventions, there is no clarity in the academic programming of the schools.

Students have usually been asked to vacate and re-called to schools without necessarily following a laid down procedure. Re-opening and closure of schools have therefore become an ad-hoc thought on stilt; and at the discretion of school authorities.  The tracking system itself is in limbo.

Students are often confused with their status; whether they are with the gold or green shifts. But none can blame the school authorities. They operate with a funding budget that are not released regularly, and thus use their discretion to either vacate or recall students back onto campuses, depending on the state of their budget kitty.

Yet, many stakeholders in the implementation of the policy cannot speak out because it’s about the only interventional programme that the government is “basking in its glorious success”. Its populist appeal is so enormous; and it lubricates NPP’s electioneering campaign to the extent that nothing will be taken to chance to destroy it. Not even within the scope of constructive criticism.

That explains why the President of the Republic himself went so low to discredit a well-balanced feature story of the Free SHS, carried by Joy FM, a privately owned radio station based in Accra. That should offer the inkling that if you touch Free SHS, even from an objective standpoint, you’ve touched the heart-beat of the President.  

The unmatched story of Nkrumah’s ‘Free Senior High School’

Within the scope of the subject under discussion let’s assume Nkrumah also had some elements of “Free” within his educational agenda. Obviously, Nkrumah’s was a total overhaul of the country’s educational strata without being picky as what the current administration has done—neglecting other facets of our educational system and concentrating on an area that has the potential of earning them votes.

Otherwise, how come that in the last election, the popular mantra on the lips of every NPP official and their supporters was Free SHS, with a skewed excuse that every novelty has it teething problems and so Ghanaians should ignore the obvious infant flaws within the system and take up the positives.

They then assured Ghanaians that in the second term of the President, every problem detected in the Free SHS concept will be dealt with decisively. It’s been some eight months into the administration’s 2nd-term; yet the Free SHS system is not getting any better. It’s rather deteriorating at an alarming rate.

If such a system is not being driven on populism, then what else? That’s why it would be suicidal for anyone to draw any form of comparison with Nkrumah’s legacy in education. Nkrumah’s “Free SHS” was all encompassing— from free, to the establishment of schools and the provision of quality education from the basic levels to tertiary.

Dr. Nkrumah single-handedly established the Ghana National College in Cape Coast to give further education to some students of Mfantsipim School, Adisadel College and St. Augustine’s College who were dismissed for joining the 1948 Positive Action riot, initiated by Dr. Nkrumah against the colonial masters. Nkrumah was neither the Prime Minister nor the President at the time.

One of the dismissed students—Allotey, and a pioneer of Ghana National would later become a global icon in Mathematics. Dr. Nkrumah established National within the context of providing quality education for every Ghanaian and his chosen motto for the school summed it all up: “Pro Patria”, which translate “For the Honour and Glory of our Fatherland”.

As the leader of Government Business, Nkrumah set up the Ghana Education Trust that saw to the building of a number secondary schools, teacher training colleges and other higher educational institutions. He had a clear vision for his education plan. It was to provide the basis for the country’s manpower and human resources; the two key components needed for the development of the then Gold Coast.

Such Nkrumah vision was made clear on July 20, 1948, during his inaugural address on the commencement of the building of Ghana National College. He declared inter alia:

“In spite of the humble conditions under which we have started, I bring you a message of hope and inspiration. I bid you shake hands with your fellows and teachers over your study table and over the blackboards...

I look forward to the time when there will be a chain of Ghana Colleges in all the four territories which make up the Gold Coast, leading to the founding of a very high institution in this country…

In the name of the people of the Gold Coast, in the name of humanity and in the name of Almighty God, I bid you speed forward till we realise a free and United Gold Coast in a United Africa” he declared.

After Ghana National, Dr. Nkrumah began with his expansion of schools all over in the areas that were directly under British Control. He set up an Education Trust, managed by Reverend S. Nimako which helped fund the building of Secondary Schools and Teacher Training Colleges opened by Nkrumah.

Some of the Secondary Schools included the Mfantsiman Secondary School in Saltpong, the Ofori Panyin Secondary School, the Techiman Secondary School, the Winneba Secondary School and Swedru Secondary School.

Others were the Apam Secondary School, the Dormaa Secondary School, the Tema Secondary School, the Oda Secondary School, the Labone Secondary School, among others. Indeed, students of these schools needed teachers to impart into them academic knowledge.

In order to fulfil that dream, Nkrumah used funds from the Ghana Education Trust to set up Teacher Training colleges with the sole mandate of training would-be teachers. The training schools included the Atebubu Training College, the Berekum Training College, the Asin Fosu Training College and the Enchi Training College, among others.

They were complemented by Teacher Training colleges built by religious groups. Dr. Nkrumah also established Universities to provide higher education; first, with the establishment of the University of Cape Coast in 1962 to train teachers for Secondary Schools, Training Colleges, and Technical Institutions.

He set up the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in 1952 and the Kwadaso College of Education to produce middle level manpower for the agriculture sector, and the School of Languages at Ajumako in the Central Region.

Indeed, before he was overthrown, Dr. Nkrumah had secured a parcel of land to put up a College of Agriculture at Somanya in the Greater Accra Region.

Nkrumah’s role was very vital in the transitioning of the University College of the Gold Coast to its current status as the University of Ghana. During the 1960-61 academic year, the University College Council made a request to the Nkrumah Government for a legislation that will change the University College, into a fully-fledged University with the power to award its own degrees.

The then government appointed an International Commission to examine the proposal presented to government. On the recommendations of the Commission, the University of Ghana was set up by an Act of Parliament on October 1, 1961 (Act 79).

That explains why Nkrumah became the first Chancellor of the University. In 1961, Nkrumah introduced free education for primary and middle schools to ensure that every child of school age had education.

It’s of significant to note that the Education Act of 1961 (Act 87), under the regime of Dr. Nkrumah, was reviewed only last year and replaced with the current education act. The visionary Nkrumah also introduced a policy to supply free textbooks to schoolchildren in 1963.


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