The Chair of Public Interest and Accountability Committee (PIAC), Noble Wadzah has defended the committee’s maiden free Senior High School (SHS) Implementation Monitoring Report for 2018/2019.
According to him, “We have never been against free SHS but we are concerned about the implementation challenges of the Free SHS Programme”.
The report released revealed that teething challenges could impede the smooth progress of the country’s Free SHS Programme.
But Mr Wadzah told some selected members of the Institute of Financial and Economic Journalists (IFEJ) at a two-day workshop held in Koforidua in the Eastern Region that the Committee was working with the stakeholders of the programme to address the challenges raised in the report.
PIAC is an additional public oversight body established under Section 51 of the Petroleum Revenue Management Act (PRMA), Act 815 (2011) to provide an independent oversight over the collection, allocation, and utilisation of Ghana’s petroleum revenue.
In 2018, the Committee expanded this exercise to include the monitoring of 29 beneficiary schools under the Free SHS Programme.
This was informed by the fact that the programme benefited substantially from the Annual Budget Funding Account (ABFA) since the selection of Physical Infrastructure and Service Delivery in Education as a priority area.
In 2017, 59 percent of utilised ABFA was spent on the programme, while over GH₵414 million of utilised ABFA in 2018 went to to support the programme.
About 32 percent of projected ABFA in 2019 was made for the programme from ABFA, he said.
Presenting the report, an Assistant Technical Manager of PIAC, Denis M. Gyeyir said the newly introduced segment of PIAC’s monitoring exercise – the Free SHS Programme, classified under the Physical Infrastructure and Service Delivery in Education priority area receives substantial funding from the ABFA.
Given the significance of the sector and expenditure on the programme, PIAC undertook monitoring exercises in 2018 and 2019 to evaluate the implementation of the Free SHS Programme in 51 schools in eight regions, namely, Ashanti, Brong Ahafo, Central, Greater Accra, Northern, Upper East, Upper West and Western.
Out of this number, nine of the schools were single-sex while 42 of the schools including technical were mixed, according to him.
Mr Gyeyir noted that delays in funds disbursement from the Free SHS Secretariat headquartered in Accra were not good for the effective and efficient running of the programme began in 2017.
Funds disbursed to schools are based on the enrolment figures submitted by the schools and reconciled with the Free SHS Secretariat.
Some schools experience delays in receipt of funds, sometimes transferred in tranches within or across terms.
About 85 percent of the schools visited had to rely on the funds of the non-free SHS students to cater for all streams of students until funds are disbursed from the Free SHS Secretariat, he added.
Touching on infrastructure, the Mr Gyeyir stated categorically that insufficient beds, classrooms, labs and equipment were still a challenge.
“A total of 42 out of the 51 schools visited, particularly those in the rural areas, have no assembly hall, no dining hall, and no standard administration block amongst other facilities”, Mr Gyeyir and his team of researchers stressed.
Another challenge according to the findings of report is Elective Subject Textbooks Supply which is not covered under the free SHS policy.
However, this has not been clearly communicated to parents by government, leading to a situation where some parents are refusing to take responsibility for the purchase of these textbooks for their wards.
This situation is negatively impacting on the quality of teaching and learning in the schools. There was a recurring problem in the technical and vocational institutions where practical learning materials and equipment supplied by government were inadequate or non-existent.
Students are required to leave core textbooks behind when progressing to a higher class. The absence of a textbook replacement scheme is also adding to the challenge to effective teaching and learning, the report said.
If these challenges are not addressed, they will impact negatively on the running of the schools when the programme runs full stream. These infrastructural challenges need to be addressed if the Free SHS programme is to make an impact.
The programme has ensured timely reporting of students to school at the beginning of each term, as compared to previous years. Students no longer wait for school fees to be provided for them before they report to school.
Core textbooks have been adequately provided in all schools visited albeit late in some instances. Generally, the books are supplied in good quantities.
The programme has occasioned increased enrolment in 41 percent of schools visited, particularly enrolment of girls, the report indicated.
The report therefore recommended to the government to ensure that disbursements to the schools are done expeditiously as the non-free SHS students phase out, to avoid closure of the schools and disruptions to the academic calendar.
“Technical and Vocational Schools should be adequately resourced with the necessary equipment and teaching materials.
Government must expedite action on the provision of infrastructure facilities to end the double track system, extend contact hours, and relieve staff of the attendant extra pressures”.