Kwesimintsim MP to Free SHS critics: Your criticism must build up, not to undermine

Dr Prince Armah says all criticism of Free Senior High School must “build up” the policy and not “tear it down”

The MP for Kwesimintsim in the Western Region, Prince Hamid Armah, has challenged critics of the Free Senior High School programme to support the initiative to succeed, instead of trying to undermine it.

In an opinion piece on, Dr Armah addresses criticism of the policy and expresses his confidence that a generation from now, the fruit of the programme will manifest in a more numerate, literate and skilled workforce, capable of building a sustained economy for the country.

He warns that when that happens everyone must remember the role they played and the positions they took during the infant years of the programme.

Although he welcomes criticism of the programme, the deputy chairman of the parliamentary select committee on education says the criticism must be of the kind that will “build up” the policy and not “tear it down”.


Others, Dr Armah believes, never wanted the programme to succeed and are looking for ways to justify their opposition.

He expresses concern that “we can have a former minister of education accuse young people of cheating in an international examination merely because their performance laid waste to the doom song she and others had been waiting to sing”.

His comments come in a week when the Free SHS programme has made headlines, with students, parents, teachers, heads of schools and political party bigwigs expressing their opinions of the policy, which was first implemented four years ago.

Some critics of Free SHS allege the policy will reduce the quality of education, largely because of the double-track element currently involved.

They also claim that even though the policy is supposed to be free, they are having to spend large sums on extra tuition. They would rather the programme be scrapped, or that the government target the policy at people who cannot afford to send their children to school.

Poor execution

The vice-presidential candidate of the National Democratic Congress in the 2020 elections, Professor Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang, has waded into the debate, criticising the government for executing the programme poorly and accusing students of widespread cheating in the 2020 WAEC examinations.

Dr Armah recalls “that in the 2012 campaign in particular, communication from the then incumbent National Democratic Congress revolved mainly around the Free SHS policy and the fact that, in the eyes of the then president and his party, it was a pipe dream merely canvassed in the search for gullible votes. The story was no different in 2016.”

He says even though the Akufo-Addo-led government kept faith with the promise to implement the policy and although, within nine months of the start of its tenure, it implemented the policy, which has benefited over a million students, critics are still unrelenting in condemning the programme.

“From day one, many of our citizens have sadly sought to find and promote adverse news about Free SHS and where none was available, some have been happy to create some. We were warned by the doomsayers that Free SHS would compromise the quality of secondary education.

“Long-standing difficulties in our educational sector are suddenly attributable to nothing else but the fact that many more of our young ones are – deservingly – securing secondary education,” he argues.

Singling out what he describes as some of the fallacies in the criticisms of the policy, the former director general of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment says comments about lower standards of education and the lack of funds to implement educational reforms are at variance with the facts on the ground.

“First, there are many who believe that the policy should have been targeted at only those who are unable to pay, understood in the social protection literature as means-testing,” he says, and then points out: “When the framers of our constitution made secondary education a right that should be progressively free to access, they did not accord special status to any class of students. This is because they recognised that social rights are diluted in impact and acceptance if only some classes of people are accorded it,” he says.

Prince Armah finds it interesting that the same people who claim they should be allowed to pay are the same ones complaining about having to spend more on extra classes even though they are benefiting from the Free SHS policy.

False claims

He also dismisses claims that the double-track policy has reduced the quality of education.

“Available data suggests that this innovation alone doubled enrolment at double-track schools, allowing nearly 200,000 students into the secondary school system in the first year of implementation alone. It can be argued that while both the traditional agrarian calendar and double track have been proven empirically to be beneficial to students, double track appears to be more favourable to students from disadvantaged backgrounds, the very group who stand to gain the most from the Free SHS policy,” Dr Armah says.

On the question of contact hours, Dr Armah observes: “Opponents claim that the system has reduced the contact hours that students had previously, pointing at the number of days that some students spend in the school and comparing with other tracks and previous systems. In fact, a review of the dataset would show that the opposite to be the case.

“Under the previous trimester system, students spent eight months and two weeks in school each year, with a total of 180 teaching days and 1,080 contact hours. Under the current semester system, they spend two weeks less in school and have 162 teaching days but manage to clock 1,134 contact hours each year. This has been possible due to the innovative use of time and facilities inherent in the double-track system.”

He said despite the challenges of the COVID-19 era, the government has remained faithful to the policy and has disbursed GHC1.97 billion in total for implementing the policy this year. This is a significant increase on the GHC400 million it spent in the very first year of implementation.

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