The lawmaker representing Nabdam, Dr. Mark Kurt Nawaane, has predicted a bad start and a jumbled ending to the much-touted free Senior High School (SHS) policy, saying government will have a mountain to climb implementing it.
He cited two reasons for the foretold mess: oversize cost and exclusion of key stakeholders from the proposed running of fee-free second-cycle institutions nationwide.
The legislator registered this observation Monday when he offered “personal” financial assistance to 200 SHS and 50 tertiary students in his constituency. The support comes just days to the beginning of September- the opening month of the new academic year in which the promised free education is expected to start.
“Nobody is against the free SHS but its implementation is still not going to be easy. The concept of free SHS has some problems. It is in the constitution that we should do it (free education) progressively free. But are we at that stage yet to do it completely free? If you are spending four hundred million on only the first-year students, if you were to spend on the three classes from SHS1 to SHS3, you would be spending about 1.2 billion. You can imagine how many school blocks that amount can build. In Ghana at the moment, most of the old school structures that were built in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s are deteriorating and we need money for renovation.
“Besides, at the moment, key stakeholders including churches are being told your assistance is not important. The PTAs, corporate institutions, the old students- all these people used to assist the schools. And the message out there is that the old students, the PTA cannot charge even if they need to build a dining hall. Are we going to say we don’t need help from any other stakeholder apart from government? We are much more concerned in implementing our manifesto promises than doing what is good for Ghana,” stated the Member of Parliament (MP).
Uncommon Selection for Uncommon Fund
Many households in the rural constituency still struggle to feed even as low as two times a day. Every year, a great number of boarding students are stuck at home, unable to return to campus when schools reopen.
The untold hardships do influence a lot of such underprivileged students to engage in wearisome vacation jobs- like searching for ore in dry mining pits and gathering sand and stones for construction sites- to raise the bus fares needed to rejoin their classmates. The MP’s intervention, coming in as the holidays fade out, saw each of SHS beneficiaries receive Gh¢100 and the tertiary students Gh¢120 apiece.
“I’m currently self-financing this function because it is time-bound. You’ve got to do it at the right time. When the students are going back to school is where the difficulties are. Some students need just Gh¢100 to report at school and later on their parents can sort them out. MPs have not received their common fund yet, but I had to raise the funds personally to make sure we do it at the right time,” Dr. Nawaane told journalists.
The MP’s aides say the beneficiaries were nominated by assembly members, chiefs, current and former District Chief Executives (DCEs) and opinion leaders among other influential figures. It is the first time a legislator in the area has asked that needy students be reached through such a broad-based approach, according to his aides.
“We wanted to ensure that the community was involved in the nominations of the beneficiaries. And that is why if you see 250 students here, it means 250 people (nominators) were involved. The benefit of this method is that the elders, the chiefs and opinion leaders, with their reputation, would help to identify students who are truly needy. I may not be able to identify such students myself, I must be honest with you,” the MP said.
He added: “I was very glad when a son to one elder came and said his father did not nominate him. He came to me for direct assistance. I’m very happy because it means that his father thought that somebody else needed that assistance more than his own son. And this is the way we have to build a society.”
Grow to be like your MP- Chief tells Beneficiaries
A crowd of students was at the palace of the Paramount Chief of Nangodi, Naba Kosom Yelzoya Asaga II, where the MP, together with his assistants, made the donations.
The chief urged the students to follow the footsteps of the legislator who, in the face of childhood hardship, excelled in school to become not just a lawgiver but also a caregiver.
“We are grateful for what he has done. The MP Common Fund hasn’t come yet. As at now, it is his own money he’s using to help and the number of us benefiting are not small. It hasn’t been easy for some of us, considering where we are coming from. We go through a lot before we can come up with our school fees, before we can go to school,” said Edward Nagroug Adua, a tertiary student at the Kumasi Campus of the University of Education Winneba, in an interaction with newsmen.
Portia Anafo Bugre Deboot, a student of the Kongo Senior High School, said with obvious relief: “I don’t have anybody to take care of me. As I’m going back to school, I can only boast that it is this money (given by the MP) that I will use to buy my things and go back to school. I was nominated for this support because there is nobody to take care of me.”