By Adam Yunus
The critical role of secondary education as a tool for social mobility, especially for the underprivileged, cannot be over-emphasised.
Indeed, it is widely admitted that secondary education lays the foundation for lifelong learning opportunities.
Additionally, there is a general recognition that education is a public good and that the State must lead its provision.
Therefore, no educational delivery arrangement must see the State to be playing a peripheral role, as that will be tantamount to the State relinquishing one of its core social responsibilities of providing enlightenment to the citizenry.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which Ghana is committed to, acknowledge this and stipulate in Goal 4 that by 2030, all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education, leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes.
However, the responsibility of providing secondary education to all is a very huge and complex undertaking for the government alone to meet adequately.
That is the reason for which governments all over the world explore diverse ways of providing educational services to citizens. In its 2016 Report on global education, the World Bank admonished countries to look for effective partnerships in order to meet educational targets.
Undoubtedly, the Government of Ghana has over the years engaged with several non-state actors in the provision of education.
Indeed, most of the best schools in Ghana were established by religious missions in the country.
The private sector has contributed to increased access to secondary education over the years, and still has a huge potential that can be leveraged on to expand access and funding and reduce overcrowding in public schools to promote quality secondary education for all.
Over the years, the private sector’s contribution to secondary education delivery in the operations of private second-cycle schools has increased significantly by providing over 17 per cent of admission space, according to the Ghana Education Sector Report (2017).
However, with the implementation of the government’s Free Senior High School (SHS) programme, private schools appear to be losing students to the public schools amidst limited space in the latter.
An example is the case of a private SHS at Dansoman, in Accra, that has only one student but six teachers, as captured on the front page of the Daily Graphic issue of Tuesday, January 21 2020.
It has also led to the Conference of Heads of Private Secondary Schools (CHOPSS) complaining about the decline in enrolments in private SHSs, leading to the closure of several of them.
Indeed, the limited space in public SHSs has led to the government implementing the double-track system as a temporary measure to deal with a situation. This is seen by many as a desperate measure.
Engage private schools
It is my strongest conviction that other options could be explored to deal with the situation, by harnessing the potential of private schools in providing access. Private schools have the capacity to admit the additional numbers involved in the double-track admissions.
In the wake of the discussions leading to the implementation of the double-track system, the CHOPSS proposed to the government to make use of the huge available space in private schools under some agreed arrangements.
Posting students to private SHSs would not be something new as that was the case before the introduction of the Free SHS policy. With limited space in public SHSs, it is the opinion of many, including myself, that the government should have considered that option.
That itself would be a way of boosting private sector participation in secondary education delivery in the country, something urgently needed anyway, especially if we are to make education accessible to all.
Why the private schools
There are several other reasons why it will be beneficial for the government to engage private second-cycle schools in secondary education delivery.
The first is to recognise the fact that those who attend private SHSs do so both voluntarily and circumstantially.
There are those hitherto placed by the Computerised Schools Selection Placement System (CSSPS) and others who were not placed in any school because they could not meet placement requirements.
There were also those who, due to financial constraints, could not enroll in their placed public school in a particular year and deferred their secondary education to the following year, but would still not be admitted in any public school.
There are also parents who change schools for their wards due to change in location and yet, will not be admitted in another public school (especially under the Free SHS system).
All these students, about 36 per cent of Junior High School (JHS) graduates, according to the 2016 EMIS report, will be denied access to secondary education.
Even under the Free SHS policy, not all students will be placed, as one still needs to meet certain requirements.
It is the private SHSs who fill this vacuum and provide the opportunity to some of these students who will be rejected by the system at the full cost of the parents of these students.
Many of these students are the underprivileged from deprived communities who could not get access to better basic education.
There are many notable Ghanaians who attended private SHSs after not getting access to public schools and are currently impacting positively on society.
In view of the existing challenges as discussed above, it appears that the government may need to explore the opportunities offered by the private sector and other stakeholders to achieve the SDGs and other constitutional and educational obligations.
The government’s engagement with the private sector in the delivery of secondary education is almost inevitable, and only requires a stronger collaboration and effective monitoring to ensure that quality standards are met.
The writer is a research fellow and head of programmes at the Baraka Policy Institute (BPI), a policy think tank on education and general well-being, Accra