I’II Support Any Bill To Improve Free SHS — Mahama

Former President and flag bearer of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), John Dramani Mahama, says he will support any Bill that seeks to improve the free senior high school (SHS) policy, stressing that the free SHS policy has come to stay.

“It is a political gimmick that is being played around. Free SHS has come to stay. Nobody can roll it back," Mr Mahama said last Sunday during his encounter with the media in Accra.

"What we are saying is let's improve the implementation, remove the bottlenecks, abolish the double track system, and decentralise the school feeding programme," he added.

The former President’s comments were in response to a question about his disposition to the free SHS policy in the wake of publicly espoused fears by the governing New Patriotic Party (NPP) that the NDC could cancel the policy should it return to power.

Policy launched in 2015
But Mr Mahama said he launched the policy in 2015 under a progressive arrangement, and questioned how he could abandon or be against a programme he had initiated.

Upon the launch of the policy in 2015, he said, the then flag bearer of the NPP and now President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, who first proposed the policy at a public debate in 2012, lauded then President Mahama for giving life to his proposal.

Mr Mahama said the NDC government started the policy with Day students, “and after the second year, we absorbed 170,000 into the free SHS”. “UNESCO congratulated us for launching the free SHS,” he added.

The event was graced by the stalwarts of the party, including his running mate, Professor Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang; Chairman of the National Campaign Team, Prof. Joshua Alabi; the NDC General Secretary, Fifi Fiavi Kwetey; former Trade and Industry Minister, Dr Ekow Spio-Gabrah, and the Director of Election and IT of the party, Dr Edward Omane Boamah.

Free SHS bill
Mr Mahama said the policy must be implemented under a freer environment where stakeholders, including teachers and administrators, would have the freedom to discuss the challenges with the system without having to look over their shoulders because of possible victimisation.

He said stakeholders and teachers who dared to raise issues about challenges confronting the implementation of the programme “are either sacked or they are transferred to Siberia”.

“And so we must change that. We must free them to be able to come out and talk about it, and discuss free SHS and how we can improve it. My commitment is to improve it,” he stated.

Commenting on the free SHS Bill intended to be brought to Parliament, he said he had not seen the Bill so he could not make informed comments on it.

He, however, explained that he was in support of any Bill that would improve the education at pre-tertiary level, stressing that he would support any Bill that would improve the quality and sustainability of the country’s education system.

Former President Mahama emphasised the importance of stakeholder consultation on the proposed education Bill, which aims to merge junior high school and senior high school.

"I support any Bill that improves our education, makes it sustainable, and affords quality education for our children," Mahama said. "However, I haven't seen the Bill, and I don't think it has undergone stakeholder consultation yet," he added.

Mr Mahama stressed the need for input from parents, teachers and all stakeholders in the education sector, saying, "If you're making fundamental changes to the educational system, everyone with a stake in education must be involved".

He urged the relevant parliamentary committee to thoroughly engage in stakeholder consultation to ensure that all voices were heard before any decisions were made on it.