Who Really Started Free SHS: Mahama or Akufo-Addo? Here are the Facts

The debate about who initiated the Free Senior High School policy has resurged with political figures of the two main political parties, New Patriotic Party (NPP) and National Democratic Congress (NDC), claiming to be the initiator.

Addressing a campaign durbar at Tuobong, a community in the Tempane District of the Upper East Region, former President Mahama, said his government birthed the Free Senior High School Programme in 2015.

“We started the programme and the NPP came and continued it. Unfortunately, the implementation has been very poor, and so it ended us in double track,” Mr. Mahama stressed.

Reacting to Mr. Mahama’s statement on Wednesday, November 25, 2020, President Akufo-Addo said he was surprised that former President Mahama is claiming to have started the Free Senior High School Policy. The president said this while addressing a group of people at Odorkor lorry station as part of his tour of the Greater Accra Region.

“I heard something yesterday that surprised me. The former President stated that my promise to start the free SHS policy was false and just a ploy to deceive Ghanaians. He was strongly against the policy and stated that if he had the money to implement that policy, he will use it for something else. He also said it will take Ghana years to implement it but now he is saying he started the Free SHS, and it’s surprising,” President Akufo-Addo said.


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These claims by the leaders of the two main political parties have revived the discussion on who initiated Ghana’s Free Senior High School programme on both the legacy and social media.

Fact-check Ghana has verified the claim made by the flagbearers of the two main political parties and presents the facts below.

Free secondary education is an aspiration provided for under the 1992 constitution. Article 25 (1) (b) of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana provides that free secondary education be progressively introduced.

Did President Mahama launch Free SHS in 2015?

On September 17, 2015, a Progressively Free Senior High School policy was launched by Former President John Mahama in Otuam, Ekumfi, in the Central region with the aim to absorb fees for Day students, at least for the start. It was expected to among others cover about 320,000 students across the country. The cost of the program was pegged at GHS 12.2 million.

On the eve of the launch of the policy, Public Relations Officer of the Ghana Education Service, Francis Gbadago gave the breakdown of the numbers of beneficiaries as follows:

Central Region – 27, 795 students in 54 schools, Western Region – 38, 751 in 56 Schools, Ashanti Region – 64, 430 from 102 schools, Northern    – 17, 648 students out of 45 schools, Brong Ahafo – 38, 751 from 56 schools, Upper East – 1,395 students out of 28 schools, Upper West – 877 students from 23 schools, Eastern – 34,157 students out of 82 schools, Greater Accra – 52,664 consisting of 46 schools, Volta – 36,859 out of 88 schools.

Aside the numbers, the scholarship was also to cover examination, library, entertainment, Students Representative Council (SRC) dues, science development, science and mathematics quiz, sports, culture, ICT and co-curricular.

To substantiate this, page 124 of The Budget Statement And Economic Policyof the Government of Ghana for the 2016 Financial Year presented to Parliament on Friday, November 13, 2015, By Seth E. Terkper, the then Minister of Finance, partly reads:

“Mr. Speaker, in fulfilment of the Constitutional provision of making secondary education progressively free, His Excellency the President launched the Progressively Free Secondary Education Programme at Ekumfi Otuam. Government provided funding for the first term of 2015/16 academic year to absorb the examination, entertainment, library, SRC, sports, culture, science development, science and mathematics quiz, ICT and co-curricular fees for 320,488 day students in public senior high schools. This commitment will be sustained”

Then Candidate Akufo-Addo in an interview with Accra-based Oman FM lauded Mr. Mahama for his announcement to commence a free SHS during his 2014 State of the Nation Address.

On March 15, 2016, Mr. Mahama while speaking at the 70th Anniversary-Speech and Prize Giving Day of Holy Child School in Cape Coast said the government is in the process of expanding the progressive Free Secondary Education Programme to include boarding students before the end of the year.

Notwithstanding the fact that the program started in the 2015/16 academic year to cover over 320,000 Day students, Minister for Education, Matthew Opoku Prempeh mentioned that Mahama’s government did not pay for students in the 2016/17 academic year hence forcing Headmasters of the various second cycle schools to demand payment.

Further, a media report in 2019 also indicates that the Conference of Heads of Assisted Secondary Schools(CHASS) had written to Management of Ghana Education Service (GES) to demand arrears of students who benefited from the Mahama government’s three-year scholarship Policy intervention dubbed Progressively Free SHS.

How different has Akufo-Addo’s Free SHS Policy been from John Mahama’s?

On September 12, 2017, barely a year after becoming a president,  Nana Akufo-Addo launched one of his most talked about programmes  – the Free SHS Policy.

The policy sought to provide absolutely free secondary education to every Ghanaian child who enters a public senior high school. Starting with about 400,000 students in 2017 with a seed money of 486 million Ghana cedis, about 1.2 million pupils have benefited from the policy so far according to the Education Ministry.

Government said the cost covered furniture, physical education kits, school uniforms, clothes and house dresses.

It also added that the policy caters for meals in day and boarding schools, supplementary readers, teachers’ notebooks, core textbooks, buffer stocks and other payments.

In June 2020, Vice President, Dr. Bawumia said the government has spent GH¢2bn so far on its flagship Free Senior High School (SHS) policy.

From the facts above, it is important to state that former president Mahama introduced a policy he dubbed “Progressively Free Senior High School” which covered a number of public day schools in Ghana. President Akufo-Addo, on the other hand, started the Free Senior High School policy which covered all public senior high schools in Ghana.

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