Free SHS: A Social Contract Policy Vrs IMF

Gilbert Addah


Education is a fundamental human right that should be accessible to all, regardless of social or economic backgrounds. In tandem with this principle, the Akufo-Addo administration implemented the Free Senior High School (Free SHS) programme, aimed at providing free education to all senior high school students in the country. While this initiative has made significant strides in promoting educational opportunities, it has faced challenges, particularly in terms of funding and targeting.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has expressed concerns about the programme’s efficacy, urging President Akufo-Addo to review its implementation. I propose a way forward for the Free SHS program, with strict focus on improved targeting mechanisms.

To address concerns regarding the targeting of the Free SHS programme, measures should be taken to ensure that resources are allocated efficiently, reaching those who need them the most.

The following approaches can be implemented:

Implementing a comprehensive means-testing system or criteria can accurately help identify students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds who truly require financial assistance. This can be achieved by assessing family income, assets, expenditure patterns, family size and any other relevant socio-economic indicators. The criteria should be designed to capture an accurate representation of a family’s ability to support their child’s education expenses.

Harness the power of big data analytics and leverage non-traditional data sources to identify students from disadvantaged backgrounds. This can include analysing data from mobile phone usage and financial transactions to gain insights into household characteristics and economic activities. Collaborations with mobile network operators and financial institutions can provide anonymised data that when analyzed with appropriate safeguards, can help identify students in need.

Also, develop a centralized database that collects relevant socio-economic information of students and their families. This database can be integrated with existing government databases, such as tax records and social welfare databases, to assess eligibility and ensure efficient allocation of resources. Utilising technology and data analytics will enhance the targeting process.

Furthermore, collect data from multiple sources to validate and cross-check the means testing assessments. By integrating data from different sources, the assessment process can be more accurate and reduce the potential for manipulation or misrepresentation.

Again, collaborate with financial institutions to access financial data and credit histories of households. This collaboration can help validate means testing assessments and provide a more accurate picture of a family’s financial situation. By leveraging financial institutions data, the Free SHS program can identify families that may be excluded or overlooked in the means testing process, ensuring that support reaches those who genuinely need it.

The need conduct targeted surveys and interviews to gather additional information about families’ financial circumstances. This can include specific questions about income sources, expenditures, debts, or other relevant financial factors.

Recognizing regional disparities in educational infrastructure and resources, the government should consider implementing a targeted approach that focuses on regions or districts with the greatest need. This approach would ensure that resources are allocated to areas where students face significant educational disadvantages.

It is important to decentralise the targeting mechanism where necessary. Establish community-based committees comprising representatives from schools, parents, local leaders, and district education officials. These committees can play a vital role in identifying students from disadvantaged backgrounds, verifying eligibility, and providing valuable insights into local contexts and challenges. Their involvement in the process would promote transparency, accountability, and community ownership of the program.

The government can implement a conditional cash transfer component within the Free SHS program. This approach involves providing financial support to students based on certain conditions, such as regular school attendance, academic performance, and participation in extra-curricular activities. This not only holds beneficiary students accountable to the program but also incentivises them to actively engage in their education while ensuring that resources are directed toward motivated and committed individuals.

The government through the Ministry of Education (MoE) and the Ghana Education Service (GES) should develop a multi-dimensional vulnerability index that considers various factors beyond income, such as access to basic services, household composition, and educational attainment of parents or guardians. This comprehensive assessment would enable a more holistic understanding of a student’s socio-economic situation, ensuring that those facing multiple vulnerabilities receive appropriate support.

Implement a system for regular review and updates of means testing assessments to account for changes in household circumstances. Financial situations can fluctuate over time, and families may experience changes in income or other factors that affect their eligibility for financial support. Conducting periodic reviews ensures that the Free SHS programme continues to target the most deserving students and avoids providing support to those who no longer require it.

NGOs can provide valuable insights, resources, and support services to complement the government’s efforts in targeting and reaching vulnerable students. Partnership with NGOs ensures a comprehensive and holistic approach to addressing educational disparities within the Free SHS programme.

Recognise the unique needs of students with disabilities and establish specialised support programmes. This includes providing assistive technologies, trained teachers, and accessible infrastructure to ensure inclusivity within the Free SHS programme. Collaboration with disability advocacy organisations and stakeholders can help design and implement targeted interventions for students with disabilities.

Conduct sensitization and awareness campaigns to ensure that families understand the importance of providing accurate and truthful information during means testing assessments. Address any concerns or misconceptions they may have about the process and emphasize the importance of targeted support for those who are most in need. By fostering transparency and trust in the means testing system, the program can enhance its effectiveness and ensure the fair distribution of resources.

Establish an appeals and grievance mechanism to address cases where families believe they have been incorrectly assessed or unfairly excluded from the programme.

This mechanism should provide a clear process for families to voice their concerns, submit additional information, or request a review of their means testing assessment. An impartial body or committee can be responsible for reviewing such cases and making appropriate decisions to ensure fairness and accuracy in the allocation of resources.

Enact legislation that imposes penalties for providing false information during the targeting process. Penalties can include fines, sanctions, or other appropriate measures to discourage individuals and institutions from intentionally misrepresenting the financial circumstances of students and their families. The severity of penalties should be proportional to the seriousness of the offense and should act as a strong deterrent.

By implementing these proposals in means testing and financial assessment within the Free SHS programme, Ghana can address the concerns raised by the IMF and further improve the targeting mechanisms. By refining the means testing criteria, using multiple data sources, conducting regular reviews, and collaborating with financial institutions, the programme can ensure that limited resources are directed to those who genuinely need financial support for their education. Additionally, sensitization campaigns, appeals mechanisms, and targeted surveys enhance transparency, accuracy, and fairness in the means testing process, fostering trust and confidence among families and stakeholders.

By Gilbert Addah