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The idea of introducing Ghana’s Free Senior High School (SHS) policy has existed since its independence in 1957. The introduction of SHS policy objectives was to liberate Ghanaians from illiteracy, provide quality education, provide families with financial support after getting employed, and help transform the country through innovation. Many families could not educate their children, leading to a cycle of poverty in families and through government identified that a free education system would be the ideal solution to enhance access to quality education and help fight poverty, crime, and deviance that result from poor or no education among many people (Knill & Tosun, 2020). SHS program officially started in September 2017 after facing many challenges before its implementation. Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, among other prominent leaders from Ghana, was at the frontline to suggest the importance of free education in Ghana. Ghana's free senior high school policy was subjected to scrutiny as it was a new idea requiring more attention and resources because the country had just gained independence and was not economically and financially stable.
The critical analysis of the free SHS policy in Ghana delves into explores the actors and factors involved in the implementation of the policy, the conceptual approach and framework, top-down and bottom-up approaches used, factors that affected the delay and implementation, policy design and institutional arrangements, and predicted beneficiaries of the policy. The SHS policy faced more challenges leading to its delay for many years before putting it into practice. Also, the education environments had adverse factors that hindered most of the policy's objectives and goals. However, they were gradually resolved until Ghana acquired an effective free senior high school program.
The implementation gap in policymaking is the difference between the expected objectives, goals, and outcomes of a policy and the nature of the actual execution of the plans and strategies to have an established and approved policy (David & Andrews, 2022). Free SHS policy had a massive implementation gap, thus affecting the effectiveness of the policy. Inadequate infrastructure and resources was the key problem facing the policy. Approximately 70 percent of pupils complete basic primary education while only 35 complete senior secondary. The number of students was high while the government's financial position was concerning. The shortage of resources and a rapidly increasing student population resulted in the inadequacy of dormitory spaces and learning resources such as books and teachers, and there was a huge call for constructing new classes and schools. The pupil-teacher ratio 2017 was approximately 30, almost triple the recommended number (Duah et al., 2022). Quality of education decreased contrary to what was expected because of the rapid expansion of student enrollment in the existing small school and few learning resources. The teacher training program was also insufficient. Enrollment and access to the free SHS program are unequal, as students from rural and remote areas are limited to the appropriate infrastructure, school transportation, and learning facilities. Also, schools in these areas rarely provide the required services to students with disabilities. Government funding is the main source of funding for this program, and it is subjected to many challenges in sustaining free education for a long period as planned (Agbesi & Baiden, 2021).
The success of implanting the SHS policy was first evident in the 1990s when the country had a succession of stable governments. Ghana introduced and implemented the Free Compulsory Basic Education (fCUBE), which provided basic education to all children and created a gateway for the need and application of senior school education. It is a constitutional right that every child has basic education in Ghana, which is the same case in most countries worldwide (Rita & Acheampong, 2021). Implementation of the SHS policy in Ghana followed well-planned strategies and long-term goals for better development and poverty eradication. The policy formulation and agenda setting was well organized and successful. President Nana Akufo-Addo used the Free SHS program in his campaign and promised to implement it, which he did in September 2017.
There are three policy types: distributive, redistributive, and regulatory. The regulatory public policy entails formalized legislation of rules and guidelines that protect and enhance the sustainability of a policy. Distributive public policy focuses on government funding and ensures that the required resources are provided in the required quantity on time. Last. The redistributive public policy contains the distributive typology though it is more frequent, and groups share funds to ensure equal access to resources (Kellow, 2018). The Ghana free SHS policy is under Lowi’s policy typology as the policy-makers focus on improving its effectiveness and involves the government for funding and resource allocation. Initially, the policy was under all three policy typologies, but it is now under redistributive and regulatory policy typologies as there is evidence of regulatory boards and actions and local groups as players to promote free secondary education and enhance the policy’s sustainability (Chanimbe, & Dankwah, (2021).
Policy implementation involves several approaches that enhance achieving its goals, properly aligning a policy's context, and allocating available resources. The common policy implementation approaches are top-down, bottom-up, and collaborative. The top-down approach involves making decisions and directives and formulating policies at a higher level of the governing body. The policies are then passed down the hierarchy, whereby the lower level are expected to follow the guidelines of their upper levels (Birkland). The bottom-up approach involves grassroots and local participation when making policies, and it is best for the community since they ideate concerns that will benefit them. Lastly is the collaborative approach, which involves different stakeholders in decision-making. Parties involved in the collaborative approach include NGOs, community organizations, government agencies, and private sectors.
Implementing the free SHS program combines top-down and bottom-up approaches to ensure its effectiveness and inclusion. Policy design, formulation, legislation, policy guidelines, and resource allocation are under the national government. The national level has the required skills and information for designing and formulating policies. The task of the government in policy design and formulation is to set the policy's objectives, goals, scope, and eligibility criteria. The second task that only the Ghana government and not the local or private sector entities handle was resource allocation, enrollment processes, monitoring mechanisms, and infrastructure development (Tamanja & Pajibo, 2019). All of these were key to achieving the goal of the provision of free SHS. Ghana Education Service (GES) played a significant role in managing schools, the enrollment process, and enhancing compliance with the guidelines in schools. Making budgets for tuition fees, textbooks, and other learning materials is expensive and thus requires the involvement of the government only to supply them and ease parents' burdens for paying these fees.
The bottom-up approach is necessary as the top-down approach when during policy implementation, especially in an educational-related program. The member involved in decision-making is the parents, local governments, teachers, and students. The teachers and parents discuss specific needs that the implemented policy should highlight. The higher government agencies may fail to identify some problems that students, teachers, and parents face or may face, thus the need to combine top-down and bottom-up design (Sabatier, 1986). Before implementing the free SHS program in Ghana, the government collected information from community leaders, school administrators, and local authorities to identify challenges and concerns per each geographical location and account for them in the drafted policy guidelines (Mohammed & Kuyini, 2021).
The implementation of free SHS education in Ghana was supported by several factors that led to its success and acceptance by the citizens. Political leadership is the central aspect that contributed to the implementation of this policy since the leaders suggested the importance of free education that will benefit thousands of students per year and remove the financial burden from their parents (Frimpong et al., 2022). Despite many challenges that halted the policy, political leaders such as President Nana Akufo-Addo, Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh, and Hon. Yaw Osei Adutwum kept pushing towards implementing this policy up to its success in September 2017. The use of free SHS education by President Nana Akufo-Addo as a campaign tool, his winning significantly contributed to implementing this policy, as it was less than a year that gained started receiving free SHS education.
The public support and demand for free education enhanced the fulfillment of implementing this policy as they would keep reminding the political leaders of the significance of this policy to the community and the nation in general. A country like Ghana would have significantly benefited by investing in free education, and leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah knew this and started advocating for free senior education. Educated and learned individuals drive the country since they have innovation and development skills and knowledge compared to illiterate ones. International support and partnerships favored the implementation of free SHS as the Ghanaian government received loans to allocate resources to schools.
The idea of free SHS in Ghana was first introduced in 1957 after it gained its experience but was not implemented until 2017. The implementation of this policy was subjected to scrutiny from many factors. Ghana had unstable governments until the 1990s, and this was no place to implement such an expensive policy. Also, the leadership during this timeframe could not place free education before stabilizing the economy and the government itself. Another huge problem that resulted in a longer halting of free SHS education was financial constraints (Shamo, 2023). Free education for all Ghana seniors would cost the government a fortune. The government was not in a position to afford that substantial funding without compromising other fields that also required government funding. The lack of prioritization of free education by the previous governments provided no reason for other governments to prioritize it, thus extending the halting period of the implementation of the free education policy.
Another factor that played a role in holding this SHS plan as a draft was the opposition and stakeholder resistance. Some stakeholders, such as teacher’s unions, educational institutions, and political parties, resisted the SHS policy claiming that it will affect the quality of education, student-teacher ratio, funding sustainability, and infrastructure shortage, among other issues (Koski & Workman, 2018). Private schools did not support this as it would lead to a huge decrease in the student population and, thus, low profits. This stakeholder resistance and strong political opposition delayed the policy's implementation. Administrative challenges in Ghana created bottlenecks for the policy as there were bureaucratic inefficiencies, poor capacity-building initiatives, incomplete framework, and planning gaps that resulted in the delay of implementing this policy.
The free SHS policy was put into practice in 2017, and Ghana Education Services started overseeing the schools in accordance with the policy. The policy was started in a few selected schools to test its effectiveness and feasibility. The reason for using few schools more than all public schools was to identify any problems with the policy and give the policy-makers this feedback to adjust the highland areas. The first phase was successfully completed, and after finalizing the policy, it was expanded to more learning students and student enrollment was increased to start achieving the policy's goals and scope (Stone, 1989). This expansion was not also in regions in the countries as it mainly focused on the urban and near-urban areas, which had the proper infrastructure and could hold many students. The Ghana government started seeing the benefits associated with the program in the areas it was practiced and started the enrollment and application process in the country.
Clear guidelines and criteria for eligibility were established to affect the admissions and overall performance of the policy (Knill & Tosun, 2020). The government budgeted for the free SHS program and started running it yearly and has been buying textbooks, covering tuition fees, building more schools, providing teaching-teacher programs, and improving the quality of education. According to Ghana Education Service, the number of people who have benefited from free SHS education is 1.6 million. The number of school-going students is 21%, estimated to increase over time (Kwegyiriba, 2021). Ghana Education Services (GES) studies how to improve free SHS education by removing current limitations, such as the student-teacher ratio and unequal education provision in different geographical locations. This research on Ghana senior education achieves more refined education and thus produces well-prepared students for tertiary learning (Adu-Gyamfi et al., 2020).
The institutional arrangements designed an achievable policy using well-formulated and legislated processes to achieve these goals and objectives. Free SHS policy had its execution through thoughtful design, approaches, and systems. Well-defined policy objectives are the first element of the policy design that led to its success. The goal was clear and easy to be understood by anyone despite their education level. The policy objectives were to improve the quality of education, increase education equality and accessibility, increase enrollment rates, provide financial support to parents, and as an investment in the well-being of Ghana (Adarkwah, 2022).
Secondly, the policy had a solid legal framework that secured the sustainability of free policy SHS in the constitution and formalized policy directives and laws (McBeth, & Lybecker, 2018). The Ministry of Education and GES are the two central bodies that oversee free secondary education, and their responsibilities are to monitor and coordinate the learning process, resource allocation, and compliance with the policy by the relevant stakeholders, among others. The Funding mechanisms are under policy design where the designated funding source is the government. Under the institutional arrangements are the process and approaches to enhance the sustainability and effectiveness of the free SHS policy, and we have eligibility criteria that define the requirements for a student applying for enrollment (Agbesi & Baiden, 2021). Teacher recruitment and training were well heightened in the policy as the existing number of teachers would not handle the student population.
The implementation of the free SHS policy played a significant role in the country. Ghana has achieved some of the policy's objectives and striving to implement and refine guidelines to enhance the performance of free SHS education. The country has formalized a hundred percent transition of students to secondary schools, which is a great move. Education is the backbone of development and innovation, and Ghana invested in its youths by providing free education. Free secondary education resulted in increased student enrollment, creation of employment opportunities, improved access and equity, reduction of school dropout rates, increased gender parity, increased student retention, economic growth, and a positive social and political image and impact. Also, the free SHS program provides free lunches to students, which encourages more enrollment (Abizari et al., 2021). Ghana's education ranking increased to an education index of 0.56, rank 115, and a literacy rate of 76.58%, positioning it at number 164.
The policy of free secondary education in Ghana was introduced after the country gained independence in 1957 but faced many challenges that led to its delay in implementation until 2017 after President Nana Akufo-Addo won the election. The free SHS education policy was subjected to challenges such as the existence of unstable governments, resistance from stakeholders and political oppositions, financial constraints, and lack of prioritization by previous political governments. On the other hand, factors that favored its implementation are strong public demand, and support, supportive political leadership, proper policy design and planning, international financial support, and collaborative stakeholder engagement. The implementation succeeded, and the policy improved the quality of education, increased student retention and gender parity, and boosted Ghana's education ranking.