Free SHS Bill: Government to scrap BECE and prolong SHS by six years

Cabinet will debate the Free SHS Bill, 2024, this coming week.

The Ministry of Education is drafting a proposed measure that would provide legal support for senior high school (SHS) free and obligatory education.

Last Friday, Dr. Yaw Osei Adutwum, the Minister of Education, announced that the bill will also suggest separating junior high school (JHS) from basic education and incorporating it into secondary school, resulting in the creation of six years of secondary education.

The minister said another proposal of the bill was the cancellation of the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) as a precondition for gaining admission to the secondary level. Rather, it would be used for school selection purposes.

The Education Minister went on to say that once passed, the SHS certification will take the place of the BECE certification as the first official certificate that any student in the nation may earn.

Why legislation

Interacting with selected journalists in his office, Dr Adutwum said the foremost reason to legislate Free SHS was because the policy was not mandatory, and any government that came might do away with it if it did not see merit in it.

“What we need is a law that says there should be free, compulsory universal secondary education. This means the minimum education for the Ghanaian should be a senior high school and not junior high school,” the minister said, stressing “it is our responsibility to provide the support for them”.

State policy

The 1992 Constitution already guarantees free compulsory universal basic education (FCUBE).

The country’s educational objectives under Article 38 of the 1992 Constitution provides in section (1) that “The State shall provide educational facilities at all levels and in all the Regions of Ghana, and shall, to the greatest extent feasible, make those facilities available to all citizens.”

Section two mandates the government to, within two years after Parliament first meets after the coming into force of the Constitution, draw up a programme for implementation within the following 10 years, for the provision of free, compulsory and universal basic education.

In sub-section three, the State shall, subject to the availability of resources, provide: (a) equal and balanced access to secondary and other appropriate pre-university education, equal access to university or equivalent education, with emphasis on science and technology; (b) a free adult literacy programme, and a free vocational training, rehabilitation and resettlement of disabled persons; and (c) life-long education.

High transition rate

Dr Adutwum said due to the Free SHS, the secondary level had more than 505,000 students entering first year this year, the largest enrolment ever in the history of the country.

However, he said, there were still others who had not attained the working age who refused to continue to the SHS but as things were, nothing could be done to compel them to be in school.

“If you don’t mandate them to go, it is a pathway for crime; they will be on the streets. So we shouldn’t give any child the choice to say I don’t want to go,” the Minister of Education averred.

Dr Adutwum explained that Free SHS was good because it provided support that enabled every eligible student to take advantage of.

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He cited the example of the five regions of the North where Free SHS had led to a higher percentage of students transitioning from JHS to SHS, saying if that trend continued “we are going to see an interesting story in Ghana in 10 to 20 years; the North will develop faster than the South”.

The Northern Region has 95 per cent transition from JHS to SHS this year. For North East and Savannah, the transition rate is 94 per cent, Upper East, 92 per cent, Upper West is the lowest in the North with 89 per cent, a figure which is still higher than that of every region in the South.

The Volta Region is the lowest in the country with 66 per cent, with Central Region also being in distress.

The minister underscored the importance about compulsion in improving the transition rate, else some talented Ghanaians who may have the transformative edge to change the country could be left behind.

“So, the free, compulsory and universal secondary education mandates that every child must go and that we provide the resources to make that possible so that some children don’t take the liberty,” Dr Adutwum explained.

Cut-off point

The minister said before Free SHS, students with aggregate 28, for instance, were being turned away from public schools, giving rise to the mushrooming of private secondary schools.

“This is because the government took the position that our own children who went to the public schools and didn’t do well in the BECE could not proceed to our own public senior high schools; it’s a travesty,” he stressed.

“So, if we leave this to the politician who wants to cut cost and still tell the country that I’m implementing Free SHS, what is he going to do to bring eligibility to even those who get aggregate 24 or higher, referred to as the cut-off point,” Dr Adutwum said, underscoring the necessity of the bill.

Decoupling JHS, SHS

On the proposal to remove JHS from basic education and make it part of secondary education, he said that would provide six years of secondary education.

That would be accompanied by a gradual process of equipping the schools for them to perform at the high school level, he explained.          

Dr Adutwum said new schools to be built would have the JHS and SHS co-locating in the same compound, just as some SHSs with JHS were doing and how the ordinary level and advanced level students co-located on the same premises.

The bill also proposed the cancellation of passing BECE as a precondition for progression to the secondary level of education, but be used for the purpose of selecting SHSs to guarantee a smooth transition for all JHS students to SHS.

There will, however, be certificates at the end of SHS.

The bill, therefore, seeks to reintroduce a system akin to the old Middle School and Secondary School relationship, where the Common Entrance Examination was used for selection to the secondary school, while the Hall examination was for certification for either work or progression to other areas of education such as the colleges of education.

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Teacher, Blogger, Comic writer, riveting stories concerning the Ghanaian citizenry and the world at large.

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