Quality or quantity?

Nelson Mandela nailed it squarely when he made the profound statement that education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.

This tool of education is important for lifting people from the doldrums created by social, geographical and economic barriers into a place where they can showcase their potential.

It is a recognised fact that it is through education that generational cycles of poverty can be broken. No amount of philanthropy or community development can enhance well-being as much as education will do when prioritised.

Ignorant minds can be set free from superstition, and blinded eyes unveiled by systematic instruction which can be formal or even informal in well-rounded societies.


This is why any initiative that seeks to bring that kind of assistance to those otherwise imprisoned by the avoidable and unfair conditions in which they were born, grow, live, work and age is greeted with much joy and applause.

This was the storyline when we heard the promise of the free senior high school policy (FREE SHS) about eight years ago. The elation, positivity and excitement were overwhelming. After all, which well-meaning person does not like a good thing? Ghanaians whole-heartedly supported and touted this initiative, with the elderly narrating endlessly the good times they had in the university post-independence.

Carried away by the euphoria of their nostalgia, parents praised the initiative without giving much thought to the strategic nitty-gritty of optimal implementation.

This flagship initiative undoubtedly has made some impact which we need to commend our leaders for. Undoubtedly, it has made strides towards pulling down the social divide that existed among certain localities.


The rollout has, however, not been a seamless ride. This initiative has not been exempted from the kind of teething problems that saddle any new move. This is not a secret either. Over the period, there have been various calls for a review of the FREE SHS policy, with both local and international experts wading in on the matter.

Schools are bursting at their seams leaving much to be desired.

Children should find joy in school. That is when they also gain the pleasure of learning. This contributes immensely towards academic success. At the moment, this is unfortunately not so.

Students in our secondary schools are as a matter of fact living in deplorable conditions, and this in itself is an affront to their rights. They deserve to be educated, and this in environments that affirm their dignity.

Overpopulated dormitories with poor ventilation are the story in all the public schools. The result is frequent ill health with occasional fatalities and poor access to basic toilet facilities, not to mention the unsanitary conditions they endure due to overcrowding. Access to flowing water is a luxury in most places, with no mercy for even the girls’ schools.

Classrooms and other spaces are unable to bear the extremely large number of children, creating serious infrastructural challenges.

To make matters worse, the food supply on their tables is woefully inadequate. It leaves one wondering how we expect young growing yet hungry brains, who are badly in need of nutrition in adequate quantities and optimal nutritional value, to ace their final exams. Sadly, some children are learning to steal from their peers out of desperation.

Teachers are under pressure and caught between a rock and a hard place. Most parents are under pressure trying to fill the gaps to make their children a bit comfortable. Heads of schools are perpetually in a hot seat to make things work.

The current situation not only leaves a sour taste in our mouths but also sends us questioning the real motives. It begs the question of quantity or quality. Children’s rights to basic necessities are being sacrificed on the altar of meeting their right to education. Is this false balance the best gift to posterity?

The writer is a Child Development expert/Fellow at Zero-to-three Academy, USA
E-mail: nanaesi_19@yahoo.co.uk

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