by;brightwebtv/nana asare barimah
The Double-track system introduced by the Akufo-Addo government to accommodate over 1.2 million additional students at the senior high school level, has led to the over 1,400 pregnancies of female students, the Minority in Parliament has claimed.
“One major disadvantage of the ‘Double-Track’ system is the area where many heads of second cycle institutions are indeed afraid to comment. That has to do with high rate of teenage pregnancies being recorded in some Senior High Schools.
“Within a spate of one year, alone (2018-2019) over 1,433 girls at Senior High Schools across the country were impregnated and dropped out of school. As said, the long and frequent semester breaks are the major causes of the teenage pregnancies. Students spend eight weeks at school and the same length of time at home”, the Ranking Member of the Education Committee of Parliament, Peter Nortsy-Kotoe read at a press conference as captured in full below:
MINORITY PRESS CONFERENCE ON THE DOUBLE TRACK SYSTEM AND ITS DEBILITATING EFFECTS ON THE IMPLEMENTATION OF FREE SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL PROGRAMME.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press, on behalf of the Minority Leader and the Minority in Parliament, we thank you for responding to our call to cover this press conference, which is aimed at addressing issues arising out of the Double Track system in the implementation of the Free Senior High School.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Minority in 2017, addressed the Press on the Free Senior High School and advised the Nana Addo government to hasten slowly on the implementation of the Free Senior High School Programme at the time; but was misconstrued to mean that we were against the implementation of the Free Senior High School programme. Our major concern at the time was that the government had not provided the necessary infrastructure and logistics that were critically needed for the take-off of the programme. This was ignored and we all saw what happened, such as overcrowding in the dormitories as well as classrooms.
The government went ahead to hurriedly commence the policy resulting in many challenges which continue to debilitate an otherwise good policy. Major among these are a huge deficit in physical infrastructure resulting among others in congestion and overcrowding in the schools for the large number of students enrolled.
In the second year of the Free Senior High School programme, and in response to the increasing lack of space in the schools, Government introduced the infamous shift system otherwise called the “Double Track”.
One major disadvantage of the ‘Double Track’ system is the area where many heads of second cycle institutions are indeed afraid to comment. That has to do with high rate of teenage pregnancies being recorded in some Senior High Schools. Within a spate of one year alone (2018-2019) over 1,433 girls at Senior High Schools across the country were impregnated and dropped out of school. As said, the long and frequent semester breaks are the major causes of the teenage pregnancies. Students spend eight weeks at school and the same length of time at home.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Double Track System and its first son, the ‘Semester Programme’, which now operates like a traffic light, is not helping in the delivery of quality education in our Senior High Schools. Students are made to go on long vacations after spending a few days in school. Sometimes the reopening date for one track is hurriedly postponed to the disadvantage of plans put in place by parents and their wards. A case in point was the postponement of the reporting date for the 2nd year gold track students from 15th October to November 12th 2019, which postponement was announced by the GES on 14th October, only a day to the originally scheduled reopening date.
The Double Track also puts undue pressure on the non-teaching staff, especially the Kitchen and Administrative Staff, Headmasters, Senior Housemasters and Housemasters, who have not gone on any vacation since the introduction of the ‘Double Track’ system. The health of these staff is at risk and the lack of rest for them is negatively affecting their performance.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the long stay at home by students during these long vacations also unnecessarily expose them to social risks such as teenage pregnancies, alcoholism, cultivation of deviant behaviour and lifestyles arising from peer pressure and abuse of other drugs. The devil, it is said, finds work for the idle man, and of course woman.
It is the desire of everybody in this country, especially parents and stakeholders in education to have quality education for their children. However, the reverse is the case with the incompetent manner in which the Free Senior High School programme was implemented. The first major problem with the implementation which to a large extent remains unresolved is that of infrastructure. There is still congestion in the dormitories in quite a large number of schools despite the Double Track System.
The sad aspect of this failure is that, most of the infrastructure projects started under the NDC Government remain at the various stages of construction where they were at the time NDC left office in January 2017. These projects that could have helped provide space and reduce the congestion and overcrowding in the schools, have been abandoned to deteriorate. Although some of the contractors of the inherited projects as well as new ones commenced under the NPP Government were paid some money a few days ago, most of them cannot go back to site because of high and accumulated interest rates, the financial institutions had taken all their monies due to a deliberate attempt of Government to delay payments.
The government’s claim of completing Eight Hundred and Four (804) projects in Senior High Schools is inaccurate because some contractors are now reporting to site and a few of them that have completed, quite a number of them performed below standard and works cannot be described as of good quality due to excessive pressure put on them to complete work within a short time.
Ladies and Gentlemen, another major concern is the quality of food that is given to students. Although much propaganda is being made about the ‘one hot’ meal a day, its quality remains questionable. There is ample evidence of the inadequacy of the food items supplied by the contractors. School authorities are not allowed to inspect the quality and quantity provided by the Ghana Food Buffer Stock suppliers. There is no means by which the school authorities can measure to know the correct quantity supplied. Some of the food items are also reported to have almost expired and therefore of poor quality, especially rice and palm oil.
The supply of textbooks and other learning materials, we have learnt, is also of concern. The quality of exercise books is poor and the number per student is inadequate. The number of exercise books and notebooks given to students are not sufficient for all the subjects. Books are also supplied to students only in the first year. None is given again till they complete school.
Only textbooks for Core subjects are supplied to students and none for Elective subjects. Heads are even banned from making available these elective textbooks in their schools for students to buy under the free SHS programme. Students must look for their own elective books from the open market to buy. As a result, most students are in school without these textbooks.
The failure of the Government to supply elective subject textbooks and not allowing the books to be sold in the schools is very worrisome to teachers. The students are not expected to pass their exams only in the core subjects but also in elective subjects. So if for three years Government has failed to provide the necessary elective textbooks we do not fathom what the teachers are to do to assist these helpless students.
Ladies and Gentlemen, finally, the absence of the critical role played by parents, through the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA), in the running of our secondary schools is of much concern. There are a number of PTA projects that have become stalled in the secondary schools with the introduction of the Free Senior High Schools programme. This is because their roles have been relegated to the background. It is on record that many facilities that quite a large number of schools boast of today were provided by PTAs. Their relegation to the background is therefore of much concern to the administrators of Senior High Schools.
Our address today will not be complete without touching on the culture of silence which has callously been imposed on the Heads of institution by the GES and the Ministry of Education. With the myriad of problems occasioned with the Double Track, one would have expected that GES would allow free flow of information to get feedback from both the heads of institution and the general public in order to improve the system. Instead, threats and intimidation have become the order of the day. The few heads who had the courage to voice their frustration about the system have been branded anti-government. Such heads have either been removed from their positions as heads, or given punitive disciplinary transfers. Others have been invited to the GES Headquarters and addressed in the harshest language ever and warned to “go and sin no more”. In this way, a culture of silence has been imposed on the school heads, who for the sake of protecting their jobs in order to fend for their families, have kept mute and are enduring the pain silently in their hearts. Most of them might be suffering from hypertension even before they retire. The silencing of these heads has given a false impression as though all is well with the implementation of the free SHS. We are sitting on a time bomb which can explode with devastating consequences anytime, maybe soon.
We call on the Akufo Addo- Bawumia led Government to, as a matter of urgency address these urgent concerns to make administration of the schools less laborious and hazardous for the Heads of schools and for the benefit of the Ghanaian people on whose backs President Akufo-Addo rode to power.
HON. PETER NORTSU-KOTOE
RANKING MEMBER ON EDUCATION