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Ghana Makes Secondary Schools Free

Government Should Ensure Program Benefits Poorest and Rural Students

© 2017 Marco Tibasima for Human Rights Watch

On September 12, Ghana’s new President Nana Akufo-Addo made good on his campaign promise to deliver free secondary education for children across the country.

The President pledged “there will be no admission fees, no library fees, no science center fees, no computer laboratory fees, no examination fees, no utility fees. There will be free textbooks, free boarding and free meals, and day students will get a meal at school for free.” All great news for Ghana’s more than 400,000 students entering secondary school this year.

Globally, many students’ educational aspirations end because of secondary school fees. In Ghana, in 2014, only 37 percent of students were enrolled in secondary education.

Removing these fees is a big step toward helping students stay in school. But other barriers to education, which disproportionately impact Ghana’s poorest and rural families, should be tackled, too.

For example, we recently investigated the effect of Tanzania removing lower secondary education fees in 2016. We saw that the poorest students still found it difficult to go to school. Other costs related to school, like food and uniforms, burdened their limited family income. In rural areas, it can be a long distance to the closest secondary school. This meant added transportation costs, as well as difficult or unsafe journey to school. Many girls who live apart from their families lacked affordable, safe housing close to schools.

In his announcement, Ghana’s president also said that “we will ensure that students from basic public schools have equal opportunity to enrol in any of the top senior high schools in the country.”

However, there are only a handful of these top public high schools, and they accept a limited number of students. To ensure all children will benefit equally from free secondary education, the government should invest in high schools everywhere in the country.

It’s commendable that Ghana wants to guarantee fully free secondary education. With the government’s commitment, taking additional steps to make this happen will truly help all the country’s children.

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