Free SHS : Can we sit and talk?

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Free SHS. Sigh!

It’s important I start this post with a critical point. I am not against free SHS in any way. I mean how? The love I have for education cannot allow me to. So free SHS, why not?

So what is my problem and why do I keep talking about free SHS on social media? My problem is, with my four eyes, I cannot see the policy as well thought-out. A well thought-out policy should have some structure and plans. So the response of most people is why should we sit down and be thinking? Let the program start, we will solve the problems. Okay. Year 1, program has started. It’s year 2, can we start asking our questions now? Or must we wait till year 5? Year 10? Year 15 when my son is ready to go to SHS?

All of us make plans for our future. Yes, they may not go as planned, but as least we have a structure. The structure guides us.

So Year 1. The students all went to school. Great.
Challenges? Infrastructure.

Year 2. Solution to Infrastructure challenges : Double track-system.

Year 3. Solution to Double track-system challenges : We all don’t know.
And this, dear friends is what I want to know.

So can I please ask my questions?

1. The Minister mentioned earlier in the year that there will be a voluntary fund for those who wanted to contribute to the program. I haven’t heard any news/announcement about this fund. What happened to it?

2. Prior to Free SHS, several NGOs existed that sponsored SHS students based on their own set of criteria. Has government been engaging them this time around to possibly get a contribution from them?

And then specifically about the Double Track System :

3. Education is holistic. Sports in a component of our SHS education that unearths the talents of those who are better on the field than in the classroom (and relaxes the mind of everyone as well). With the Double Track System, what is going to happen to interhouses, interco and superzo?

4. From the calendar I have seen for this year, at a point, the form 2s will be on vacation while the two form 1 batches will be in school with the form 3s. While in SHS, form 2s were the ones mostly involved in the informal training given (scrubbing, table manners etc) since the form 3s will be busy preparing for WASSCE. How will this be restructured?

5. What will be the criteria used to allocate students to Track A or Track B? Alphabetical order? Odd numbered vs even numbered index numbers? I can already hear a mother asking why Panyin is in Track A while Kakra is in Track B. Or why all the friends of her child is in Track A and her child in Track B. Can the details of this be spelt out as soon as possible so people can start getting used to the idea before it does happen? Next year, can people ask to be in the same track as their older sibling?

6. Given the fact that people are usually apprehensive about teenagers being idle, what is the a structured program for their longer vacation? Eg. A continuation of club activities or various forms of project work?

7. In 2021, WASSCE will be written by the two tracks. What is the plan?

8. The Double Track System would not go on forever. Some posts say 3 years, others say 5 years. Infrastructure will be built during this period. What is the plan? Can we see it so we can track it?

9. In my school at least, teachers lived permanently on campus. Now that other teachers will come in to teach the other track, will teachers’ accommodation on campus become temporal?

10. Last one, seemingly unimportant, but can actually be. In most schools, mattresses, trunks, chopboxes are left in dormitories, pantries etc during the vacation. Since these rooms will be in use during the vacation, what is the plan for keeping these? Or will students bring them home? Or perhaps, schools will purchase these items going forward so whoever is in school will use them?

If you have answers to any of my questions, I am ready to listen.

If you know anyone sitting in on-going meetings for stakeholders in secondary school education, can you forward my questions? Are these meetings happening? I expect they should! And oh, if interested persons like me are invited to such meetings, can I have the details?

As a citizen and not a spectator, my humble appeal is let’s suggest. Let’s ask questions. Saying free SHS is good is not enough. Let’s forget those talking for or against free SHS for political gains. Let’s agree that you and I are talking about it as citizens who know that one day, it may be our children sitting on stones under trees. Keep that picture in mind and let’s start a dialogue. Those who can make changes to this policy are on these streets silently reading. If they realise we are talking about the deep issues enough, they will listen.

The next time you are tempted to put out post that is saying anything along the lines of “Free SHS is good for everyone”, don’t just stop there. Add a line or two that suggests a way in which the policy can be improved. Let’s talk more so that we will be heard.

Too long, didn’t read? (Sorry, sorry, the passion makes me talk too much) In summary, you are the CEO of a company in charge of implementing free SHS. What are your suggestions to implement a sustainable policy?

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Happy Birthday, Paschal

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My dear boy,

I can’t believe it’s a year already. Wow! Time flies.

I remember so vividly when labour started at dawn. I remember getting into the car to go to the hospital in those few minutes between one pain and the next. Although I don’t remember the trip to the hospital so well, I do remember getting there and then talking to nurse who examined me and confirmed you were coming. I had been so eager to welcome you into this world just the previous day because frankly, dear, you had become far too heavy for my legs to carry. Suddenly though, it felt all those emotions were gone. The pain took it all away.

A few minutes later, I was on the delivery table and told to push. I was told after my first few pushes that they were powerless so I needed to do a better job. I could have given up then ; I was so tired. But I thought about you and all we had gone through together in the 9 months and gave it my all. Daddy prayed close by and held my hand. That gave me all the encouragement I needed.

At 7:45am, you finally arrived. I can’t even remember the first thought I had when you landed. I think all I thought about what the fact that I was so many kilograms lighter again. Ha!

Fast forward to the ward, we both slept like we were babies. Weren’t we? Daddy stayed close by watching us. We were indeed tired after our long journey. I finally held you as a mum in the afternoon. Sweetheart, you were so tiny! It’s amazing.

We went home the following day and my first challenge as a mum was worrying when the breast milk will come in so I could start to feed you. Thankfully, it came in that evening. Then came the sleepless nights. Sweetheart, I know you were hungry and couldn’t eat too much at a go, but frankly, those first few nights were stressful! I could barely sleep. There were days when I would even dream about you crying while I am sleeping and will quickly wake up to check on you. Sure enough, you will be stirring and I will pick you up and feed you even before you start crying.

The next painful day was the day of circumcision. I felt your pain, dear! But great God, we went through it. Like a friend had told me a few days before, “This too shall pass” and so indeed, it did.

By the time we had spent two weeks together, I was tired of being indoors. No, it had nothing to do with you. I had just missed “life”. Can you believe I hadn’t seen outside of the gate in those two weeks? Although it was simply a trip to the hospital for a postnatal checkup, it felt more like I was going to a party. I was just so elated!

Finally, after 4 weeks of being indoors and missing church, we had your Baptism. I remember telling you not to cry that day and you were so obedient. You slept throughout the ceremony and even the time we were taking pictures. Wow! Boy, was I grateful to God! I guess you are wondering why mummy wanted you to miss your big day? Well…let’s just say you go grow meet am!

Once you had been outdoored, we could officially spend more times outdoors and that was healthy for both of us. Time flew by so fast! You grew so fast!

We start counting your firsts…your first smile…your first coo…your first laughter (and how we will do all we can to get you to laugh again)….the first time you sat unsupported…the first time you had something other than breaskmilk (the story of exclusive breastfeeding is one for another day)….the first time you attempted to crawl (backward crawling)….the first time you actually crawled….the first time you stood on your own (I can hear daddy’s voice screaming to me in the kitchen to come take a look)…your first step….your first tantrum….your first hospital scare…while you are a baby we count everything, you know.

Now that we have hit your first birthday, our first announcement to the kids in the hood : you are no more a baby! If you hear anyone call you “Baaabie!”, come and report.

That aside, it is beautiful to look back at the journey so far, thank God and be full of so much hope for what the years ahead hold for us all. One of the strongest traits we have seen so far is that you are strong-willed and wouldn’t give up so easily. Not so much like Dad or I so we find this most interesting and look forward to shaping this will so you do great things with it as you give glory to God.

You are already attempting to repeat words with us, so we have officially entered the year where we build our language skills after spending the first year building our physical skills. We should continue to have a lot of fun. We are in for it!

Sweetheart, I love the guy I see already. I love your smile. I love your infectious laughter. I love your determination. I love how you eat virtually everything without giving me cause to complain. Should I say I love how you mess up every corner of the house? It’s more like if there’s anything well arranged, you feel unhappy. But well…maybe, I will just say I love the way you are committed to the work you can do now. I pray through it all, you learn traits that you will keep when you do need them in school and eventually in your work life.

Daddy and I love you!

 

Mum, I didn’t touch the flour

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When I saw the image above, it brought back memories of the crazy things we did as kids that we either successfully or unsuccessfully got away with. Kids will always be kids and it was always a pleasure to think we had outsmarted our parents.

Here is my story. Decide for yourself whether we really did outsmart my parents or they caught us but chose to ignore us.

When I was in class 4, we made caramel in school using milk and sugar. It was very exciting so after telling my sister, we decided to try our hands on it as well when we got home.
Dad picked us up and dropped us at home but unfortunately, the gas was finished. He took the cylinder to go and refill it. We were so eager to try out our caramel that we couldn’t wait. We had been warned not to put on the coal pot on our own but we did just that. We used kerosene so we would have the fire set as quickly as possible.

Just when the fire was almost set, Dad returned. Ei bei! Were we hot! What were we to do? At that time, we lived in a two-storey building with two families – we were at the top. We carried the coal pot to a corner downstairs and put paper on it to hide the fire. How smart!

Daddy came up to drop the gas cylinder and smelt the kerosene. He asked us what happened and we said we couldn’t even smell it ourselves. Hehe. Well…after doing checks up and down, I guess he decided it was probably nothing and left. We stayed upstairs without following him with the intention to pick the coal pot up once he left. We waited and waited but we didn’t hear his car start. Several minutes later, he came and told us of how someone may have wanted to cause a fire because he had seen fire in the coalpot. We acted so surprised. He was so worried and even asked another woman we shared a compound with if she had seen any one. It was so mysterious to the adults but no one suspected us because we were such good children.

Later, as dad reported the incident to Mum, we had to keep a straight face eh! Today, when I reflect on the incident, I realise how much danger we put ourselves in all for the love of homemade caramel. We thank God for keeping us safe. Considering how much risk we take as kids without knowing we have gone overboard with being adventurous, I can just conclude that grace really does keep us.

So what do you think? Our parents knew, but kept quiet? Or they did not suspect us in the least?

How about you? Did something crazy in your childhood? Share with us in the comments below.

My Free SHS Migraine

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In the software world, it’s okay to release an app or feature that is not fully completed for users to test it. The decision to do this however depends on how critical the effect of an error will be.

This is to say that if Facebook decides to release a feature to display our profile picture in a triangle rather than a circle, if it failed, it will just be me not seeing your forehead well. I mean that barely tickles me.
However, if airplane manufacturers wanted to introduce a new way of landing, they cannot afford to release it for testing on a plane that will carry passengers. Failure means death. That is too serious to play with.

The Free SHS Secretariat a month after the program was launched has come out to admit that yes, there are challenges. These include insufficient food, infrastructure issues, oversubscription, etc.

Wait, are these things new? Did we not know these problems existed in secondary schools? Did we not know that introducing Free SHS will lead to an increase in enrollment and hence put pressure on the already stressed infrastructure? Is this the time to fix these issues? When students are sleeping in box rooms? When teachers have to give up their staff common rooms to be converted to dormitories and as such sit under trees? When students are learning under trees? When students are sitting on cement blocks? Really, is this the time to fix this? What are students going to learn under such conditions?

To connect this to my software analogy above, is education to us not critical enough to get things right before implementing a Free SHS policy? Is it fair to give these students an alpha release or a beta release without thinking of the critical effects it will have on their future?

A priest once said semi-literacy is worse than illiteracy. I couldn’t agree more. An illiterate doesn’t know and knows he doesn’t know. A semi-literate doesn’t know and thinks he knows! Oh yes! These students will graduate and think they know. But what do they know? What can someone analyse while studying under a tree?

A semi-literate thinks he can rub shoulders with a true literate. She won’t be humble enough to be taught better. See, I have met SHS students who as at Form 2 do not know a space bar! I knew what a space bar was by age 6! And I was born in 1990! These children who went to school this year were born in the 2000s. Is it fair that through no fault of theirs that we have chosen sub-standard education for them in the name of free SHS?

Put in the seat of the government, I would have spent this year putting infrastructure in place. Spent the next two years piloting free SHS for students who attended public basic schools and then when I realise everything is well, I introduce it for all students.

But no, not in this country. Free for everyone is better than quality for a few. Everyone getting a sub-standard education is better than a few getting a high quality education.

I believe in education too much not to play politics with it. I don’t want to hear what NDC will have done better or why NPP is smart to stick to their campaign promise.

I believe in education so much to realise that what we are doing today is digging a grave for our future. These sub-standard educated people will be the ones making policies for Ghana tomorrow. These sub-standard educated people will be the ones taking care of you in the hospital tomorrow. These sub-standard educated people will be the ones teaching your children tomorrow. And you thought things will change tomorrow. I’m sorry to burst your bubble. It won’t change. And we are the ones endorsing it.

Is Free SHS good? Yes. Is the way it is currently being implemented good? No. And you shouldn’t be ashamed to admit that.

First Day of the Academic Year

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nursery-school

The second Tuesday of September. Who else didn’t look forward to this day every year? It was the day most schools reopened for the new academic year. Oh the freshness of it all!

If there was any day my sister and I loved to get to school very early, it was this day. I remember one day in our excitement, we told our dad on Monday how early we wanted to get to school. He promised us we will leave home by 6am. In those days, there was not as much traffic as today so leaving Madina at 6, we would have gotten to school even before 6:30. How pleased we were! Imagine, we woke up about 4am to get ready for school. When it was almost 6, we woke daddy up and what did he say to us? “Are you the ones going to open the gate?” How hurt we were!

So what made the day exciting?

  1. The fresh stationery : Everyone had a new set. From the Barbie themed pencils to the Aladdin pencil cases, to the pens and erasers that had obviously sat in a plane, it was ohhhhs and ahhhhs at the new stuff we all had.
  2. The stories from the “Borgers” : Yes, the borgers had stories! We listened to the truths that could have been lies and the obvious lies as well. 🙂
  3. The new uniforms : For all those who had their uniforms faded or torn, the new academic year was an opportunity to have new ones sewn. It was a great delight to admire one another in our new uniforms and laugh at those who did not have theirs as fitting as they wanted.
  4. The haircuts!!! : No, I am not referring to that of the boys but of the girls. Back then, my school required all girls to have their hair cut short in JSS. We those in primary school enjoyed looking at the “too-known” girls who had very long hair a few months ago back in school with short hair. Oh did we laugh at them! As if we were never going to enter JSS eventually. Lol.
  5. The new sitting partners : Got a crush in the class? Trying to steal someone’s best friend? This day was your golden opportunity to steal a seat next to him/her. Unless of course you had a teacher who taught she could choose a better sitting partner for you. :/
  6. The reshuffling! : This happened three times during my basic school education. Similar to most schools, my school had two streams, A and B. Every year, you move together with your classmates to the next class. Occasionally, the “letter” was swapped for reasons best known to the authorities, but of course nothing changed. Eg. I was in 3A but in 4B and then 5B. Anyway, on the first of the class six year, we had apparently gotten “too used” to one another so the class was completely reshuffled. Oh what great tears flowed and friendships that got broken over the course of the year. After getting adjusted to our new classmates, another reshuffle was done when we were moving to Form 1 and then Form 2. Sigh! Apart from the fact that this allowed us to get to know almost everyone in our batch, I did not see the point. Or maybe that was the point. Lol!abibas
  7. The new shoes : Oh mehn! If you love yourself, stick to unknown brands of shoes/sneakers like I did. Woe betides you if you brought an Abibas instead of an Adidas or a Pama instead of Puma. Trust the guys in my class to hang your shoe at the top of the blackboard (of course while the teacher was not in). Charley, it was painful, but you too, open your eyes before you buy eh. Hehe.
  8. The covering with brown paper : We were given our new books for the year and given the subjects that we had to use each book for. Next was brown paper covering! Hehe. Scissors out, ruler out, cellotape out, glue out. Let’s get to work.
  9. Those repeating the year 😦  : When your friend has to stay in your previous class even after you have all moved to the new class…You vow to stay friends forever and all, but charley, it is almost impossible.

I think I am out of memories for now. This has filled me with so much nostalgia. My whole life, I missed this day only once. And did it hurt me!

Have some first day of the year memories? Do drop them in the comments below.

Who are these Bookmen?

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Bookmen. Bookmen. Am I the only one who thinks they are not necessary at our stations? Am the only one who has no idea why their role exists? No, really.

So my mum once told me about how bookmen came to be, since her dad owned a commercial vehicle.

In those days, travelers were scarce. It was pointless parking at a station and waiting for the car to load because it would most likely produce very low results. What the bookmen did therefore was to make note of all the people who intended traveling from one place to another. Once he got a list of people that could fill up a vehicle, he would call up a driver. Now mind you, it could take about a week or so to get a full list. When the driver arrives, ta da! He will have passengers without sweating. Now this kind of deal definitely needs a reward. The bookman must surely be paid.

2 Ghana CedisFast forward to today. Who are bookmen? They are those who help the mate to call out the destination the trotro is going to and then hustle the driver/mate to be paid. They hardly ever seem satisfied with what they are given. And yet, I keep asking myself, what have they done? What work do they do to deserve ¢2.00 or ¢3.00 per trotro? Can anyone help me understand this better? I mean, even I can call out the destinations. Can’t I?

The worst happens when you get to the station and there’s no car available. They are the ones who will “help” you stand in a queue. The fact that they have laboured and toiled to get the passengers to stand in a queue means that they deserve to be paid. Really?

Somehow too, in this kind of scenario, they also have the right to deny a trotro the chance of picking up stranded passengers. It happened to me once. The bookmen had us in a queue waiting for the station cars which are all loading taxis. A trotro driver had closed the day and was going home which was exactly where we were going. The driver stopped at the station to pick us, but the bookmen refused. Picture this, a long queue of passengers, an empty trotro, but the bookman selfishly wants us to wait for the station taxis. Oh were we bored! It was downright annoying. But no, no amount of our anger could get us into the trotro. We had to wait. Sigh.

Maybe the transport ecosystem understands them better. But do they really? I hardly see a good relationship between drivers/mate and the bookmen. So if no one likes them, why do they still exist?

Are they doing something so important that I have not noticed yet? Someone, help me!

 

The God-factor Sells

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I am annoyed. I dislike the way people are using the name of God. In fact, I hate it. What is that?

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The first I noticed was from celebrities. I have seen a number of posts on their Facebook pages where they write a motivational Christian message and then slap their photo on the post. “With God, you are always a winner. Say Amen to this”, then you see a picture of this celebrity at the beach accompanying this post. Really? Are you evangelizing or promoting yourself? Am I the only one who has noticed that they are only doing this to gain more likes on their page? Or am I taking life too seriously? Well, yes, if it comes to God, I definitely must.

The politicians are doing the same thing. “God loves Ghana and so he will make sure XYZ wins the election.” Then their supporters respond with a resounding “Amen!”. Puh-leaze! Oh yes, God loves Ghana. Oh yes, He will give us the leader that is best for us. But does this politician really mean what he is saying or he is just saying it because it sells? He will get more nods from his supporters. Am I not right?

Frauds? That is their weapon too! “God has revealed to me that your will get a job in Australia. Pay this money for blah blah.” Thanks, sir for your revelation, but can I please pray about it? If God really has this message for me, dear stranger, you won’t be the only one He will reveal it to.

And then the forwarded Whatsapp messages. I saw one recently that was for SHS graduates. If they forwarded the message, somehow, that was their only ticket to acing their exams. Somehow, God has become so dependent on Whatsapp as we are that He needs them to forward the message before He can bless them. How sorry I feel for the unfortunate graduate who does not have a phone and hence cannot forward the message. How tragic!

What is happening? Does our Christianity have any roots at all? Do we know the God we serve? Do we know what we make Him out to be when we belittle Him by falling for such stunts?

I am hurt by who our God appears to be, a God so weak that only humans can give Him power.

Can we stop selling God so cheaply?