The first batch of the free SHS students commenced their written WASSCE papers on Monday 3rd August 2020 with a core subject, Integrated Science. Before WASSCE, there had been General Certificate Examination, (GCE) and Secondary School Certificate Examination, (SSCE) for Second Cycle students in Ghana.
At no time in the history of the GCE, SSCE and even the WASSCE, has the country witnessed the level of chaos, hooliganism, vandalism, insults and cursing of high profile personalities including the President of the Republic, as we have been experiencing for the past few days in schools across the country. Apart from insulting and threatening the President, students were also seen invoking the spirit of river deities on him. School property were vandalized and some teachers and examination officials were also threatened or inflicted with injuries.
Tweneboah Kodua SHS in Ashanti Region; Tamale SHS in Northern Region; New Juaben SHS, Bright SHS and Oyoko Methodist SHS in Eastern Region; Battor SHS in Volta Region; Sekondi College in Western Region; and Ndewura Japkpa SHS in Savanna Region; among others, have recorded one incidence or the other in the first week of the written part of the WASSCE.
In fact, the levels these agitations have assumed amongst students are not only alarming and unprecedented, but also alien to the tradition and history of these examinations in Ghana.
This article attempts to dig deep into the causes of this unprecedented chaos and vandalism. My next article will hazard some solutions to tackle these disturbances in order to prevent their occurrence in future.
I must indicate from the outset that I condemn in no uncertain terms these acts of indiscipline culminating in disrespect for authority and rules, insults, hooliganism and vandalism in schools not only among these WASSCE Candidates, but also among students in general. As a former teacher and Headmaster, I could not fathom living with this indiscipline in my school during my time.
Causes of the indiscipline and vandalism
In my candid opinion, the levels students hooliganism has reached now can be attributed to some actions and inactions associated with the implementation of the free SHS, which have given the current batch of students a False Sense of Entitlement. Our (in)actions have pushed these students to feel that they are Special or a unique group.
1. Special Status in 2017
At the outset of the implementation of the free SHS in 2017, the current SHS3 students came to meet their colleagues who were in SHS2 and SHS3. They were granted free access to school without paying admission and other fees, while their counterparts, the continuing students had to pay fees. The free fSHS promised by NPP in opposition, did not benefit students already in the system. The new students were given free uniforms, free meals, free accommodation, free Core textbooks and free Exercise and notebooks for their SHS1 program. They have to buy more notebooks and exercise books to supplement those supplied in SHS1 though, in addition to others they had to buy in SHS2 and SHS3 as well as their own Textbooks for the Elective subjects.
The continuing students in SHS2 & 3 in the boarding schools, whom this batch of students came to meet, never enjoyed these free facilities.
In the Day Schools, fSHS students enjoyed one meal a day in the full glare of their counterparts in SHS2 & SHS3. As a Headmaster when the first batch of the fSHS students were admitted, I watched with sadness, how proud and lively these students were at meals during break as against the desperation, frustration and feeling of rejection among the continuing students who had to look for their own food at break time.
This deliberate and politically motivated discrimination against the then continuing students, based on their year of entry into the SHS in favour of the freshly admitted students who are now candidates right from the outset of their entry into SHS, gave the fSHS students a sense of uniqueness. They enjoy a special political attention and focus.
2. Provision of past WASSCE questions by Government
In December 2019, Government, through the Ministry of Education and the GES, purchased and printed in a booklet form, past WASSCE questions, with their accompanying marking schemes and Chief Examiners’ Reports covering 2013 to 2018. These were distributed to students. Teachers of the Core subjects (Maths, Integrated Science, English, Social Studies) were withdrawn from the classrooms for a one week orientation workshop to be equipped with the understanding of the questions in order to be able to guide students through them.
Again, this was unprecedented in the history of the WASSCE, and constituted an act which again gave the students a feeling of specialness.
Though the supply of these past questions to students might not entirety be a bad idea, some of us felt that the timing, a few months to the students writing the WASSCE, and the fact that it was coming from government, was wrong.
In my article in response to this titled “KWAMI ALORVI’S DILEMMA: GES JEOPARDIZING THE FUTURE OF FREE SHS STUDENTS ” I warned that the past examination questions in the hands of students with Chief Examiners’ Reports attached, could be like an AK-47 assault rifle in the hands of an aggressive, adventurous and highly unstable ten-year old boy” and that, students would become truant in school, and the ” past questions will become their Holy Bible and Holy Quran” at the neglect of their notes, textbooks and teachers. Again this unprecedented special offer of past examination questions, made the students assume a special status in the country.
3. Utterances by Government Officials/ President
Some political jabs thrown by the Minister of Education at his predecessor and other critics, from President of the Republic himself, and other leading government officials and communicators, have also given these SHS students, a special sense of entitlement.
For example, while addressing students of Nkawkaw SHS in November 2019, the President did not only announce to students all over the country, government’s intention to supply them with WASSCE past questions, but also encouraged them to study the past questions and pass their impending WASSCE well “to shame the naysayers of the free SHS who claimed quality has been compromised.”
This statement might have given students the impression that we parents who have sent them to school, and their teachers who teach and advise them to shun bad behaviour, don’t love them but wish them failure, while the President and his Government love and wish them well. The President’s statement sought to play students against their teachers and Heads of school. Students’ disrespect for teachers and Heads who caution them to be serious with studies heightened. Anyone who cautions them is labelled as a Naysayer.
Again, the President’s reference to this batch of students as Akufo Addo Graduates sank deep into the subconscious minds of these students, a Spirit of Specialness, an anointed group in whom the President is well pleased.
4. Special COVID-19 programs in Schools
When the SHS3 and SHS2 gold track students returned to school on 29th June 2020, Government banned parents from having access to their wards in the schools. Fear of transferring COVID-19 from home to students in school was cited as reason for the ban. Students have been further alienated from their parents by this action at this critical time of exiting SHS. This is besides the heightened disregard for parental advice because of the fact that parents are no longer the ones paying their fees.
Strangely however, Government allowed a so called Free SHS Ambassador, enabled with a brand new Pick-up donated by government, unimpeded access to the schools to interact with students. Besides, the General Secretary of the ruling Party was granted free access to the schools and students to distribute food and interact with them. The National Youth Organizer of the ruling party too was seen in schools in Kumasi interacting with students. Meanwhile parents of these students and officials of other political parties have been prevented from gaining access to the schools to interact with students.
Nobody knew what this free SHS Ambassador and ruling party officials told the students because “you and I were not there.” But at least in the video, we heard the fSHS Ambassador campaigning among the students not only to vote for the President, but also to ask their parents to vote for NPP in the coming elections so their younger siblings could also come to enjoy free SHS.
When the presence of the free SHS Ambassador and the ruling party officials in schools was reported in the media, GES issued statements that it was going to investigate the matter. Ghanaians are still waiting for the report of those investigations.
This unprecedented special relationship cultivated between Government and the free SHS Candidates, as against their alienation from their parents and officials of other political parties, has reinforced the sense of specialness and entitlement among these students.
5. EC Voter Registration in Senior High Schools
The students’ sense of entitlement was reinforced by how the Electoral Commission seemed to have been influenced by Government to undertake voter registration in the SHSs for two consecutive weekends. The students were assured of a privileged dispensation to have their names transferred to their preferred constituencies to enable them vote, a privilege not granted to other registrants. This special dispensation gives the impression to students that the NPP Government is seeking a special entitlement to their votes on 7th December 2020 for benefiting from the fSHS. Seeing their future in a balance because they could not cope with the examinations on Monday and Thursday, the students might have felt betrayed. That might have accounted for a student arrogantly reminding the President that he too is in the final year of his presidency. This means, the future of the final year students is in the same precarious and perilous uncertainty as that of the President’s.
6. Enrollment of students of low grades
Most of the students pushed into the free SHS program had low grades, sometimes with aggregates as low as 49 to 52. Such students could not be repeated even for non performance due to the free SHS policy. They have spent three years in school and cannot contemplate that their times in school are going to be wasted without acquiring certificate. An investigation into the vandalism might reveal that most of the ring leaders in these acts are from this frustrated group.
7. Insults of high profile personalities by adults
During late President Atta Mills tenure, he was persistently verbally assaulted by all manner of people. One of his students, now an MP and Minister for Communications, could look into the face of his former teacher and call him Mr Do Little. A renowned lawyer I have so much respect for, in response to the insults heaved on late President Mills, was reported to have said “it was not an offence to insult the President.” Yes, it might not be an offence to insult a President, but it is morally and culturally wrong for a young person to insult someone far older than him. What lessons are we teaching our young students when the National Chairman of a party could refer to the Agbogbomefia of the Ho Asogli State and President of the National House of Chief, as a Palm wine Tapper, and when asked to apologise, has blatantly refused?
And what moral lessons are students picking from the General Secretary of the ruling party who could denigrate an accomplished Professor, the first female Vice Chancellor of a Public University in Ghana and a result oriented former Minister of Education, that she deserves hand waves only by head porters or Kayayes on the streets of Accra?
We have sowed the bad seeds which we are now reaping.
If not so, how could a young adolescent student, who qualifies to be a great grand son of a sitting President of the Republic, get the audacity, the arrogance, the impudence, to tell the President he is Bɛlɛ, to wit a fool?
It is sickening, repugnant and nauseating to hear such vulgar words from a student.
But how do we blame them without apportioning any blame to the adults they are copying from?
The hands of Headmasters and their teachers have been tied at the back by the way these fSHS students have been politically protected and emboldened to feel that they are untouchable.
I submit that our actions and perhaps inactions in recent times, have made these free SHS students, the Akufo Addo Graduates, feel they are a specially chosen and anointed generation, who have a right of entitlement to passing their WASSCE through short cuts rather than hard work. With this deliberate and political pampering, they see anyone standing between them and their goals as a stumbling block that must be ruthlessly cleared from their path, no matter whose ox is gored.
Rather than GES rushing to take drastic measures by dismissing these erring students and barring them from the on-going examinations, let cool heads prevail. Or is it because the attacks were on the President? We were told in the past that insulting the President is not an offence.
Let’s investigate why these students, after enjoying free education, could all a of sudden, revolt against the system. Something must have gone amiss. A promise must have been broken or something must have beaten their imagination. Let’s hear the side of the students. For purposes of fairness, they deserve to be heard
#I remain a Citizen, not a Spectator
Dated: Friday 7th August, 2020