From Pokrom To Presec–A Test Case For Free SHS
I am writing this piece fully satisfied as journalist who through my pen was able to greatly affect the life of young Ebenezer Ampofo. Sixteen-year-old Ebenezer Ampofo is in his second year at Presbyterian Boys Senior High School at Legon in Accra and had six ‘ones’ in the 2011 Basic School Certificate Examination (BECE) having attended L/A Junior High School at Pokrom-Nsaba, a small farming community in the Akuapem South district of the Eastern region.
He had one in Mathematics, English Language, Integrated Science, Social Studies, ICT and Pre-technical skills and had 3 in Religious studies and 4 in Akuapem Twi and became an instant role model for junior high school students in the village.
Ebenezer chose Presbyterian Boys’ Senior High School (PRESEC) at Legon in Accra, which undoubtedly is one of the best senior schools in the country, because of the his strong conviction in his intellectual ability.
Ebenezer’s teachers also had the same belief in him and did not stop him from choosing such a ‘high’ school as a student from a ‘village’ school.
His assistant head teacher, Felix Tretu who teaches Mathematics told me that they realized Ebenezer was an exceptional student academically and therefore offered whatever assistance he needed to prove a point.
“Ebenezer was always seen with his books studying and while in class he asked brilliant and intelligent questions,” Mr Tretu told me pointing out that they were surprised when Ebenezer had excellent grades in the BECE. His results were obviously the best the school had ever produced.
Ebenezer thus qualified for senior high school and PRESEC by courtesy of his excellent grades. PRESEC, the school of every student’s choice, accordingly offered him admission. He was required to pay GHC450 for his admission but unfortunately his parents did not have the money to pay and see him through senior high school.
Ebenezer’s dream of becoming a doctor looked completely shattered but God had a plan for Ebenezer, who was innocently a devout Christian.
The Almighty God directed him was to seek financial support from philanthropists to enable him continue with his education and realize his dream.
One day in March, 2011 at about 7.30am, I had a call and thought it was one of such calls seeking to arrange for media coverage. When I picked up the phone, a baritone voice on the other side greeted me.
The caller identified himself as Ebenezer Ampofo who was calling from Pokrom-Nsaba in the Eastern region. He continued that he had just finished his junior high school education but his parents were unable to send him to senior high school because they did not have the means.
I tried to enquire where Pokrom was because that was the first time I had heard about the name of the town even though I had been working in the Eastern region for six years. He told me it was in the Akuapem South district located on the main road from Aburi to Nsawam.
He politely and forcefully asked me if I could assist him by making his plight known to members of the public through my paper. I then asked him the grades he got at the BECE. Ampofo confidently told me he had six ones. I was shocked because it was rare for students in schools in rural communities to get such brilliant results.
My first thought of him was that the chap might be an exceptional student. To be able to score six ones from an L/A school means he must be an extraordinary student with shining quality. When I asked him how he got my number he said he saw it at the imprint of the Daily Guide newspaper. I was immediately touched by the boy’s story and readily offered to assist him to achieve his dreams.
I told him to come to Koforidua and I would do the little in my power to help him by publicizing his plight and letting members of the public know about him so that they would offer him the assistance he needed to be able to go to school to realize his dreams.
Ever since the boy called for the first time I never heard from him again. I wondered why he failed to follow up on his request.
Almost seven months after that ‘appointed’ call, I had a call again but this time round a more mature person who identified himself as an ICT teacher of Ebenezer Ampofo.
Mr Emmanuel Addy was his name and he told me he was in Koforidua with Ebenezer to buy a trunk, mattress, bedsheet and other personal effects which Ebenezer Ampofo would need in school and that they wanted to see me urgently.
It was an unexpected call so I quickly arranged and met them at a designated location at Koforidua. When I went I saw Ebenezer who looked very innocent and his teacher who also looked very young.
The teacher, who identified himself as Emmanuel Addy, said they were sorry to call on me at such an eleventh hour as Ebenezer was preparing to go to school.
According to him, it was clear that the parents would not be in a position to pay for his first term school fees and subsequent funding of their son’s education in the next three years so the teachers in the school decided to contribute something ‘little’ to be able to buy mattress, school uniform, and some immediate needs to enable Ebenezer to go to school for the meantime.
Paying for the main school fees was still a problem so they wanted me to go ahead and do the publication for public assistance.
I went ahead and did the publication for him and the story had instant impact. People started calling to offer help and one of such people who initially called was Mr Jerry Asare of Kumasi Asante Kotoko fame who promised to give 1,000 Ghana cedis and take full responsibility for Ebenezer’s education at the senior high level.
Many other public-spirited individuals called to support. Some of them came to fulfill their promises while others failed to live up to their words.
Apart from the money donated by Mr Asare, individuals and groups also donated up to 1,000 Ghana cedis to support Ebenezer’s education.
All the money was put in the care of the school chaplain who was to manage the funds on behalf of Ebenezer.
When I first went to PRESEC in the company of Mr Addy, Ampofo’s ICT teacher and met with the school chaplain together with Ampofo’s housemaster to tell them about the story of Ebenezer and the possibility of them exercising direct supervision over his activities in school, Ampofo’s housemaster, Rev Dompreh Brakoh remarked “wow, there must be something unique about this boy because not everybody could get such opportunity and assistance.”
He told us that the school had a special thanksgiving service for first year students to officially admit them and also give them the opportunity to give thanks to God for the rare opportunity offered them to pursue their education in such a distinguished school and while at the thanksgiving service, he, together with other masters, observed something unusual and that was the way Ebenezer Ampofo carried himself and how he danced at the thanksgiving service.
According to the housemaster, Ebenezer Ampofo was uniquely dressed wearing long pair of socks and his baggy pair of shorts pulled up to the middle section of his stomach unlike many other students.
“Ampofo was innocently raw and during the dancing section we saw this young man creating a whole territory for himself in the assembly hall and really dancing his heart out while other students felt shy to dance”.
Ampofo’s attitude could simply sum up his joy and his gratitude to God for giving him such an awesome opportunity to attend PRESEC, one of the prestigious schools in Ghana.
Mr Jerry Asare, as promised has taken full responsibility for the welfare and education of Ebenezer Ampofo and whenever school is on vacation, he stays with his family in Accra.
After helping to get Ampofo into PRESEC, I had always said to myself if such a divine door was not open to Ampofo where would he have been by now.
Ampofo’s story could be more divine but some other students he completed school with who had between aggregates 15 and 20 and were equally qualified for Senior High School could not go to school because their parents did not have the money to send them.
This real story of Ampofo brings to the fore the need for Ghanaians to dispassionately assess the free senior high school education being touted by the flag bearer of the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP).
The issue here is not about the quality but the sustainability of the funding for such a policy.
I sincerely believe the policy is very laudable because it will afford qualified senior high school students opportunity to get free and quality secondary school education.
I am saying the same quality education because even though it is free, government will bear all the cost that will come with that level of education meaning parents are no longer going to pay as they use to.
When we were in the sixth form, education was free because government was paying bursaries for all sixth-formers and the quality was never compromised.
In the same way government will take up all the expenses in this policy that Akufo-Addo is talking about which parents would have otherwise been burdened with and the quality will remain the same.
This free senior high school policy is absolutely very laudable and all Ghanaians must embrace it because the cost of education is increasingly high-rocketing and will definitely bring great relief to parents if such cost is absorbed by the government.
Apart from being free, students who will benefit from it will be more patriotic and nationalistic because they would realize that at a certain stage of their education, the state bore all the expenses and their loyalty to the state will be non-negotiable and unwavering.
By Thomas Fosu Jnr