I am very pleased to be here in Okuapeman School, and to join you in celebrating 60 years since the establishment of this great institution of learning. I am grateful to the authorities of Okuapeman School for the opportunity to deliver this brief address.
My association with Okuapeman dates back to my early days, when my father took a bright, intelligent and sturdy young man under his tutelage as a lawyer. Indeed, this young man was my father’s first pupil. As you know, it is only senior members at the Bar, that is lawyers who have practiced for seven years or more, who are allowed to set up their own chambers and, then, take on pupils to train as lawyers.
As a pupil in my father’s chambers, this young man was a frequent visitor to our home. It was during his visits that he set his eyes on my pretty aunt, the late Muriel Coussey. He ended up marrying her and their having four children – John, Belinda, the late Charles jnr and Muriel. That young man was Charles Opoku Acheampong, founder of Okuapeman School. So I can, confidently, say I am very much at home here with you.
When this school was started, it aimed at providing a comprehensive education to the young, by giving equal attention to the education of the head, the heart and the hand. At Okuapeman School, you were to aim at academic excellence, at moral integrity and practical competence and produce young people who would be fully equipped to face all challenges of life. I think we can safely say that the school has delivered on its promises. In every sector of our national life, past students of Okuapeman continue to make their mark and play significant roles in the development of our country. The two MCs for today’s event, Kwame Sefa Kai and Israel Laryea, and several others I see here here, like the keynote speaker, are shining examples of the fine people who have had the privilege of Okuapeman education.
The theme chosen for the celebration, “One Vision, Many Lives”, fits in most appropriately with the circumstances of our country today. All our lives are affected by the decisions and public policy choices made by those of us who have been entrusted with the mandate of the Ghanaian people. It is critical, therefore, that we all buy into the One Vision of a free, united, wealthy and happy Ghana. As we seek to create a society of opportunities for all, it is clear that quality, accessible education is the fastest and most effective way to change the fortunes of our country and join the group of developed nations.
Over the course of the last 3 elections, one consensus seems to have emerged across all the various political groupings – we are all agreed that the economy of Ghana has to be transformed to make it a high-income economy. Graduates from our educational institutions should enter the labour market, well-equipped with skills for good, well-paying jobs. To do this, our country must move from an economy dependent on the export of raw materials to an economy of value-addition. We must process the natural resources we have to enable us reap higher benefits.
It is with this aim of transforming our economy that my government is determined to partner the private sector to set up strategic industries to help create jobs for our youth. These include, but not limited, to an iron and steel industry, which will exploit the iron ore deposits at Oppon Manso and Sheini, near Tamale, and facilitate the manufacture of machine parts and equipment; an integrated aluminium industry, which will exploit the bauxite deposits at Kyebi and Nyinahin; petrochemical industries from oil and gas deposits from the Jubilee, TEN and Sankofa fields; and vehicle assembly plants.
Sixty years after independence, the progress we have made has been slower than it should have been. It is time to take the bold moves that will enable us make rapid progress to transform our economy and the lives of Ghanaians. A society that aims to transform itself into a modern, productive player in the global market needs an educated workforce; and that means it must get its educational policies right.
Luckily for all of us, this is a well-trodden path and there are many examples to learn from. The societies that have made rapid progress around the world have all put education at the heart of their development. The United States of America, the first country to institutionalise free public secondary education, did it over a hundred years ago, and the nations that we started independent life with, like Singapore, Malaysia and Korea, have done it.
Let us take the Singapore example. At independence from Britain in 1959 and then separation from Malaysia in 1965, Singapore had no assets other than its deep-water port. Its population was illiterate and unskilled. It had few natural resources, substandard housing and recurring conflict among the ethnic and religious groups that made up its population. Singapore, at the time, imported most of its food, water and energy.
Singapore’s leaders decided to make education the focus of all developmental efforts. They saw education as central to building the economy and the nation.
Once the decision was taken, they rapidly built schools and recruited teachers on a large scale. Within six years, they had attained universal primary education and by the early 1970s they attained universal lower secondary education and they have never looked back since then. Today, Singapore is widely acknowledged as having one of the world’s leading economies and most advanced and successful education systems. In a country with no natural resources, this is a remarkable feat and reiterates what one of its Prime Ministers famously said “The wealth of a nation lies in its people.”
Ghana, unlike Singapore, is blessed with natural resources and it should be easier to educate our population, once we summon the courage to make the right decisions. We, in the NPP, have always believed that leadership is about making choices. My government has made education one of its topmost priorities. It is time to use the proceeds from our natural resources to help educate the population to drive our economic transformation. Instead of the revenues from our mineral and oil resources ending up in the hands of a few people, I am of the firm belief that the most equitable and progressive way of using these revenues is to educate and empower our population.
I have said it on occasion, and it bears repeating here. To our dying shame, some Ghanaian children still never make it into a classroom. That is something that cannot and should not continue. We must ensure that every child in Ghana gets an education.
The proposal made during the 2008, 2012 and 2016 elections for all of Ghana’s children to attend public Senior High School for free is the beginning of that vision. We now have the opportunity to make the vision real. The government of Ghana will fund the cost of public Senior High Schools for all those who qualify for entry from the 2017/2018 academic year onwards.
Let me take this opportunity to spell out clearly what we intend to do so that no one in Ghana is left in any doubts. By free SHS, we mean that, in addition to tuition which is already free, there will be no admission fees, no library fees, no science centre fees, no computer lab 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. Free SHS will also cover agricultural, vocational and technical institutions at the high school level. I also want to state clearly again that we have a well-thought out plan that involves the building of new public Senior High Schools and cluster public Senior High Schools.
The fact that we have been unable to give all our citizens the education which has enabled the countries of the West and of Asia to thrive is the missing link in our economic development. For this reason, I am committed, without any equivocation, without any reservation, without any doubt, to take Ghana to the stage where public Senior High School education will be free for every Ghanaian child.
I want every Ghanaian child to attend secondary school not just for what they learn in books, but for the life experiences that they will gain. I want each of them to look in the mirror in the morning, every morning and know that they can achieve anything they dream of when they complete their studies. I want them to be confident that what they study is relevant to the demands of today and of tomorrow. I want every Ghanaian child to be comfortable in the knowledge that when they work hard, they are as capable as anyone else in the world. And I want parents to look upon their children with pride as they watch them mature into self-confident adults.
To those of you students listening to me today, I say you are living in perhaps the most exciting times in our history. Most of you have grown up under the longest uninterrupted period of democracy and stability in our history. This period has also coincided with the longest sustained period of growth in our economy. Despite the challenges we face, democracy has been good for our nation and I am convinced it will be even better still for us. Some say this is our time. I say this is your time and tomorrow will be the time of your children.
I cannot end these remarks without saying anything about our teachers
A well-trained, confident and contented teacher is at the heart of my government’s delivery of quality education. The views of teachers will be sought on education policy, innovation and implementation. Their professional development and needs will be treated with respect and we shall ensure that teachers’ salaries and allowances are paid regularly and on time. Teacher trainee allowances, as already announced by the Vice President, will be restored in the first budget of the Akufo-Addo presidency scheduled for next month.
In addition to these, my administration will also focus on the provision of incentives that will motivate teachers, and reward their hard work in the classroom. Government will collaborate with GNAT, NAGRAT, and other teaching associations to facilitate an affordable housing scheme for teachers. Teachers will be afforded the opportunity to upgrade their qualifications and we aim to make the teaching profession, once again, a proud choice.
I wish the administration, teaching and non-teaching staff, students and alumni of Okuapeman School the very best of luck in the coming years. I am certain that the achievements you are yet to chalk will surpass those of the last 60 years. Indeed, all our best days are ahead of us.
Before I take my seat, I am glad to say that Parliament has recently approved, as Minister for Education, a dynamic and energetic person, who is a passionate believer in education being critical to the building of the cohesive and prosperous Ghana on which we have set our eyes. I am confident that he will be an outstanding Minister for Education. He is Hon. Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh, and, under his watch, I have every hope that our educational system will witness a significant enhancement.
In the Minister’s presence, I would like to pledge my government’s commitment to the renovation and the full equipping of the Science Resource Centre of Okuapeman School as a commemorative event of its 60th birthday.
Adehye, mo trinkwa, me ma mo amo ne afiehyiapa.
Thank you and may God bless us all, and may God bless our homeland Ghana, and make her great and strong.