Initially, placement was performed manually, with school heads gathering at a centralized location to make the selection. At the placement centre, school officials are only interested in candidates with the highest grades. This system presented formidable obstacles.
First, headteachers became excessively corrupted by the system because they accepted money to fix students who did not choose their schools. Second, lower-grade schools have little or no choice but to select from the handful of average grades left by so-called elite schools. School administrators automatically implemented cut-off points, leaving behind a large number of students in grades 30 to 48.
Sadly, the majority of BECE candidates scored between 30 and 48 points. It suggests that more BECE graduates were left without secondary education. The backlog of BECE candidates without secondary education grows each year, and the situation was becoming a national security risk. A low rate of literacy posed a threat to the population, and the consequences were dire.
In light of this, the Computerized School Selection and Placement System (CSSPS) was implemented primarily to remove the impediments presented by the manual system and promote some level of fairness for public school candidates who barely have the opportunity to enrol in first-rate secondary schools. The CSSPS has proven to solve some of the issues that the manual system presented and to increase the efficiency of school placement.
The structure and computer processes ensure that the cut-off point that caused the candidate distress and prevented them from receiving a secondary education has been eliminated to some extent. Simply put, the CSSPS expanded access and increased the senior high school population. Unfortunately, the CSSPS is becoming an untrustworthy nomenclature for candidates and stakeholders.
Each year, the CSSPS faces a unique set of obstacles and system failures. At first, CSSPS placed candidates with the highest grades in their first choice, and vice versa. Review after review has revealed that the CSSPS has a distinct threshold to promote greater fairness. The question has been how a computerized system could result in unprecedented placement disputes every year, leaving parents desperate and frustrated. Even more frustrating is the fact that schools are given some system control over the entire process.
Thus, the extent of human manipulation within the CSSPS indicates that the computer-generated placement cannot be relied upon entirely going forward. The disorder, errors, and mishaps cannot be the attitude of a computer that has been programmed to perform specific tasks.
This involvement of humans in the CSSPS has led to corrupt activities that eroded the manual placement system. From fraudsters to school heads, the CSSPS has been subjected to money laundering, in which parents who are told that their children’s education is free must pay between ₵5,000 and ₵8,000 for placement in good schools.
The human manipulation in the CSSPS is not only a threat to impartiality but also poses a significant threat to the Free SHS program. The CSSPS enables the placement of students in schools without a required cut-off point but given the current difficulties that do not appear to be resolved in CSSPS, self-placement candidates may be dissuaded, and many may feel cheated. Again, the 30% allotted to public school candidates in top-tier schools indicates a lack of competition.
A clear indication that public school candidates continue to lack quality and better performance. In a more dire scenario, the pervasive corruption within the system also indicates that the management body has failed to protect the system from vulnerabilities. These loopholes continue to widen year after year, compelling parents to participate in the ongoing corruption. Soon, we will return to the era of the manual system, where only the wealthy can enrol their children in elite schools. The quota system favours the wealthy over the underprivileged.
So, what is the future of CSSPS if the current challenges continue? It is unclear what Management is doing to address the situation. This is because the same complaints, if not more, surface each year during the placement period. There has never been a year when the CSSPS did not receive negative feedback. It is past time for Management to call a meeting to address CSSPS issues in the form of reviewing it. Management has the option of decentralizing the placement system.
Since Management wants candidates to attend schools in their catchment area, each region must have its CSSPS. Students who do not want to cross regions will have to use their region’s CSSPS. Those who wish to cross borders must apply for a specialized ‘Quota CSSPS,’ which may be limited to a small number of candidates.
If management wants to promote fairness, increase access, and promote free education, the CSSPS’s current situation may not be effective in achieving those goals. CSSPS must be reviewed as soon as possible to ensure a problem-free placement system in the future.
The writer, Isaac Ofori is the National President of the All-Teachers Alliance Ghana (ATAG).