Today is a wonderful day in the life of Accra Academy, and it is appropriate that we celebrate, in a grand style, the 89th anniversary of its birth. I am glad to be amongst you, and I congratulate the Board of Governors, headmaster and staff, the students, alumni of this institution on this important milestone.

As some of you may know, in 1962, I returned to Ghana from England, after studying for my O’ and A’ Levels, and taught English and History here at Accra Academy, before going to the University of Ghana, in 1964, to read Economics. I say this to show you how proud I am of my association with this school, and to tell you that I feel very much at home with you.

This school, from humble beginnings in Ellen House, in 1931, with 19 students, has become, for me and for many Ghanaians, one of the best and much-sought-after senior high schools in Ghana. The credit for this goes to past and present management, teaching and non-teaching staff, alumni and students.

At Accra Aca, “the school of no regrets”, you are trained and groomed to “serve our Nation great”. Indeed, Accra Aca has fulfilled this promise. Today, in every field of our national life, ACADEMICIANS continue to make their mark and play significant roles in the development of our country.

Notable Academicians include the former military Head of State, Lt. Gen. Joseph Arthur Ankrah; three (3) former Speakers of Parliament, the late Rt. Hon. Daniel Francis Annan, the late Rt. Hon. Peter Ala Adjetey, and Rt. Hon. Edward Doe Adjaho; three (3) Chief Justices, His Lordship Justice Samuel Azu Crabbe, His Lordship Justice Fred Kwasi Apaloo, and His Lordship Justice Edward Kwame Wiredu; the Omanhene of Agogo Traditional Area, Nana Akuoko Sarpong; Supreme Court Judge, Justice Jones Dotse; four (4) of our country’s Attorneys-General, Justice George Commey Mills-Odoi, Justice Nicholas Yaw Boafo Adade, Justice Gustav Koranteng-Addow, and Madam Betty Mould-Iddrisu; distinguished professor of history, Robert Addo Fening; founder of Vanguard Assurance, Nana Awuah Darko Ampem; editor of the Daily Dispatch, Ben Ephson; CEO of media conglomerate, EIB Network Group, ‘Bola Ray’; renowned sound engineer, Zapp Mallet; actor, Chris Attoh; former captain of the Black Stars, Asamoah Gyan; musician, KiDi, and the Managing Director of BOST, Edwin Provencal.

Chairperson, ladies and gentlemen, as I stand here looking at all these young and expectant faces, my mind goes back to other anniversaries of Senior High Schools I have attended since I had the honour of becoming President of our country.

In all of these, one thing remains constant. The physical differences of these institutions might be pronounced, and they are, but there can be no difference in the aspirations of young people who have completed this stage of schooling and are looking forward to joining the ranks of adults. You remind me of the fact that all of us, leaders and the citizenry, must work harder to guarantee that knowledge becomes the backbone of our modern economy and prosperity.

Secondary or High school is an exciting period in every young person’s life. Apart from what we all take from our parents and our homes, a lot of what goes into fashioning our outlook on life, comes from the schools we attend. It is the time we learn most of the things that we use in our lives.  It is often the place where lifelong friendships are forged for the rest of our lives. It is an exciting time of learning new things and new experiences.

Ladies and gentlemen, in addressing the theme for the anniversary, which is “The Impact of Education on Nation Building in a Thriving Digital World”, we need to recognise the only way to create opportunities for all our youth, and build potential is through access to quality, accessible education. This is the fastest and most effective way to change the fortunes of our continent, and join the group of developed nations and continents.

We everyday lament the fact that we started from the same pedestal as nations like Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea. The truth is that they have made it simply by wiping out illiteracy and empowering a generation of citizens with education and the skills to power their nations’ development. Citizens can only make informed choices if they are empowered with the capacity to make those choices. In a fundamental sense, education is the key to human development and to widening life’s options for individuals and society as a whole. In that sense, education is the key to the development of our nation and a healthy democracy. Education creates social mobility.

Market women and fishermen, farmers and traders, entrepreneurs and workers, taxi drivers and artisans, hawkers and kayayei, and, indeed, every mother and father, all hope that education will help their children escape poverty and give them access to a good life. Government, therefore, regards education as a public good to which our youth must have unfettered access. By the grace of God, we were able to launch, on 12th September, 2017, the Free Senior High School policy.

Prior to the launch of this Policy, available data indicated that our children were falling out of the educational system at every stage. Before September 2017, an average of one hundred thousand (100,000) BECE graduates, who were placed in our public senior high schools each year, did not take up their place. This meant that, in the next decade, about one million of our young men and women would have had their education terminated at junior high school. Such a situation is totally unacceptable, and, the more reason why I was determined to end it.

Free SHS is ensuring that all our children will be educated to at least secondary level, and money, or the lack of it, no longer means a denial of education. Today, 1.2 million children, the highest enrolment of pupils in Senior High School in our history, are benefitting from the policy, which has been hailed all over the nation.

I believe that the cost of providing free secondary school education is cheaper than the cost of the alternative of an uneducated and unskilled workforce that has the capacity to retard our development. Leadership is about choices – I have chosen to invest in the future of our youth and of our country. We have decided 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, the most equitable and progressive way of using these revenues is to educate and empower our population to strengthen our nation.

If this Policy is to succeed, and if we are to build the modern, progressive and prosperous Ghana we desire, each and every one of us here – political leaders, traditional rulers, teachers, parents, students – has a major stake in ensuring that we achieve excellence in our educational system. The policy is not about the NPP or the NDC. The beneficiaries do not only belong to NPP members or sympathisers. They are Ghanaians from all walks of life and from all political persuasions. This is about Ghana, and how best to build a progressive and prosperous nation for this and future generations. All Ghanaians should, thus, support the policy to ensure its success.

I am determined that we change the economic conditions in our country for the better, to ensure that young people see it as a place of opportunities, instead of the place from which they flee at the peril of their lives. We need to do all within our power to create an entrepreneurial climate, to enable our young people come up with creative ideas that can be developed into businesses. The first part of realising this vision is ensuring that we have an educated workforce which will drive our country’s industrialisation.

Headmaster, I have heard you loud and clear with your list of must-haves. I am going to forward them to the Minister for Education, and he will try to alleviate some of your urgent problems. I do not promise that he will be able to provide all the items on your long list, but he will certainly try his very best. Nonetheless, here at Accra Academy, for example, Government, as part of the SHS Intervention Project, is constructing a 1-storey dormitory block, a 12-unit Classroom block, and has taken over the construction and completion of a 2-storey dormitory block, commenced by the Parent Teacher Association.

To our final year students at Accra Academy, and, indeed, for all final year students in High Schools in Ghana. You are the first beneficiaries of Free SHS, and you are scheduled to write the West African Secondary School Certificate Examinations (WASSCE) in June. You should always remember that there are some powerful political actors in our country who never wanted, and still do not want the policy. They described it as a gimmick, declared it attainable only after twenty (20) years, said it was too expensive, and now they are saying when they come back, God knows when, they will review it.

Final year students, you have a big responsibility to make sure that your grades and examination results are positive and exemplary. Make good use of the sets of past questions and answer booklets procured from the West Africa Examination Council to help you in your studies. Already, you are in a school with a solid reputation for excellent WASSCE results. This year’s results should even be better than last year’s, so that, together, we can shame the detractors and those who do not want the policy to succeed. I have utmost confidence that you will rise to the challenge.

In conclusion, Chairperson, ladies and gentlemen, let me wish the Headmaster, administration, teaching and non-teaching staff, students and alumni of Accra Academy 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 89 years. The best days of the School, and, indeed, of Mother Ghana herself, lie ahead.

May God bless us all, and our homeland Ghana, and make her great and strong.

I thank you for your attention.