The children’s new clothes

Weekender

By JUNIOR UKAHA
PROVERBS of King Solomon in the Good Book says, “education is one’s life so it must be guarded well,” (Proverbs 4:13).
One couldn’t agree more with this age-old adage. It has stood the test of time.
In our own time, we see people holding high positions and offices because of their educational qualifications.
Education, as some say will ‘open doors’ for you if you take it seriously.
But it comes at a cost.
People make ‘sacrifices’ at some stage of their education journey to get to where they are now.
If the burden of sacrifice is not immediately on them, it falls on a second or third party like their parents, guardians or close relatives.
In some traditional communities in Papua New Guinean (PNG), the entire clan, tribe or village contribute towards the tuition fees of a student if he or she is accepted to study at university or some other higher learning institution.
Things like school (project) fees, uniforms, lunch money, bus fares, stationery and the sundry all cost money—someone has to pay for all these necessities so that a child gets educated.
It is not an easy road to educate a child in a Third World country like PNG where the economy is struggling and the income per capita of households are at an all-time low compared to other countries.
When I went to university as a freshmen in 2006, I paid around K3,000 to be a day student in my first year of study. Boarding students had to pay double that amount.
This is just an example of how expensive it is to educate a child in this country.
The current government has come up with a policy of free education alias the Tuition Fee Free (TFF) policy— relieving parents on what could otherwise be a heavy burden.
Schools across the country, from elementary to national high schools, were told not to impose any project fees on parents and students whilst university education was subsidized.
The government, through the Finance and Treasury Departments, have since 2013, been paying TFF funds to schools throughout the country in batches or installments.
But this program has not come about without its own share of controversies and criticisms from critics and adversaries.
Some schools are still adamant that they charge some sort of project fee because the government’s TFF funds does not reach them on time and also it was insufficient to cater for all their needs.
Given that backdrop, the Morobe Provincial Government (MPG) under the leadership of first-time Governor, Kelly Naru, has come on board to assist schools, parents and students with “free school uniforms” to complement the TFF program.
More than 40 schools in the province, mostly in rural areas have benefitted with about K4million extended on this program since its inception in 2015 and covering half of the nine districts of the province.
Schools in Menyamya, Bulolo, Huon Gulf and Tewai-Siassi have been issued free uniforms.
Last Sunday, the MPG’s free school uniforms team led by coordinator Terry Agai traveled to Wankun Primary School (WPS) in Markham to hand out uniforms to students there.
The school is located in ward six in the Umi-Atzera Local Level Government.
Having been invited to cover the event, our team left Lae around 9am and drove up the Highlands Highway for about three hours before we came to Drai Wara Tulait-Tulait Market where we took a dirt access road towards Wankun village.
The school is located within the village itself, a little more than one kilometer from the main highway.
The villagers were already gathered together for the event when we arrived.WPS is a level-five school, neatly tucked away in a small valley surrounded by hills covered in lush green grasses.
A Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) church and a small cocoa and coconut plot lay just before the school and it goes without saying why the event was taking place on a Sunday. .
In typical Markham fashion, the people sat down under the coconut trees to watch the the uniform presentation proceedings.
In his address Agai said the school was one of the first in the district to be supplied with uniforms because they sent in their request early, ahead of their sister schools, Watziran and Watarais.
“School uniforms are important because it boosts the students’ morale to learn things in school and can have a positive impact on their academic performances,” Agai said.
He said one reason why the provincial government has decided to provide uniforms for students was because some bright students have, in the past, been sent home because their parents could not afford uniforms.
WPS head teacher Wallace Dega was a very proud man that day.
The Bougainvillean who has been teaching there for two years also said the donation of school uniforms was a relief as the school has had to fork out K1,700 to buy uniforms but could not produce enough for its 500-plus students.
“Thank you very much,” Dega said.
“We are very privileged to have these uniforms,” he said.
“The government has introduced free education but it has failed to give us free uniforms—but you have filled that gap,” he said.
The school has its share of problems following the introduction of free education and the increase in student enrolment. Most of the classes had nearly 50 students or more with many having to sit on the floor.
And like other growing schools, the teachers indicated the need for a new double-storey classroom for its students.
“I am only given about K30,000 to K40,000 to run the school,” Dega said.
“This is about 40 per cent of the total TFF funds we are supposed to receive,” he said.
“We would need between K70,000 to K80,000 to run a school like ours,” Dega said.
While he supports the government’s free education policy, he believes that schools should be allowed to charge some form of project fee so that the money can be used on other expenses not catered for under the TFF allocations.
“We need to build two more teachers houses, a new double-storey classroom, buy more desks and school textbooks but we do not have any money,” Dega said.
The school’s long history began in  1963. Over the years, many former students are employed in various organisations around the country.
One former student and current Umi-Atzera Local Level Government president Daki Mao who witnessed the presentation said he was one of those leaders in the provincial cabinet who supported the free uniforms program and he was happy to see his old school receive its share.
Each student will receive one set of uniform. This gesture, no doubt, will have a positive impact on the students of this school.

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