It is back to school for 2012

Editorial, Normal

The National, Tuesday 07th Febuary 2012

WHAT a relief it must be for parents whose children yesterday started the new academic year.
Although several schools in the New Guinea Islands region and maritime provinces have had difficulty given the adverse weather, we are certain they will have started up by week’s end.
For the first time, the state is footing the bill with its tui­tion-free initiative.
For that, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, Treasurer Don Polye and all members of parliament who supported the initiative deserve a pat on the back.
It is the type of policy that will reap untold benefits for the country in the years to come.
Ask the governors of Enga and Morobe who will tell you because they have been paying tuition for their students since 1997.
“Education is the key to our future and for participation by all Papua New Gui­neans in the modern economy,” Polye so aptly said when delivering the 2012 budget on Dec 6 last year.
He announced a funding of K649 million, in addition to K300 million set aside in the 2011 supplementary budget of Sept 21 and K47 million for education infrastructure improvements.
He said it would fund tuition-free education up to year 10 and a 75% subsidy for years 11 and 12.
He said the government would re-introduce Natschol – national scholarship – to provide 10,000 stu­-
dents with living allowances.
“This funding triggers additional support of K27 million from the Australian aid programme,” he said.
He said the 2012 budget would pay for 6,700 new teachers to work in the pro­vinces and a K13 million increase in the basic education function grant to provinces that should support the K24.5 million for teachers colleges, technical and vocational schools.
Polye said it provided a substantial increase in recurrent funding to universities of nearly K10 million.
In addition, the development budget would support the University of PNG (K43.5 million – including the law school building and a science building), University of Technology (K8 million – including a petroleum and petrochemical engineering school), University of Natural Science and Resources (K18 million – including a library and staff housing), and University of Goroka (K12 million counterpart funding for a Chinese loan of K30 million for a dormitory extension and trade skills scho­larships worth K20 million.
Polye said free education was of little value if the qua­lity was not the best and the next challenge was to lift the standard of education across the country.
“In total, the government allocates a minimum of K1,954 million or 18.5% of the total recurrent and deve­lopment budgets to education in 2012,” he said.
The government had lifted education expenditure by 30% over the 2011 budget.
This initiative had proven to have won the hearts and minds of the people.
The government has moved fast in recent weeks to ensure the initial K300 million had been forwarded to Bank South Pacific to transfer into school accounts.
When you add it up, it is a huge sum of money. K1.1 billion is more than the national budgets of many of our smaller Pacific brothers.
Now, in the interest of transparency and accounta­bility, we need an accounting of where that initial K300 million has been spent.
Can the Education Department provide a list of all schools that have received tuition-free funding and exactly how much each school received?
School fees seem to vary from school to school and although national education board approved fees structure has been approved, we seem to think that some schools will receive more than others based on student intake and such like.
What is there to stop unscrupulous manipulation of tuition by schools boards and management if they were to supply false student intake numbers, for instance?
Can the Education Department also tell the people whether every child who turned up at a school has been accepted?
Can it please tell the people how the state intends to verify whether every school has given an accurate enrolment figure?
Let us not fool ourselves. If we can have ghost names on the common roll, it could just as easily happen here where there is a substantial sum of money at stake.
At the same time, revealing exactly what each school receive will enable parent-teacher associations to hold school managements accountable.