Keep students in the classrooms

Editorial, Normal

The National, Thursday February 11th, 2016

 CONFUSION over the payment of project fees continues into the second week of school, with some students sent home after their parents heeded the Education Ministry’s directive not to pay.

We have not heard of schools turning away students in other provinces but in Hela, according to a council president, some schools sent students home because they did not have any bank deposit slips showing they had paid projects fees to school bank accounts.

The confusion over whether schools should or should not charge project fees arose from supposedly conflicting directives from the Education Minister and his acting Secretary.

Both had earlier stated that school could charge projects ranging from K50 for elementary schools to K250 for secondary schools.

However, acting Secretary Dr Uke Kombra issued a subsequent statement advising schools not to charge project fees until the matter was discussed by Cabinet.

What is a straight forward directive may have given rise to the apparent confusion.  And in such a situation when the Secretary has issued a directive contrary to the earlier statement by the Minister, some school heads and boards may insist on charging fees, choosing to stick to the ministerial statement.

However, the acting Secretary’s directive was clear:  The okay to charge project fees is on hold until Cabinet has made its decision.  

That is not saying that schools must not and will not charge project fees this year. They will if Cabinet says so. 

The apparent confusion of the matter has once again resulted in school administrations resorting to the quickest means to attract attention and action from parents or the government.

Unlike in the years before the O’Neill government’s tuition fee free policy came into play, schools are guaranteed operational money.

However, a genuine and recurring problem faced by school administrations over the term of this policy has been the disbursement of the school funds; money was never available when needed and when it did reach schools it did so in dribs and drabs and was too little for any significant operational activity or project.

The mix-up in the disbursement of TFF funds has actually denied small elementary schools in rural areas.

Take the case of two such schools in the Pindiu area of Morobe who have operated without TFF money from 2013 to 2015.

The board chairman of one of the schools told our Lae bureau that the schools have subsisted on whatever little they raised from fundraising activities and largely by the support of the communities.

It is hoped that these schools and all others faced with similar situations would have the full benefit of the TFF funds this year.

Such concerns over the disbursement of tuition fees should be addressed by respective provincial education offices in consultation with the Education department headquarters.

The TFF policy guarantees funding so there should not be any reason to turn away students because of non-payment of project fees like some schools in Hela have already done.

Some boarding high and secondary schools do need money at the very start of the school year and therefore need to charge fees this time of year.

In the case of Hela province six schools the council president visited said they had not received tuition fees for the last quarter and the first quarter of 2016.

This also falls back on how well school administrations manage their finances the previous year.

A good management team would ensure there are reserves for the start of the new year and especially given the normal bureaucratic delays in the payment of TFF funds.

While many schools have had significant developments using the TFF funding, many more only wish it had been put to better use.

A lot has been said about school principals and boards misusing money in the past and some have actually used government money for their personal benefit.

Such abuse must be investigated and stopped for the Government’s TFF policy to produce the desired results

The Education Secretary’s directive on the question of project fees this year is clear and there should be no misunderstanding.

Schools will be allowed to charge fees when the Cabinet gives the okay. 

While awaiting that decision, school administrations should refrain from penalising students by sending them home because on non-payment of project fees.