Project fees defeats policy

Editorial, Normal

The National, Tuesday January 26th, 2016

 EDUCATION Minister Nick Kuman announced earlier in the month that public schools would still be allowed to charge project fees.

The reasoning is that funding for the government’s free education policy is expected to be a little late in reaching schools in 2016.

The question on many, if not most, parents’ minds is why is there a need to continue with these fees when the state has undertaken the burden of tuition and other expenses for a child’s education.

Papua New Guinea may be in the midst of a middle class boom but the fact remains the vast majority of students in this country still come from homes where parents do not have the luxury of sending their children to private schools and other agencies outside of the government system. 

For every student attends private school there are at least 10 times that number in the public school system so the state’s commitment is crucial.

Project fees ranging from K50 to K250 may not seem like much but for rural families the fees represent a contradiction in the policy.

Kuman said the Education department would allow the provincial education boards to use the option of charging project fees to based on requests from schools.

What is to stop a school from charging fees when they do not really need to do so? 

Hopefully the provincial education boards have the ability to assess each school and monitor them in case of abuse.

If the government of the day has promised to make education free then one thinks they should do just that otherwise the term “free education” is really a misnomer designed would assume to garner the support of the voting public.

Apparently, the money allocated for disbursal to state schools for the 2016 school year has already been approved and released to the Finance Department. So what seems to be the hindrance with giving each school their due for the year?

If capacity is the issue with most schools in terms of accessing the funds and making sure it is used for its intended purpose wouldn’t this have been one of the major problems identified when the policy was first thought up?

Should not measures put in place to ensure the efficient and transparent use of the money, to a large extent, have been guaranteed?

Why is it that four years after coming to power in the last general elections on several campaign platforms, one of which was free education, people are still paying to have their children educated at least in government schools?

Doesn’t this constitute a failed policy initiative? Would it not be better to revise the policy or scrap it altogether and have in place a more realistic policy like “subsidised education” for want of a better if less catchier term?

If one is going to base their campaign for election into Parliament on a promise of free education then surely one must fulfil that promise however difficult or complicated.

Minister Kuman said in a meeting in Waigani that the education board had approved project fees for special purposes to cater for the late availability of tuition fees.

If that is the case then should parents expect to be reimbursed by the schools later in the year when the money finally becomes available?

The state has already shown its hand when Kuman advised schools this month that they would receive term four allocations for 2015 before the 2016 school year started.

Why is the government operating a full term behind in payments what are schools supposed to survive on? Project fees and credit?

The outstanding payments of K49.6 million from the K605 million allocated last year would be paid to schools before the 2016 term one allocations were disbursed.

The money will be paid into school bank accounts with the K49.6 million set to be paid before the first tranche of K75 million from the K150 million first quarter allocations is made available.

If this is confusing for the lay person one hopes the schools know how much they are owed and when they will get paid.

Kuman said the government was committed to ensuring that access to education was given to every child by making sure tuition was paid.