Schools need more help

Editorial

SCHOOL project fees are not compulsory for this year – it is optional.
This means, no school that receives tuition fee free (TFF) funding is to collect any form of fees from parents, guardians and children unless it is approved by the provincial education board.
Education Minister Jimmy Uguro said K316 million for terms one and two had been released for the 2022 academic year.
The total fees relief for this year is K632 million.
Australia has allocated A$35 million (about K88 million) in its sector budget to support Papua New Guinea’s TFF subsidy for primary schools.
What is reported to have been released on Friday does not include allocations for the final quarter of 2021.
We have witnessed and reported over the years about schools encountering difficulties in terms of infrastructure maintenance, lack of learning materials and equipment and rundown amenities at the beginning of school year.
So whose responsibility is it to maintain school buildings or build new ones?
This is a matter of grave concern because school buildings are crumbling all around the country while parents, teachers and school boards stand by helplessly expecting help from somewhere.
Ironically, the same decades-old buildings are being filled up with an increased number of children because of the Government’s TFF education policy.
Go no further than the capital city to realise the extent of the neglect and inability by schools to maintain a decent standard of school infrastructure all year round.
The problem of deteriorating school buildings and the very grave health and safety issues facing students and staff in the schools is common among many schools and those in the National Capital District are no better than the rest.
Infrastructure involves a lot of investment by school boards which cannot rely on the Government or some chance benefactor.
School administrations should be given the leeway to raise much-needed funds for the maintenance of existing school buildings and construction of new facilities.
It is illogical for the Education Department to issue restrictions on schools from raising money through project fees because of the TFF policy.
The department should realise that the TFF funds are not sufficient and even if the money is faithfully remitted to school accounts they are mainly for the purchase of school materials.
What happens to much-needed infrastructure development such as maintaining dilapidated classrooms or replacing over-used toilet bowls?
Indeed, the TFF policy has placed a burden on school administrations, which are now struggling to cater an increase in the number of students in run down classrooms.
This is merely echoing what has been already expressed by a number of school headmasters and boards.
Everyone welcomes the Government’s TFF education policy, which now provides access to students who would otherwise struggle or be denied an education because of economic reasons.
However, there are very obvious drawbacks of this policy, one of which is the limited number of school infrastructure or rundown facilities.
Schools should be allowed to charge project fees so they can rebuild or refurbish school buildings and create more classroom spaces for the growing number of children.
School boards, on their part, should be made more accountable in their responsibility over physical infrastructure ensuring safe and hygienic school environments.
There is no point in filling up classrooms and not achieving the aim of quality education.

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