The National, Thursday June 18th, 2015
TWO Education Department secretaries have been removed, apparently over the implementation of the National Government’s tuition fee free (TFF) policy initiative.
An investigation was also instituted to identify and remove any impediment in the smooth operation of an education policy generally acclaimed for its impact, relieving thousands of parents struggling with annual education costs for their children.
That shows how important this education policy is to the O’Neill Government. And the Government has not merely laid it out on paper but has actually injected funding into it, funding which comes out at the receiving end either in cash or school materials.
But it appears the Education Department has still not got it right. What the Government and public is concerned about is not some slight clerical error but turns out to be a deliberate ploy to hijack the government policy by middle men and even school administrators themselves to get more than their share of the government money.
When the TFF policy was introduced there were obviously a lot of concerns raised by school boards, the PNG Teachers Association and heads of schools about such matters like overcrowding in classrooms and a shortage of teachers to cater for the increased numbers of children.
Nothing of that is as shocking as revelations this week by Education Minister Nick Kuman and his acting Secretary Dr Uke Kombra.
According to Kombra, some 2000 schools have deliberately inflated or falsified enrolment figures in order to get more than their fair share of the government’s tuition fee free education money.
The anomalies were picked up well into the second half of the school year by the Department of Education’s database at Waigani.
The million-kina TFF fund has turned out to be rich pickings for some mischievous public servants and their cohorts.
The inflated figures have been passed on from schools to district education managers to provincial standard officers and fed into the Waigani data bank without any care for cross-checks or validation.
Provinces do not always crosscheck the figures to validate the data received from schools.
The secretary has now instructed all education standard officers to ensure that all data on enrolment must be validated properly before they are submitted to the department headquarters.
These officers will be made to account for any anomaly uncovered.
Kuman’s announcement of K50 million unaccounted for was based on the data from the tuition fee free commodity component report.
Enrolment data used to be collected from each province through the quarterly figures.
A new system was introduced after 2006 when the department decided to collect more information on students, teachers and infrastructure. The school census forms were then issued to schools at the beginning of the year for each school to complete and to send to the provincial education office and Waigani by March 31.
According Kombra, it is the standard officers in the provinces whose job it is to collect and validate the enrolment figures of schools. While the standard officers are based at provincial headquarters level, there are also district education managers in each of the 89 districts in the country who are expected to collect such information even if it means by physically visiting schools to verify annual enrolment numbers.
Unfortunately, that has not been the case and indications are that those officers concerned have failed in their jobs or have acted in tandem with school heads to relay unverified and inflated enrolment figures to their respective provincial officers to feed the national database.
Such action or omission on the part of the district and provincial education authorities has been the cause of millions of kina being paid to “ghost schools”.
While the chief architect of the TFF policy is away in Europe, the education minister and secretary have each dropped a bombshell this week.
He will be an unhappy when he is briefed upon arrival about the failures uncovered in the implementation of what is a key policy of his coalition government.
The department has now identified the source of wastage in its systems so it is incumbent on acting secretary and his provincial education officials to starting correcting those matters to avoid such dishonesty and misuse repeating in the 2016 academic year.