THERE are differing views among parents and teachers about Papua New Guinea’s tuition fee free policy.
The government’s policy is well-intended and should be seen as heavily subsidising tuition fees, which does leave some responsibility for tuition fees with the parents.
But this is not the case now. The government wants to pay full fees and has told parents to ensure this direction is complied with by schools.
Since its inception the tuition fee free policy has placed schools under stress. Some of the best schools in the country, which were held in high esteem, are no longer excellent as a result of the policy.
Schools are struggling and deteriorating rapidly in all aspects. It’s a shambles. School management and boards are confused on how they can reinstate them to effectiveness.
The policy, as you might expect, saw an influx in student enrolment. Some schools thought that hosting high student numbers would increase allocated funds.
But the fund was never enough to expand the required infrastructure development in schools. In some schools, students spill out of classrooms built two decades ago to hold 30 pupils and now forced to accommodate 60.
Realising this predicament, schools decided to charge ‘project fees’ to address the infrastructure shortage - and now the government is telling schools to stop this. The incredible message is that schools should shut up and keep enrolling students without considering infrastructure.
Some parents, not wanting to pay any charges, have aggressively supported the government in creating what is a chaotic school environment.
Removing parental responsibility for children’s fees also disengages parents from participating in the development of their children and their school.
The outcome - when parents see children’s education and infrastructure deteriorating, they will remain quiet because they do not have a hand in the schooling process.
In a highly illiterate society like ours, the people do not clearly understand the relationship between themselves as taxpayers and the government.
The school authority controls the cheque book and commits schools to spending – scrupulous or unscrupulous. What used to be checks and balances on school expenditure at the weekly parents and citizens day are no more.
Some schools incur more debts than the tuition fee free policy allows. Blame is externalised – often on a former principal or head teacher. It seems there is no way of stopping such shady practices or of holding the culprits accountable. Most teachers are quiet on this. A few of them share the loot between themselves and are always looking for the next opportunity.
The whole area of this policy needs to be reconsidered and some responsibility for tuition fees thrown back at parents who, with their money at stake, are likely to engage more with their schools and teachers.