CHUAVE - The government component of TFFE (tuition fee free education) to schools in Papua New Guinea has been slashed to only 50%.
TFFE subsidies are released to schools each term and are supposed to cover the actual cost of running a school for ten weeks.
The actual school fee per student is divided into two segments: lower secondary (Grades 9 and 10) and upper secondary (Grades 11 and 12). Lower secondary students were allocated K1,300 for 2018 and upper secondary K1,600.
The Education Department under the ministry of Nick Kuman adopted the concept last year. But it was not effectively executed. There was a large amount cut from the money supposed to be paid to schools.
Most people, particularly parents living in remote areas and below the poverty line in urban areas, concluded there is a loophole whereby funds have been diverted to other stakeholders. Whatever the actual policy is now, it has not been made known to schools around the country.
There has been no effective survey to analyse the real cost of running schools, but the new ‘slash funds’ policy was drafted and accepted for implementation within the Education Department.
How will remote schools in PNG like Karimui, Kairiru Island, Jimi and Telefomin manage to keep their schools open if the cost is triple that of running schools in a city or town?
Mai High School, located on the outskirts of Kundiawa, has 450 student in Grades 9 and 10. For Term 1 this year it received of K61,960.
According to the calculation of K1,300 per student, it was supposed to receive more than twice that - K127,125.
The governing council and the school administration asked the provincial education authority to find out why half of the money had vanished. The question was in vain. No answer was forthcoming.
Then in Term 2, the school received only K25,000. Another slash of K36,960, much less than one-third of what was budgeted.
“Why is the government continuously cutting funds, which they are not supposed to do?” asked a curious (and perhaps furious) administration.
“The government is playing a game to sabotage the rightful basic services of the children,” said a senior teacher at Mai.
“This practice is causing an imminent downfall of quality education in the country.
“K25,000 is unrealistic since it will be depleted within a week on school rations and fuel. Nothing will remain for the wages of ancillary staff.
“The education authority should be conscious of whether it is seeking to make the country or break the country,” the teacher said.
People are joking that “the funds have gone into hiding”.
“They must have been banked in a trust account of a middleman to pay fees for their prostitute kids,” one person said to me.
Most of the schools in the highlands region, particularly Simbu, are saying they will have to close if the government does not deposit adequate funds into school accounts.
Simbu Schools are now charging individual students fees of K500. This is a lot of money and too much for both non-working and working parents.
The outcome is what you would expect - parents are withdrawing their kids from school.
There are no proper learning and teaching materials. Classrooms and other physical assets are deteriorating. Teachers and ancillary staff are not being paid. School supplies cannot be purchased. Creditors cannot be paid.
The consequences of the failure of TFFE have severely affected school operations.
The policy sounded good but its collapse has been a disaster for schools and it is hindering the quality of learning throughout Papua New Guinea.