I would like to strongly support the statements of the Principal of Donna’s Elite School in the article titled “Call to remove school fee exemptions” in the Daily Post on 18 April.
The Government, through the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET), issues these decrees of ‘school fee exemptions’ on various occasions and typically what they mean is that government schools can no longer charge fees. That simply results in government schools being able to maintain classes because the government pays the salaries of government teachers. However, these schools then have no funds for resources, utilities or the salaries of community based teachers. The end result is a further deterioration in what is already a less than adequate standard of education.
On this occasion, the government stated that this fee exemption would be applied to ALL schools, both government and private, and that the government would pay a 42,000vt subsidy per student to schools to assist them.
These decrees were issued with no prior consultation and no direct communication. We only know what we have heard through the media and transcripts of the Acting Prime Minister’s speech.
What we do not know is what criteria will need to be met, which students will be subsidised, how these funds will be distributed or when they will be paid. These are important questions as private schools need funds to operate. In the past, answers to questions such as these have proved critical.
For example, many Kindergartens still have not received government grants that were approved by the Council of Ministers in 2018, more than a year ago. There is no clear, written, eligibility criteria and consequently the ‘requirements’ keep changing. Another example of promises not kept is the salaries of Kindergarten Teachers who were given government contracts for 2020 but did not receive their pay until 10 April. The law prohibits private schools from such delays in paying salaries.
In Vanuatu, private schools typically offer a standard of education that is considerably better than that obtainable elsewhere. That is why most private schools are full to capacity despite parents having to pay significant fees. Without these schools the government would have to find places for several thousand extra students and pay the teachers to teach them.
Private schools pay the salaries of their teachers, provide the facilities and resources, pay the rent, phone, internet, electricity and water costs and clean and maintain their classrooms and playgrounds. The fees paid by parents are used to cover these expenses. The government contribution, in most cases, is nothing.
I would ask that the MoET take the time to talk with and gain an understanding of the private education sector. We have skills and resources that are vital to education in Vanuatu. We are valued by the community and our enrolments reflect that fact. Parents who pay fees for a quality education and the schools that serve them don’t deserve to be treated unfairly simply because there is a crisis. Unless our needs are understood and considered, actions such as blanket school fee exemptions will only make this crisis worse.