CSOs raise concern
Three civil society organizations (CSOs) in Gbarnga, Bong County, say as a result of high school fees charged in the county’s public schools, many parents may find it difficult to send their children to school.
In an interview with community radio stations in Gbarnga, three civil society groups including the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (JPC), the Foundation for International Dignity (FIND) and the Community Development Research Agency (CODRA), said that some public schools in the county are charging high school fees against the Ministry of Education’s (MoE) stipulated fees for 12th graders.
The three civil society groups named the government-run schools as the Dolokelen Gboveh High School, the Nathaniel Varney Massaquoi High School, and John Flomo Bakalu Junior High School, that are charging students high fees. They said the situation is posing extreme challenges to “struggling students” and their poverty-stricken parents, who are finding it exceedingly tough to pay their children’s school fees.
It can be recalled that recently, MoE’s authorities announced that, in an effort to provide education to citizens, grades 1-9 is free of charge, while students will pay the amount of L$1,000 from grades 10-12.
“We have observed with grave concern that some public schools within the Bong County School System are fraudulently violating MoE’s 2018/2019 academic calendar by overcharging parents above the required fees as specified in the calendar,” the rights groups said.
According to the three groups, at the J. F. Clarke Kindergarten School in Gbarnga, every student is required to pay L$800 for registration fees.
“This is a complete disrespect to the government’s Pro-poor Agenda,” they said.
“We wonder why public school administrators, who are paid by the government, will choose to ignore the government’s mandate by allowing those schools to overcharge poverty-stricken parents in the name of gala-day fees, P.E. T-Shirts, breakage and maintenance fees, ID Cards and other fees, which is repugnant and must be stopped,” they added.
On page 9 of the 2018/2019 academic calendar, the government outlines what fees parents ought to pay, and grades 1-9 are exempt from paying any fee but compulsorily, while grades 10-12 are to pay L$1,000.
This amount, the ministry said, is to be paid by installment. MoE further stipulated that payment will include activity fees, which is L$450; maintenance fees, L$250; ID Card, L$200, and PTA fee, L$100, and shall be paid L$500 per semester.
When contacted, Mr. Samuel Elliot, chairman of Dolokelen Gboveh High School’s PTA, admitted to the collection of extra fees outside of the government’s required fees.
“We as parents met and agreed in principle to collect the amount of L$3,600 per student as PTA fees, and the students pay L$1,500 for student development fees, because the school is faced with huge challenges, and no financial support coming from government to the public schools,” Mr. Elliot said.
Elliot named the limited supply of chairs, instructional materials, lack of laboratories, and leaky classrooms as some major challenges confronting the administration of some of the public schools.
Authorities at the N.V. Massaquoi High School also acknowledged having collected L$2,700 and L$2,000 for PTA and Student Development Fees respectively, with the objective of procuring other essential materials for the school in the absence of government’s supplies.
Parents whose views were sampled by the Daily Observer, said students expressed mixed reactions; others blamed the situation on government’s inability to supply schools with the requisite instructional materials, not placing supplementary teachers on the regular payroll, and failing to provide accommodation for students as a result of government’s pronouncement on free and compulsory education.
Others termed the action of the school administrators as “corruption,” and called on government to compel those schools to restitute the students’ money that they have earlier paid.