Education is all about paying to acquire knowledge that can help curve the path for your future. But paying, as it is, cannot be taken for granted, often times, schools have to crack the whip on students whose parents find it hard to meet the obligation.
For years, experts have wondered if there is a way that can conveniently allow students from ‘poor’ families study despite school fees issues that dog them. Collins Mwai went in quest of some answers;-
A prevalent factor that holds back those in pursuit of education is finances or the ability (or lack of it) to beat fees deadlines. Though consumed by a desire to get through school, at times the school fees issue poses a challenge to learners.
In dealing with fees structures, parents face deadlines to cover a certain percentage of the fees for their children to remain comfortable at school.
Some schools (mostly public high schools) claim to make allowances for students whose parents have difficulties raising fees at the beginning of the each school term.
“On the opening day we require that students bring bank slips; most of them do. Those who cannot have to bring their parents to make a commitment on when they plan to pay, and, with the approval of the head teacher, we allow them to get on with classes. When the deadline they had promised to cover their fees elapses, most pay but others ask to extend the commitments,” said Elisha Karara, the in-charge of finances at Lycee de Kigali.
Karara says sending students home in the course of the academic term is unnecessary. “At times students spend three years with arrears; we let them get on with school since at the end they will still need to come get their certificates. It would be unfair for them to miss classes since they are not compensated for the time they miss classes.”
Karara also points out that they are considering alternative ways in which students who cannot meet fees requirements can pay in kind.
“We are considering ways students who face financial challenges can pay in kind during holidays since most of them have skills that would benefit the institution like making sign posts to be used in school,” Karara says.
In considering who should be given what allowance, school authorities do a background check on students. “It is necessary that we understand a student’s background when making such allowances,” Karara says.
Jean Baptiste Habimana, an academic officer at Lycee de Kigali, says it is a positive step that most schools no longer send home students who have hard time raising money.
He says it not only affects their academic progress but also of the entire class. “As a teacher you cannot pretend all is well when some students are missing class, you would have to interrupt the normal coverage of the syllabus and at some point repeat some lessons for those who missed out. It affects even those who remained in school and also evaluation of students becomes problematic,” Habimina says.
Patrice Nshimiyimana a senior six student says though there are allowances made by school authorities, they do not really make it any easier for peasant parents.
“Most times, we are allowed a month after the opening date, that is only good for parents who have a salary at the end of the month. A large number of our parents don’t have such jobs,” Nshimiyimana reveals.
Mutesi Louise a mother of a senior five student says that at times the pressure from the school’s management is too much for parents to bear. “Although they (school) make allowances for some students, it is not as easy as it sounds, they seem to doubt the sincerity of parents and at times even conduct background checks, she said.
Private schools being business establishments they are known to be, are tougher when it comes to an issue like these where money is involved.
“I attended a private high school, fees deadlines were ruthlessly observed, but most parents were able to pay on time since they choose these schools for their children. It is a little sad that a student’s progress can be determined by financial ability of his parents,” quips Emilie Ruterana, who recently completed high school and is waiting to join university.
In defence of the schools, John Gasasa, the principal of Alliance High School in Kigali, says school fees are not just structured without stakeholders’ involvement.
“When structuring the school fees, the schools’ management convenes a meeting of parents where they discuss the fees in detail. After that, if there is an increase it has to be approved by the district education office,” he said.
Gasana adds that some private schools also make allowances for parents who may not be able to raise the total amount by the time of schools opening.
“Even private schools tolerate students, at times parents are allowed to pay in instalments when they request to,” he said.
One fact that cannot be overlooked in all this is that both private and public schools are greatly inconvenienced by delayed payment of school dues.
“Parents and students should also understand that the institutions also have to pay bills, like power and water that have to be footed. It drags the institution at times as supplies could be inconvenienced,” Karara, of Lycee de Kigali, says.
How should school fees defaulters be handled by school management?
Juliet Nsaba, single mother. ‘I appeal to schools to allow these students to pay in installments until they complete. Fining them for late payment is inhumane because the reason as to why they default is because they are poor.’
Yusuf Nsenga, a businessman. ‘Schools should be strict on fees payment; the defaulters should not be allowed to attend classes until they meet all their school dues. This will compel them to look for the money.’
Fred Elisa Mugisha, a social worker. ‘It depends on the case because there are some students who deliberately refuse to pay school fees and instead use the money for luxuries. Such students should be expelled from school.’
Rachael Mwiza, teacher. ‘Fees defaulters should be given a grace period of about two weeks to meet their obligation. If these students don’t pay how, will the school operations run without money?
Jean Pierre Musiime. ‘Using cheques can work. Schools should let parents pay using multiple post-dated cheques that they can then cash in at their convenience.”
Emmanuel Mbonabucya, corporate. ‘I sponsor three children and sometimes I don’t have all their fees. Students should be allowed to sit exams and schools retain the results for those in candidate classes.’