Should schools turn away students over tuition fees?

Last week, the streets were bustling with different shades of uniform as students reported back to school for the third and last term of the academic year. However, as some students were arriving, others were heading back home. “We had to send them back home,” says one school administrator who prefers anonymity. “They arrived for third term without proof of payment of school fees and we were forced to ask them to go back.”
Students wait for a taxi in Nyabugogo park to return to school. Some students are sent back home as soon as they report to school over fees.  (Solomon Asaba)
Students wait for a taxi in Nyabugogo park to return to school. Some students are sent back home as soon as they report to school over fees. (Solomon Asaba)

Last week, the streets were bustling with different shades of uniform as students reported back to school for the third and last term of the academic year. However, as some students were arriving, others were heading back home. “We had to send them back home,” says one school administrator who prefers anonymity. “They arrived for third term without proof of payment of school fees and we were forced to ask them to go back.”

Since 2003, the government has maintained a policy of discouraging schools from turning away students due to delayed payment of tuition fees.

The Rwanda National Integrated Child Rights Policy states: “The government guarantees by law that every child in Rwanda has the right to fee-free and compulsory education for the first 9 years of basic (primary and lower secondary) education.” Although not included in the policy, the Rwandan government has also already moved to expand basic education access to 12 years.

Yet among the schools that turn away students, as early as the first day of the term, include public schools.

Schools explain

“The government makes a contribution towards the children’s education (capitation grant) but that contribution is not sufficient to cover all the administrative costs associated with running a school,” says Tamille Ntawuhiganayo, a teacher at Groupe Scolaire Kacyiru.

According to the School Funding and Equity in Rwanda report published by the Institution of Policy Analysis and Research in Rwanda in September 2012, the government spends at least Rwf 3,500 per annum on every primary school pupil and Rwf 7,000 per annum on every lower secondary student under the capitation grant. Research concluded that this grant is not sufficient to provide the minimum level of education inputs. In light of this, through the Parents Teachers Association (PTA), it is common for parents, teachers and school administrators to agree on an amount to top up on the capitation grant.

Students are expected to pay the fee at the beginning of the term because failure to do so causes strains in budgeting, especially concerning the purchase of necessary materials and other expenses such as paying for water, electricity and wages to support staff. Asked why the school administration can’t make use of the capitation grant as they await to receive school fees from the parents, one of the school administrators who preferred anonymity said, “The money doesn’t always arrive on time. This means that we have to plan with available finances; school fees paid by the parents.” Sending children home for school fees, as was seen last week when schools opened for the third and last term of the year, is no new practice and it seems that it’s not about to stop.

Teachers say that sending away students whose school dues have not been cleared can affect their concentration in class. (Solomon Asaba)

Catalyst that is lack of communication

If parents have always known that their children are likely to be sent back home if they report to school without paying fees, why do they continue to send them without paying? Josephine Nkurunziza, a parent, says:  “Beginning of term is a very pressing time for every parent. You don’t only pay school fees but you also have to purchase scholastic materials.” At the same time, since the introduction of the school feeding programme, parents are expected to shoulder the associated expenses. Nkurunziza, however, believes that school administrators are not always unsympathetic to parents’ difficult situations if they take the time to explain and promise to pay.

School administrators and teachers are aware of how financially constraining it is to acquire all the scholastic materials and school fees. They all agree that the main reason why they turn students away is lack of communication on the parents’ part. “We understand that some parents are poor. They might not be able to pay all the fees at the beginning of the term. But instead of just sending their children to school, they should come and explain to us,” says Ntawuhiganayo. Anaclet Karamuka, a discipline master at Efotec, agrees with Ntawuhiganayo and adds that it’s easier to accept explanations from parents because “sometimes students lie to us.”

The habit of some students lying, can be linked to the fact that some parents give cash to their children and give them the responsibility of going to the bank to pay school fees. It is likely that a student will misuse the money and then lie to the school administration that parents are unable to pay until a later date. So what happens if the said student is asked to go home because of deferred tuition payment? “They don’t go home. They roam the area getting involved with bad company, smoking, watching football and girls might even get involved with old men,” says Karamuka.

Students only victims

Collectively, parents, teachers and administrators all worry about the fact that such students are likely to get involved in bad behaviour before going home. But this is just one of many challenges associated with sending students home for deferred tuition payment. Theophile Habiyambere, the dean of studies for Gashora Girls’ School, points out that such students are likely to perform poorly in class and in final examinations and the school will lose out on good grades. Habiyambere also says that while education is a partnership comprising of students, parents, schools and the government, and while late payment of fees affects all parties involved, there is only one victim in all this — the student.

Karamuka concurs: “Students are the only ones who lose out. When they leave school, their peers continue learning. It is unlikely that the teachers will go back and explain to them when they come back.” Nkurunziza believes that late payment of tuition does more harm to a child than just causing poor performance. “Students who are sent home for school fees will feel inferior to their peers. They are also likely to be bullied, which will affect their confidence and self-esteem.”

School administrators have also identified cases where students are sent back home for fees and they don’t show up again. They drop out of school entirely. This is likely to happen in instances where students are orphans and their schools fees is being catered for by charities. “Some of the charity organisations that pay school fees for needy and/or orphaned students spend a whole year without paying,” says one school administrator. In the end, the school administration is forced to turn the student away and this only worsens the challenge of high school drop-out rates.

Turning students away ‘unacceptable’

Even in schools where the policy is to retain the child and invite parents, guardians or sponsors to the school, administrators have noticed that the concerned students lose concentration in class. “They feel bad about themselves. They are likely to think that their parents or guardians don’t care about them. This will make it hard for them to concentrate in class,” says Habiyambere.

It’s not only in circumstances when there has been a delay in tuition payment that students are asked to go back home. In boarding schools, students who report without the basic materials such as soap, buckets, toilet paper and others are asked to go back. Administrators fear that such students will otherwise be compelled to steal from their colleagues.

However, Dr Celestin Ntivuguruzwa, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Education, said it is totally wrong to send students home because of school fees.

“Students should not be concerned with school fees issues and sending them home because of that is unacceptable,” Dr Ntivuguruzwa told The New Times yesterday.

On the issue of some head teachers claiming that students are sent home because government delays to disburse the capitation grant funds to schools, Dr Ntivuguruzwa said the grant is an allocation catered for in the budget and it is remitted to districts not the schools.

“Why would they be worried about the grant?” he asked. “These funds are provided for in the budget and are eventually sent to the respective districts, the ministry itself does not handle the funds.”

He, however, advised school heads to always consult the ministry in case of any concerns.

“If head teachers have any problem, the ministry is open to discussion but students should not be disturbed while at school,” he added.

A student arrives for the new term at Riviera High School in April. Parents say they find it hard to clear their children’s school fees before a fresh term begins since they also have to buy other school requirements. (Dennis Agaba)

Way forward

School administrators need fees to run schools. Parents are constrained by all the costs involved in sending children to school. Most importantly, children have to go to school. So then, what’s to be done when parents or guardians fail to pay in time?

Nkurunziza, Ntawuhiganayo, Karamuka and Habiyambere all hold the same view; that parents should take time to communicate with the school, especially about the possibility of paying in installments. They also agree that the government should pay its own contribution in time as should organisations that sponsor students. Additionally, Ntawuhiganayo suggests that parents should not only wait for the beginning of the term to pay as this might be straining. They can start during the holidays, he says.

Epiphanie Kamasa, a parent, calls for patience on the administrators’ part. Having looked into the background of the student, she says, they should be patient with poor parents and allow their children to stay in school as they look for fees to pay.

Nkurunziza, however, advocates for proper planning on the parents’ part. He says, “No matter your status or income level, children have to go to school. Therefore, always put money aside for school fees instead of waiting to pay using the money you only expect at the time children are going back to school.”

Habiyambere and Ntawuhiganayo both strongly advise that students should not be subjected to the challenges that come with late payment as this has a negative impact on their behaviour, concentration, performance and self-esteem. Moreover, they have no power over the situation even though they are the victims. “In this partnership that is education, every party should work diligently towards fulfilling its obligations. The only role students should play is studying,” says Habiyambere.

Students speak out

Jeremie Nisingizwe
Mudastru Kanyamihigo

Jeremie Nisingizwe, a student at GS Rugando

It feels so bad to be sent back home over failure to pay school fees. It is not easy to catch up with others after days or weeks of missing school. I request school authorities to be more lenient with parents, many of whom are poor and cannot afford to pay all the money on time.

Mudastru Kanyamihigo, student GSK Kimisange

It’s not good to send away students when others are studying. However, the schools also need money to survive. Some parents may also be delaying to pay because their children’s grades are poor, so they need to pull up their socks.

Justine Murhula
Eddie Iradukunda

Justine Murhula, a student at Kenya Institute of Management

For any focused person, missing school for any reason hurts. However, unserious students always celebrate when denied access to class due to unpaid dues. Parents and teachers should sit together to find a win-win solution.

Eddie Iradukunda, a student at GS School

When students are chased from class over school fees, they are viewed as coming from poor families which crashes their confidence. It is also expensive for those in boarding section who come from far.

Japheth Niyomugabo
Else Byukusenge

Japheth Niyomugabo, a pupil at E.P.A.K school

I would feel very sad if I was sent back home to collect school fees because it would affect my studies. Teachers, parents and students need to agree on which period of the term to chase away leaners, and which time to spare them. However, parents should also endeavour to pay in time.

Else Byukusenge, student at GS Rugando

Being asked to leave school because I have not cleared school fees is very embarassing. It is even worse if it is done towards exams because one cannot get time to concentrate on revision. It also takes away whatever confidence I had. I know schools need money but they should be considerate before taking such action.


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