Wongani Chiuta & Owen Khamula
Malawi government has ordered head teachers in public secondary schools to delay the collection of school fees as the schools open Monday after a two-month summer holiday.
But Secretary for Education, Science and Technology, Justin Saidi, in a circular to all head teachers in the country, has not given reasons why there should be a delay in the collection of fees.
“As you are aware, the 2018/19 academic year starts from 10th September, 2018. I write to advise that you should delay the collection and receipt of tuition fees from students for the 2018/19 academic year.
“You will receive further instructions on the same in due course,” says the letter in part.
Saidi says the instruction only applies to payments of tuition fees and does not apply to the collection and receipt of the other fees such as text book, revolving fund, general purpose fund or boarding fees where applicable.
“I would like to appeal to all education division managers to make sure that the content of this circular letter is urgently brought to the attention of all headmasters for information and implementation,” says the further.
Sources in the Ministry of Education said that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) are using this as campaign tool to offer free secondary education.
Governance and rights activist Makhumbo Munthali said the Ministry of Education communique seems to suggest that government is considering introducing free Secondary School education.
” While the idea to introduce such a policy is ambitious and good in as far as increasing access to education for those learners who would not manage to pay fees, the question of the timing of when such a policy should be implemented should be seriously looked into,” he said.
Munthali argued that already the country is failing to successfully manage primary education despite introducing free primary education with the burden to cover the deficits now transfered to parents under the so-called development funds and others.
“No wonder many have repeatedly said Primary School is not free – a complete diversion from the Education Act of 2013. It is against such a background that many would still raise serious doubts on the feasibility of government implementing free primary education,” he said.
Munthali added: “Just like Primary Education experience, government may simply transfer the burden of financing the likely huge deficit that may be incurred in financing free tuition secondary education to parents and learners under the non-tuition fees like PTA/Development funds at school level.”
He said informed by the free Primary School experience, it would therefore be important for government to clearly spell out the mechanisms it has put in place in order to successfully implement the new free secondary school policy.
“Politically, it is clear that this decision may have been made bythe DPP government in order to strengthen its chances of winning the 2019 Tripartite elections. It may hence be seen as one of those desperate attempts by the ruling party to outsmart its strong competitors in MCP and UTM in the election.
“However, the only problem with ‘politically-motivated’ policies is that they are often not sustainable, and they in the short or long term put huge burden on the tax-payer. In summary, its important that government addresses the shortfalls with the implementation of free primary education before extending such a policy to secondary school,” Munthali said.
In Africa, Ghana is already offering free secondary education which started out this month under President Nana Akufo- Addo. In 2015 Gambia removed fees for all public primary and secondary schools, while in 2016 Tanzania removed lower secondary school fees.