Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST) has come under fire for allegedly hastily implementing the abolition of fees in conventional and community day secondary schools (CDSSs) without wider consultations.
Parliament’s Committee on Education and Civil Society Education Coalition (Csec) saidon Tuesday none of the education stakeholders were consulted before making the decision to freeze payment of tuition fees, textbook revolving and general purpose funds.
The development comes against a background of MoEST holding a meeting with education division managers and other officers in Lilongwe on Monday to share information on bursary programmes, other running projects in various schools and what students are paying for various projects.
In his reaction, Csec executive director Benedicto Kondowe said the MoEST meeting with education division managers was testimony that government did not consult in the first place before making the decision.
He said: “In fact, the decision has not even been discussed with planners. On Friday last week, I was in the PS’s [principal secretary] office for the same issue. In January this year, we had a joint sector review meeting to assess education performance and reforms that government wants to do. The issue of abolishing fees was not raised. The decision was made without consultations.”
In a circular dated September 26 2018 from MoEST to division managers and signed by Thokozile Banda on behalf of PS Justin Saidi, delegates were requested to provide data on bursary and ongoing projects for discussion.
The invitation letter reads in part: “Please bring with you your bursary information as well as running projects in various schools and what students are paying for various projects in this term. The information on running projects will be critical to the discussion in this meeting.”
Kondowe said MoEST was supposed to have that information at hand before making the decision to abolish tuition fees had it been it consulted widely on the issue.
On his part, chairperson for the Parliamentary Committee on Education Elias Chakwera said the committee learnt about the decision through the media and that it was not consulted at any point.
He said: “There was no consultation at all. We just heard the announcement. The big question we have as a committee is that how will government be able to resource schools adequately since our greatest need is to provide quality education.”
In a telephone interview, Saidi defended the decision, saying that it is aimed at ensuring that it sustains the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Four which is compelling member States to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promotion of life-long learning opportunities.
He said the ministry met with the parliamentary committee and Csec at one point where they discussed how far government is implementing the goal that need to be sustained by 2030.
The abolishment of fees will cost government about K400 million, a development Kondowe said will not help it sustain quality education as he predicts there will be a severe lack of teaching and learning resources.
In announcing the development last week, Education Minister Bright Msaka said government wants to develop youths through education to become dependable tools for the attainment of national development goals.
Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe said that by abolishing fees, government will not forgo anything because the United States of America (USA) has provided funds for construction of additional schools, an argument Chakwera challenged as vague since tuition fees have never been used for constructing school blocks, according to him.
Gondwe said the USA has given Malawi $90 million (about K6.7 billion) for the financial year which, he said, is more than what could have been collected from schools.
In total, government has abolished payment of K3 250 per pupil in all public secondary schools, thus; tuition fees K500 which is paid per term (K1500 per year), general purpose fund at K1 500 and text book revolving fund which is K250.
Recently, US Ambassador Virginia Palmer told The Nation in an interview that the decision is part of a memorandum of understanding with MoEST ahead of the construction of 256 secondary schools in the country.