Barely two weeks after advising public secondary schools to delay collection of K500 per term tuition fees, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST) has announced abolition of fees in conventional and community day secondary schools.
Making the announcement in Lilongwe yesterday, Minister of Education, Science and Technology Bright Msaka said the abolition of tuition fees is with immediate effect and meant to ease access to secondary education, improve transition, retention and pass rates to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor.
But education rights analysts have described the timing as bad, saying it will affect implementation of the national budget which was already under stress following non-disbursement of budgetary support from development partners such as the World Bank.
Effectively, the abolition of tuition fees collection will cost government about K390 million which Parliament’s Budget and Finance Committee said could have been channelled to Account Number One for other development activities.
But Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe, in a separate interview, said by abolishing the fees government will not forgo anything as the United States of America (USA) Government has provided funds for the construction of additional schools.
He said one of the conditions in the American deal is a reduction or elimination of expenses that hinder secondary education.
Gondwe said the USA has given Malawi $90 million (about K6.7 billion) for the financial year, which is more than what could have been collected from schools.
“There is nothing that we will forgo because there were schools we were going to be constructing anyway. So, the American government gave us the money and this was the condition that they gave us anyway so there is nothing to lose,” he said, adding that by abolishing the fees the Executive has not broken any laws.
He dismissed suggestions that making a decision after the national budget was passed is the same as breaking the appropriation law, saying only if government overspent then the law could have been broken but here they are under spending.
In announcing the developments, Msaka said government wants to develop youths through education to become dependable tools for the attainment of national development goals.
He said: “The President, therefore, has decided to remove the following; tuition fees with immediate effect, textbook revolving fund with effect from 1 January 2019 and general purpose fund from 1 January 2019.”
However, students will continue paying boarding fees in boarding schools, he said.
In his reaction, Civil Society Education Coalition (Csec) executive director Benedicto Kondowe said the decision has been made in a hurry and would have consequencies in the long-term.
He said: “This is a political decision which is not conformed to reality. We have rich lessons learnt from disastrous free primary education; government could have been more thorough and careful with this.”
In total, government has abolished payment of K3 250 per student in all public secondary schools, thus; K1 500 tuition fees per year, general purpose fund at K1 500 and text book revolving fund atK250.
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.
Parliament’s Budget and Finance Committee has since said the decision to abolish the fees is unfortunate and shows lack of direction by government.
In an interview, committee chairperson Rhino Chiphiko said that the money which has been forgone could have done a lot of development things like buying drugs in hospitals. n