The Perennial Problem Of Student Indebtedness
By I. K. Gyasi
According to the Member of Parliament for Asuogyaman, Honourable Kofi Osei-Ameyaw, about 800 students in his district may be denied “their right to sit for this year’s West African Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (WASSCE).’’ (DAILY GUIDE. Friday, January 13, 2013). Why?
According to the Member of Parliament, the students may not be able to take part in the examinations, due to their inability to pay school fees and registration fees.
It is reasonable to suppose that across the country, similar stories can be told of students in danger of not being able to write the examination for the same reason.
Says the Honourable Member of Parliament: “We cannot destroy the future of our children because of fees.” He wants the government to intervene in the matter, because he said the country could no longer tolerate the high rate of illiteracy that results from the inability of parents to pay fees.
Let me say this: no student in this country has any God-given, inalienable or constitutional right to take any examination without fulfilling the basic requirement of paying for the examination registration fees.
The West African Examination Council (WAEC) which conducts the WASSCE is not a philanthropic body that conducts the examinations free of charge.
The examination fees for the examinations must be paid before the WAEC will administer the examination to the student who has paid the necessary registration fees.
It is to be assumed that unless the student is someone paying his way through school, it is his parents or guardians whose responsibility it is to pay the registration fees.
This being the case, it is not heads who deny students the opportunity to write the examinations. It is simply that the WAEC cannot administer the examinations, because it has no records of such a student registering. Heads should not be made to look and sound as devils trying to destroy the future of children.
Sometimes, one hears the suggestion that the heads should register the students, and then withhold results until the students in question pay the registration afterwards.
I boil with exasperation whenever I hear this suggestion. Should the heads dip their hands into their own pockets? Is there any subvention that the heads can use to register these students?
In any case, who said that parents and guardians should shift unto heads the responsibility of paying registration fees for their children and wards?
Another point that in these days of the internet how easy will it be for heads to withhold results that can be easily accessed from the internet?
Past students may not even immediately need their results sheets or certificates from their former schools. Consequently, they may not visit their schools, unless they badly need their results sheets, certificates, or the endorsement of certain forms for (further examinations, employment, etc).
Not to be overlooked is the fact that some parents give the registration fees to their children, only for these children to make use of the money, instead of paying it to the school authorities for them to be registered. In one case, a student made use of even the money for the registration pictures.
These students play truant; they hide from their parents by not going home, and they hide from the school authorities through absenteeism.
Even where the matter of examination registration fees has been settled, there is still the matter of other fees to be paid by parents and guardians.
It goes without saying that even in state-sponsored educational institutions such as the senior high schools, fees must be paid. Of course, tuition is free. Government may also offer scholarships. The government gives subsidies in order to lighten the financial burden on parents and guardians.
However, the fact still remains that parents and guardians have financial obligations to discharge. They must buy uniforms, for example, and house dresses. For uniformity in design and colour, it is usually the school that provides the uniforms at a cost to parents and guardians.
Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) dues must be paid for various projects which, in real fact, must be undertaken by the Central Government, but which the government fails to carry out, because of insufficient funds.
You must have seen all those buses with the inscription, “Provided by the PTA”. The PTA may also provide classrooms, staff bungalows, milling machines, desks, etc.
Parents and guardians must pay boarding fees for their children and wards in the boarding house. Parents of day students must also pay fees and other charges.
Having examined some of the bills from some schools, I am with those who think that the Ministry of Education and Ghana Education Service might want to take a look at some of the items on the bills.
The fact remains that parents must accept that they have a primary responsibility to pay fees, and that pleading poverty does not relieve them of this social and moral obligation to their children, and their legal obligation to the schools their children attend.
Many senior schools heads, if not all of them, are willing to enter into an understanding with parents to have fees paid by instalments. This is often announced at PTA meetings.
In spite of this generous offer, there are parents who pile up debts. You know something? When it is time for registration, these parents suddenly pop up to pay the registration fees, but not the arrears of the fees they owe. And they expect the head of the school to agree to their request.
Heads are told not to prevent any final year, duly-registered, student from taking the WASSCE, because he owes fees. Auditors from the GES and the Audit Service descend heavily on heads for not being able to collect the last pesewa from the parents and guardians. Heads may even be hauled before the august house of Parliament to answer questions on audit reports.
Yet, you have students playing truant and showing up only when the examinations begin. You have parents pleading poverty as an excuse for not paying fees. You have irresponsible parents who can afford to pay the fees, but who do not, if they can get away with it.
Whichever way you look at it, the head is the loser. He is regarded as a wicked person who does not want his students to prosper.
To auditors, he is a weak person who cannot collect school fees. How does the MP want the government to handle the matter?
PS – Where is my favourite ‘aunt’, Mrs. Gifty Afenyi-Dadzie? And where is my favourite ‘niece’, Mrs. Dzifa Bampoe? I miss them.
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