WAEC examinations and the collection of fees
By I. K. Gyasi
The perennial problem which heads of our public Senior High schools face in the collection of fees has, once again, been highlighted by two recent cases.
Case No.1 – An Assistant Headmaster, reportedly acting on the instructions of his Headmistress, goes to the examination room and drives away student candidates who owe fees to the school. As is also reported, one of the students did not owe the school any fees.
Case No. 2 – A headmaster calls in the police to arrest student-candidates owing fees. In this particular case, the students are picked up by the police after they have been allowed to take the examination.
Before I discuss the larger question of the problem of student-debtors in our Senior High schools, permit me to make one or two observations about the two cases.
In the first case under discussion, if one of the students driven out had actually paid his fees in full and did not owe the school, then it was a very serious matter with legal implications for the school.
According to reports, before the final examinations conducted by the West African Examinations Council (WAEC), there had been a meeting of the school’s Parent-Teacher Association (PTA), at which it had been decided that students were to have their receipts on them for possible inspection. Apparently, this student, who claimed to have had his fees paid, did not have his receipt.
True or false, the school had no excuse. Did the school authorities do a diligent search to find out if this particular student owed or did not owe the school? After all, an original receipt pre-supposes the existence of a duplicate. We should stop this easy-way practice of demanding receipts from people to prove that they do not owe the organisation. It is for that organisation to prove the “guilt of the “accused”, and not for the accused to establish his innocence.
If it is true that this student did not owe the school, no defense can free the school from blame. It would be the student’s future that would have been jeopardised by the reckless action of the school. He (the student) has to wait a whole examination year to attempt to take the examination again. It is simply not right or fair, to say the least.
In the case where the Headmaster is reported to have called in the police, it is interesting to note that the Ashanti Regional Chairman of Conference of Assisted Secondary Schools (CHASS) has reportedly disagreed with the action of the Headmaster. (The case happened in the Ashanti Region.)
Yes, if what was reported is exactly what happened, then the Regional CHASS Chairman was right in disagreeing with the action taken by that Headmaster.
The truth of the matter is that the Ghana Police Service is not a debt-collection agency. Moreover, one wonders whether the non-payment of a debt, whether in school or outside it, can constitute a criminal offence, for which the debtor should be prosecuted by the state acting through the Attorney-General or the police.
Though both cases are different in the manner of their handling, they both illustrate the desperation to which Headmasters and Headmistresses can be driven in their desire to collect debts from students or, more appropriately, from their parents and guardians.
It is an obvious fact, not even worth repeating, that heads need money to run their schools to achieve the kind of results that meet the objectives of the state and the aims of both parents and students.
The schools get money from the government, parents and guardians, donations from various sources such as those from old students associations and other organisations, and also from the school’s own internally-generated funds.
Of course, the schools cannot always rely on the uncertain charity of donors. Steady sources come from fees paid by parents and guardians, and from the government in the form of scholarships and subsidies.
In many of our Senior High schools, there is the arrangement that makes parents pay fees by means of a bank draft submitted to the school by the parent himself or through his agent, say his child or any other person designated by him/her.
The idea of paying by bank draft is to eliminate the possibility of the student making use of the money. Another arrangement is where a school allows the parent to pay fees by installment.
Somehow, debts pile up. This could be because direct payment with cash instead of by bank draft may be the norm in a particular school.
Another reason may be that a parent, for whatever reason, may break the agreement to pay by installment. Where a parent does not go to the school to pay the fees, but chooses to give the money to his child, the student may make use of the money.
Then begins a game of hide-and-seek, in which the student is unable to go home to collect fees because he has already made use of what he was given, and consequently, hides from both his parents and the school authorities. If the student is a final year candidate for the WAEC examinations, he may suddenly show up with a view to taking the examinations. What does the head do?
He has to collect the fees. I have heard it said that once the student-candidate has been duly registered, no power, not even the school authorities, can prevent him from taking the examination. I have also read the view that the Headmaster, the teacher he has appointed as supervisor, and the teacher-invigilator are intruders who should not be permitted in the school examination hall to collect fees from the student-candidate.
I have heard it suggested that debtor-students who are also student-candidates should be allowed to take the examination and that when the student goes for his results and the certificate, the results can be withheld. I have even heard it suggested that where the student is unable to pay the registration fee, the school could still register him with the hope that the registration fee could be collected later.
In the meantime, auditors from the Ghana Education Service and from the Ghana Audit Service descend on the school and pour their venom on the poor Headmaster for his supposed inability or unwillingness to collect debts owed the school by parents. This poor Headmaster appears before Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC), and has a hard time explaining why he has not collected the debts owed the school.
Only those who do not run schools as heads can afford the luxury of suggesting bleeding-heart solutions to problems of collecting fees from defaulting parents or thieving students.
What makes those people think the schools are charitable organisations for indigent parents and their children? The headmaster has enough problems running the school without having to carry the burden of parents and guardians.
No good headmaster or headmistress wants his or students to fail their examinations. Heads have a responsibility to themselves and their schools. Parents and their children should play their part too.
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