Teachers worried over confusion on fees abolition

Mzimba Secondary School

Secondary school teachers teaching in rural areas have expressed fear that parents will accuse them of stealing money owing to rickety information on government’s decision to abolish tuition fees.

Government in September last year abolished the K500 tuition fee but public secondary schools still demand a contribution to school development fund which at some schools is at K8,500.

The teachers who confided in Malawi24 stressed that the line ministry provided contradicting information on the issue. They noted that what the ministry said in the circular is contradicting information the people get from the media.

One teacher at Chitimba community day secondary school said on condition of anonymity that people in remote areas quoted the minister of education on one of the local radios as saying that secondary schools are completely free.

“But in the circular they said only tuition fees has been abolished. This misinformation will stage us as thieves when we will be demanding school development funds.

“What we know is that government abolished only tuition fees and not school development funds but unfortunately, parents believe that government has abolished everything,” he said.

It is evident that most people, especially in rural areas, have sketchy information on whether the fees abolition includes school development funds.

At a funeral ceremony in Rumphi recently, a heated debate on government’s decision to abolish tuition fees in secondary schools ensued. The debate was not necessarily on whether the decision is good or bad but whether the abolition includes school development funds.

Those that escorted the remains of the departed from Lilongwe were of the view that the abolition meant only tuition fees which were merely MK500 and argued that school development funds are still applicable and legal in secondary schools.

On the other hand, locals from the villages, insisted that government through the directive of the dynamic leadership of Peter Mutharika, has completely bailed the poor parents from the bandage of any fees towards their children education.

“We heard the minister of education, Bright Msaka, on the radio,” one man argued,” he said from January 2019, no child shall be demanded to pay even 1 tambala to access education. This is the type of government we were looking for.”

Another one added: “The only responsibility for us now is buying notebooks, uniforms and writing materials, which we believe, will also be provided once we vote for Mutharika to power in May 2019. This is the President we have been looking for.”

However, another man argued with them. He said the announcement was not that they will not contribute funds towards school development activities but rather only tuition fee which was already less than 1000.

“You people don’t complicate things here. Government was clear on this issue. It didn’t mean you will not be contributing funds towards development of your school. All they have abolished is tuition fee which was going into government account,” he said.

Another man, a teacher as he said, tried to enlighten the locals on the issue. He said according to the circular he has seen at his school in Lilongwe, the fees abolition doesn’t apply to school development funds.

The debate spread to where women sat. Here, it was even worse as some women reached the extent of warning teachers who will be asking their children to pay school fees that they will dealt with.

“These teachers are thieves,” one woman fumed,” but this time that we are informed about this issue, we will deal with them accordingly if they will be demanding fees. Come 7 January, we are sending our children back to school without fees, thanks to government.”

Headteacher at a nearby community day secondary school, expressed fear over the misunderstanding and visible misinformation people have. He feared that the situation may put their lives at risk.

He said, on condition of anonymity that, already people within the villages are mocking them that they will have to find other means of swindling from people and not in the name of school fees.

“Others are even demanding that we should give them back their money, they paid as school fees earlier before the announcement by government that they have abolished fees. Likely, we will face difficulties in getting money from these learners,” he said.

The teacher disclosed that government funding in schools is not enough to cater for all required materials. He said issues of stationary and improvement of school sanitation facilities depends on school development funds and its abolishment may compromise education activities.

Executive director for civil society education coalition had earlier equally bemoaned the decision by government to abolish school fees in secondary schools, saying it was made in haste without enough consultations.

But government through the line ministry insisted that the abolition was necessary as the country is striving to achieve sustainable development goals.

Minister of education, Bright Msaka, was not immediately available to clarify issues surrounding the whole matter of fees abolition in secondary schools.

Minister of information Henry Mussa was recently quoted in the local media as saying that the information gap is due to poor public relations system in government departments.