23 Oct 2013

Vanuatu schooling not free despite government edict

5:23 pm on 23 October 2013

Transparency Vanuatu has released a report which shows some primary school children are being deprived of a free education, and are therefore missing out on school altogether.

The report looks at the effectiveness of Vanuatu's Primary Education School Fee Grant Policy from 2010 to 2012, and questions whether primary education in Vanuatu is free.

The policy is a joint initiative between AusAid, the New Zealand aid programme and the Vanuatu government to subsidise primary school education.

Leilani Momoisea reports:

A project advisor for Transparency Vanuatu's education programme, Francis Bryard, says despite the government's free primary education policy, the majority of the 41 schools they surveyed are still charging fees or asking parents for a contribution. He says this has a direct impact on school attendance.

"FRANCIS BRYARD: Because in some situations when the school is asking for example, 7,000 vatu for one child, it's quite a lot of money. So sometimes the parents will not send the kids. In some situations, that I highlighted in the report, parents who haven't been able to pay the fee were asked not to send their kids to school. So it has an impact."

The president of the Vanuatu National Council of Women, Blandine Boulekone, says she has also found this to be true. She says parents are either asked for fees or to fund-raise.

BLANDINE BOULEKONE: One of the main concerns of all the women is to find some kind of income to pay the school fee for their children. You still have a lot of children who are not attending school, especially if you go around Port Vila today, you will find them. They are not going to school because of this problem, primary school-aged children.

Francis Bryard says the Primary Education School Fee Grant Policy is a complicated issue, and both parents and headmasters are unclear about what they should and shouldn't pay.

FRANCIS BRYARD: That's the main problem, even at school level, headmasters or headmistresses don't really know what the grant is applied for. That's one of the other main finding of the report - there's quiet a lot of confusion about the policy and what the policy covers and what the policy don't cover.

The President of the Vanuatu Teachers Union, Wilfred Leo, says only some heads of schools are being properly trained to manage school funds.

WILFRED LEO: Government hasn't done enough here to teach or to have all the heads trained in a way that they would be able to handle this. So there are some others out there in the remote places, or further out, if you're not the centre of the country, who might not understand this to manage these funds.

Wilfred Leo says when schools don't know how to obtain or use the funds properly, it puts more pressure on teacher resources.

WILFRED LEO: It would affect the teachers with the supplies and running of schools, the curriculum because they need to purchase that from curriculum unit. If the books are torn, if the books are out of date, it would put more pressure on students to have more preparation to be done, in their own [time] in order to run the school.

And he says as a result, extra costs get passed on to parents. Both the Teachers Union and Transparency Vanuatu say the government needs to better teach schools how to obtain, operate and manage the grant and school funds. Transparency Vanuatu also says the ministry needs to audit schools more often. The Education Ministry is yet to respond to questions.