The National

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Feb. 2) - At the beginning of each year, and in common with other news media, The National often features stories about the difficulties parents face meeting school fees.

Nobody denies that sending children to school at any level frequently requires large-scale sacrifices by families.

And each year we also report cases of children who have been turned away from school because of the failure of their parents to pay either the full fee, or a significant part thereof.

There’s an underlying concern for the parents and the children in these media reports, and generally scant sympathy for the school and university administrations that are making the fee demands.

We suggest that such a reaction is often misplaced.

The costs of education are known to be substantial.

In some provinces, individual administrations or governors make annual gestures to help parents meet school fees.

In many others no such largesse occurs.

But the point is that the fees are ever present, and will always pose at least some difficulty to parents.

Because of that, there’s a need for parents and guardians to forward plan for their children’s education. In overseas countries, children are quite often enrolled in schools at birth, as a way of guaranteeing that they will have a place in school when the time comes.

And along with the registration of these children comes the opening of a savings account.

Into that account goes a regular amount of money, month after month, year after year. When times are good, the amount of money deposited increases.

Interest is earned, and the little nest egg grows.

It is never spent, and by the time the child is six or seven and ready to enter school, a considerable amount of money has been saved towards fees, uniforms, books and stationery.

How many of our parents really think ahead and plan for the future of their children?

The other side of the coin is frequently ignored.

That is the need for schools and universities to access often-large sums of money in order to provide appropriate educational facilities for their enrolled students.

Parents are prone to fiercely criticize boards of management at schools, and university administrations, if those facilities are below their expectations. That is their prerogative, but few pause to consider how much those facilities cost, or where the funding to establish and maintain them comes from.

The level of fees charged at Papua New Guinean schools and tertiary institutions is tiny by comparison with fees overseas.

That is to be expected, since wages and salaries applying in other countries are considerably above most earned in PNG.

But they impose exactly the same strains on overseas families as those felt here in PNG, and generate just as much criticism and anxiety as they do in this country.

Parents need to realize that the national government cannot afford to pay the full educational fees for every student in PNG, a nation with a large and continually expanding number of school age children.

There has to be some level of responsibility shown by parents themselves. It is simply pointless for parents of eight or none children to complain that educating their young family is an impossible financial burden.

The choice to have so many children was always their own, and if parents wish to have large families, the financial responsibilities must always lie with them.

The 2005 fee charged for a degree course at one of our universities is less than K4,000 (US$1,280).

For that expenditure, the student is accommodated for one year, fed three meals a day, is able to access top rate educational facilities such as computers and the internet and libraries, and make use of sporting and other extra-curricular facilities.

That is a very small fee indeed for the facilities provided, and that situation is common to all our tertiary institutions.

It is time that we spared some thought for those educational administrators who tie themselves in knots trying to do the near impossible - maintain and extend facilities, while keeping costs to students as low as possible.

And it is time that parents planned more effectively for the education of their children.

February 3, 2005

The National:

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