Thu | Nov 30, 2023

Education group wants Gov’t to revise no-fee policy

Published:Saturday | July 16, 2022 | 12:10 AMAinsworth Morris/Staff Reporter
Grace Baston, principal of Campion College.
Grace Baston, principal of Campion College.

Members of the Ecumenical Education Committee (EEC) are calling on the Government to revisit aspects of the no-fee policy at the secondary level ahead of the start of the new school year in September.

The group is arguing that the policy has been misunderstood by some parents, who believe they are to pay any school fees whatsoever during an entire academic year.

At a forum on ‘The Future of Denominational and Trust Education in Jamaica’ at St Michael’s College in St Andrew on Thursday, Campion College Principal Grace Baston, who is a member of the EEC, moved a motion calling for aspects of FIN6 to be revisited, especially relating to the no-fee policy at the secondary level.

She said FIN6.1 considers constructive policy options that allow for greater enforcement of auxiliary fees by households that can pay and provide increased targeted support to schools to substitute for amounts that would otherwise be due as auxiliary fees from low-income households.

FIN6.2, she pointed out, addresses additional resources that should be provided through a progressive system of school fees, wherein middle- and high-income households are required to monetarily contribute to financing the cost of their children’s education, while poor households that cannot afford such contributions are exempt without penalty.

Under this, the parental contributions will not necessarily be expended on the schools to which their children attend, but rather will be allocated in a redistributive manner to the schools which serve a larger proportion of economically disadvantaged youth.

She called on parents to pay fees which schools depend on, urging them not send their children out in September without considering the fees the principals have asked for.

“My principal colleagues here are tired. I know they have been beating themselves up trying to convince their parents to pay. This is what we do morning, noon and night,” Baston said.

“The no-fee policy has been disastrous for our secondary schools, where compliance rates with parental contributions have plummeted. To be clear, monies collected from parents in our schools are not simply nice, additional extras for development projects or trust funds. They are essential for funding school operations,” she added. “The facilities and resources presented by the Patterson report as necessary for a well-functioning and high-performing education system are simply not affordable with government grants alone.”

She gave examples of aspects of schools which are privately funded rather than by the Government.

“One of the centrepieces of the report [is that schools] must have ICT integration. Any school that is serious about that has to create posts such as a director of technology,” she said. “We don’t mean an IT teacher with a little time. We don’t mean a technician. We don’t mean the head of the IT Department in his spare time. We mean somebody with the skills and the competencies to manage major networks, network security, how to manage/handle domains, data protection [and] a whole host of things, and the person has to be paid.”

That person also has to manage networks involving hundreds of laptops, desktop computers, multimedia projectors, servers, learning management systems, school management systems, and ongoing staff ICT training for curriculum delivery as well as for school administration, said Baston.

“There is no 21st-century school without this post, but it has to be privately funded,” she argued.

Baston said school administrators spend massively on maintaining compounds, some of them over 200 years old; co-curricular programmes; sports and the performing arts; welfare programmes; and all necessary elements for carrying out the mission of creating well-rounded students.

“Funds generated from our alumni associations, our parent-teacher associations, other benefactors or relationship with our parents, enable us to provide this product. When our partners at the Ministry of Education make pronouncements like ‘all funds held in the name of the school are public funds and property of the Government of Jamaica’. Those funding sources receive such announcements as alarm bells and school owners have to work hard to prevent them from drying up,” she said.

Baston said it has sometimes been insinuated that principals just want extra money and that the schools use these monies for dubious purposes and are not really necessary for the core functions of schools.

“The EEC ask that this charge, where it is made, be demonstrated. We are ready to open our books to show how these funds are expended for the purpose of advancing our mission. The su-su su-su is not helpful. It turns your benefactors away,” Baston said.

The EEC consists of representatives of the owners of denominational schools and trust schools and has been meeting regularly since 2009 to consider matters on education. The EEC also includes persons from the Jamaica Council of Churches’ member churches, given that they own 665 schools, including eight tertiary level institutions. They operate 35 per cent of the public schools in Jamaica, including some of the best-performing institutions at the primary and secondary levels.