THE move by Education minister Lazarus Dokora to spearhead a schools audit process is most welcome and long overdue.
Dokora, who has been in the spotlight mainly for the wrong reasons, has for once struck the right chord in ordering an audit of schools which have become a law unto themselves by charging exorbitant and in some cases, obscene amounts of money for levies and fees in a country where the majority earn on average US$500 per month.
However, the audit must not just focus on government schools but should also investigate fee structures and expenditures at private and trust schools.
There should be a verification mechanism on how the money collected from parents is being used. Dokora announced this week government had deployed hundreds of auditors to audit 80% of the 8 179 schools in the country, of which 5 805 are primary schools and 2 374 are secondary schools.
The minister said most headmasters and School Development Committees (SDCs) had appointed themselves as procurement officers for the schools with the aim of abusing funds. He said parents were willing to cooperate with schools in paying fees and levies, but headmasters and SDCs lacked transparency. Dokora noted that not all school heads and SDCs were managing funds properly and in some instances there is outright theft and corruption.
This is why the minister has ordered audits of government schools.
“We want that 82% of the schools should be audited this year so that we enhance the levy collection process because we must account for what we get from the parents even if it is US$1,” he said. The audit should be extended to include the fee structures, expenditures and the total number of institutions that are operating as schools to establish how many of them are registered and the curricula being used. Government should also consider coming up with caps on the amount of school fees and levies for both public and private schools because the absence of such controls will perpetuate the abuse of money as some schools are charging shocking tuitions and acceptance fees for Grade 1 and Form 1 places.
Some of the elite schools operating under the Association of Trust Schools (ATS) are charging a non-refundable acceptance fee of US$2 700 for students to be enrolled for Form 1 next year. The ATS comprise an elite league of schools, among them, Arundel, Chisipite Senior, Eaglesvale, Hillcrest College, Peterhouse Boys, Peterhouse Girls, St George’s College, St Johns College, Falcon College and Lomagundi College.
These schools charge exorbitant fees.
It is time that government sets a ceiling on fees being charged by both public and private schools because some of the amounts are extortionate in a country where the economy has shrunk significantly since 2000, resulting in company closures, retrenchments, 85% unemployment, informalisation and poverty.
Falcon college charges over US$12 000, while students at Lomagundi pay more than US$15 000, Eaglesvale (US$ 6 000 for day scholars) and Arundel (US$8 400 for day scholars, US$11 400 for weekly borders and US$14 400 for full-time students) a year, which is simply extortionist.