Every January when schools open, complaints are heard from lots of parents that their children have been sent back from school because they have not paid school fees.
This problem ought to be looked at from two perspectives: That of schools that have commercialised education and that of truant parents who fail to plan for their children’s education.
Before independence, most schools — particularly those run by missionaries and by government — were meant to cater for mostly children from poor backgrounds. Private schools only catered for rich white children and later in the 1970s, perhaps, for a handful of black children from black families that had become rich.
The missionaries were cognisant of the fact that the majority blacks would never afford any form of education due to a colonial system that discriminated against them and designed a curriculum meant to create servants.
The mission schools offered few luxuries. Mostly built on mission farms, the schools got everything they needed in the form of food from these farms.
The food was basic, but good enough for the sustenance of the children during the school term. Mission schools also benefited from donor funding from sister missions across the globe.
But now the mission schools are no more; they may still carry saints’ names, but for all intents and purposes, they have converted into commercial ventures.
This is evidenced by their emphasis on money even when enrolling. Parents are called upon to pay entrance examinations for their children and a plethora of other fees that were unheard of in the old days.
Mission schools have taken the model of trust schools, which model is meant to exclude the children of the poor. Some of these trust schools, for example, charge thousands of dollars in what they call “gate fees”, whatever that denotes.
Mission schools unashamedly exclude children of the poor contrary to what they were built for in the first place. They should just revert to their original missions and visions. Mother churches should be urged to take another look at how their schools now operate.
There is a big class out there of parents who genuinely cannot afford to pay fees for their children. Unfortunately, the State has neglected this class much to the detriment of hundreds of thousands of children.
But there are also irresponsible parents who fail to plan for their children’s education. These parents throw caution to the wind during the festive season and spend their money as if they don’t have a care in the world.
School authorities should be able to identify these and seek intervention from the ministry and from traditional leaders with a view to legal intervention.
The Ministry of Education has already indicated it is experimenting with litigation in cases of straightforward parental dereliction of duty.
Profiteering schools and neglectful parents should not be allowed to cause untold suffering on schoolchildren who are a country’s investment for the future.