Most Senior High Schools (SHS) could soon run into serious financial difficulties, if they fail to retrieve huge sums of money owed them by students who have just finished writing the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE).
A number of WASSCE 2013 candidates owed their alma mater arrears in school fees running into thousands of Ghana cedis.
Information gathered by the Daily Graphic paints a gloomy picture of unpaid school fees as a result of a Ministry of Education (M0E) directive to heads of SHS not to drive out students who owed fees from the examination hall.
Out of the 600 SHSs across the country, the Daily Graphic sighted the indebtedness owed 10 schools, totalling GH¢332, 844. The school with the highest indebtedness of GH¢106,000 is located in the Central Region, while the school with the least indebtedness of GH¢9,364 is in the Greater Accra Region.
The trend of school fees arrears is replicated in almost all the schools in the country, a situation which has given the school heads severe headache.
The heads are now thinking of clues as to how to get the parents and guardians of the defaulting students to either pay on their own volition or through compulsion.
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The Daily Graphic also gathered that the state of arrears was aggravated by the government’s directive which derailed the fees collection process in most of these schools, especially after the students had been registered for their final exam.
Strategy to collect fees
But a Deputy Director General of the GES, Mr Charles Aheto-Tsegah, told the Daily Graphic that the GES was aware of the challenge and was adopting a strategy to collect the fees, writes Emmanuel Bonney.
He said the issue of indebtedness by final year students had over time been a great challenge to the GES, and attributed the problem to a number of policies that had been adopted.
However, he said, the service was looking at various options“that would enable us to collect the fees that are owed by students” although he refused to disclose the strategies.
Mr Aheto-Tsegah said the bottomline of the options that were being looked at was that “we want to recognise the children’s right to education and also underscore the fact that once children get to their examinations they should be allowed to write.
“But at the end of the day we will look at how we would ensure that every fee owed by every child is collected before they do whatever they want to do for themselves in the future.”
In the run-up to the WASSCE, the heads of most senior high schools took measures to compel all fee-owing candidates to settle their arrears before the end of February, 2013.
The Ministry of Education (MOE), on April 9, 2013 issued a directive to heads of second cycle institutions not to prevent final year students from writing the WASSCE because of unpaid school fees.
Mr Enoch Heymans Cobbinah, the Chief Director of the MoE, who issued the warning at the Okuapeman Senior High School, said such actions contravened directives from the Ministry asking heads of second cycle institutions not to prevent students from writing the examination because they owed school fees.
He gave the warning after he had learnt that some students at Okuapeman SHS had been prevented from writing the exams because they owed school fees.
There are doubts about the ability of the schools and the GES to collect the arrears, but Mr Aheto-Tsegah dismissed such doubts, saying “we would be able to collect those fees.”
“We are very certain that unless somebody decides not to continue their education and, therefore, would allow his or her fees to be outstanding, we would definitely collect the money,” he said.
The Deputy Director General encouraged heads of second cycle schools to organise more parent-teacher-association (PTA) meetings to encourage parents to make good their commitments on behalf of their children in the schools, adding that in the unlikely event parents did not pay the fees, the GES would apply a last option it was planning to adopt to collect the fees.
Meanwhile, the Daily Graphic has gathered that for two terms now, subsidies for SHSs have not been paid. The subsidies take care of utilities, sports and games, postage, first aid, office stationery, among others.
Following the development, some schools, including the Anlo SHS in the Volta Region, have had their electricity disconnected.
Hitherto, the SHSs received quarterly grants to help them run school vehicles and also purchase teaching/learning materials.
These are no longer being paid, and unfortunately, no school can charge any fee without approval from the Ghana Education Service (GES) even if other stakeholders - parents, board and Parents/Teacher Associations (PTA) - find it necessary.
When the Daily Graphic contacted the President of the Conference of Assisted Senior High Schools (CHASS), Mr Samuel Ofori-Adjei, he confirmed the distress in which the schools found themselves.
Mr Ofori-Adjei, who is also the headmaster of Accra Academy, said his school, for instance, was owed GH¢22,603, by the students who had just completed.
According to him, CHASS was considering collaborating with the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) to block the results of defaulting candidates.
He said that option could be the only method left for the school heads to retrieve the outstanding fees owed them by exiting students.
The 2013 May/June WASSCE, which started on April 9, 2013 with 409,753 candidates from 724 public and private senior high schools (SHS) across the country, ended on Friday, May 17, 2013.
In all, 220,866 males and 188,881 females wrote the examination, which was written simultaneously in four other English-speaking West African countries, Nigeria, Liberia, The Gambia and Sierra Leone.
This year's examination in Ghana recorded the highest number of candidates from two batches of final-year SHS students. They were the last batch of four-year SHS students under the 2007 Educational Reform Policy and the first batch of three-year SHS students following the reversal of the duration of SHS education from four to three years in 2010.
By Vance Azu/Daily Graphic/Ghana