LEADER of the Independent Group in Parliament Hon John D Kuku is calling on the government to offer free education this year as part of its policy redirection agenda.
Mr Kuku said such a policy commitment will hugely contribute in our efforts towards Sustainable Development Goal 4 which commits us to ensure that “all boys and girls complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education”.
The leader urged the government “not to repeat our pre-COVID failures but to work towards improving our systems and accelerate our children’s learning”.
“Therefore offering complete free education this year would help alleviate some of our issues and make way for new improvements. This should be top priority after being thrown off-track by the pandemic,” he said.
Kuku made this statement in the light of hardships faced by many parents throughout the country as a result of the ongoing pandemic.
He said the pandemic has profoundly impacted our education system forcing 100 per cent schools closure as well as drastically reducing family incomes, especially families living in rural areas.
“For example many rural farmers’ incomes continue to suffer from the government’s mandatory no-jab-no-job COVID vaccination policy which has been modified to a no-jab-no-market policy in some provinces.
“Due to this policy adjustment, a majority of rural farmers in areas concerned are now finding it very difficult to sell their products at markets,” Mr Kuku said.
He said the government’s sluggish handling of the vaccination roll-out has resulted in a still largely unvaccinated rural population.
“One of the impacts of this is the growing economic fallout on the rural population which will also ultimately affect the re-opening of schools.
“Moreover the unprecedented economic shock is severely affecting parent’s ability to meet the cost of school fees and other education related costs for their children this year.
“It could be far worse than we thought, we just haven’t yet given priority to assessing the full impact of the pandemic in the education and employment sectors.”
“We now have a rare moment to take stock and begin to build back our schools to be better. The impacts of the pandemic are far reaching but student learning has suffered more at this point time than at any other time in our history. This calls for greater commitment and action to ensure equity and opportunity for all students and also to make up for losses. No one must be left behind and Government must take responsibility to make this happen,” Mr Kuku said.
In response to this dire situation, Hon Kuku suggested that 2022 should be a “school-fee-free-year” and that the Ministry of Education should foot the bill by mobilizing grants approved by Parliament under its budget allocation for this year.
“This could be achieved through virements, an internal accounting procedure under the PFMA that does not require further parliamentary approval,” he said.
He added that relevant education grants for 2022 should be paid directly to schools to subsidize fees for all primary and secondary schools for the remainder of this year’s learning calendar.
The Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development’s budget allocation for 2022 as appropriated by National Parliament is $1.24 billion representing 30 per cent of the National Budget. From this around 35 per cent is taken up by grants with a total of $443 million.
The highest single grant allocation is the MP Scholarship Awards grant totaling $292,670,116 which means constituencies are allocated $5.8 million each.
In terms of the difference between 2021 and 2022 grant totals, there is only a slight decrease of $63,375 (0.14 per cent) for this year.