Our Readers' Opinions
July 29, 2005
Education is not free

Editor: I write to express my views on the issue of education being ‘free’ and its relation to the issue of Universal Secondary Education.

My expressions are made in defence of the Bishop’s College Kingstown secondary school and by extension all private secondary schools in this country. The expression of my views are based on some complaints I heard on a radio station by a caller about having to pay school fees at Bishop’s College.{{more}}

I must state here however that my views are not those of the administration or Board of Governors of Bishop’s College Kingstown. I express my views as a former member of the academic staff. I have since left the institution to pursue higher education overseas.

In line with the issue at hand, it is clearly the view of some Vincentians that education is either ‘free’ or that it is supposed to be ‘free’ and more so with the advent of universal secondary education. Let me state here that in no way is any type of formal education ‘free’ at any level, whether a country has universal education or not. As a matter of fact education is the most expensive of any social service that any government provides. It does not mean that when our children attend what we call a government school and a school fee is not paid that the education gained at that institution is in anyway ‘free.’ The school has to be staffed and the staff has to be paid. There are utility bills, furniture, chalk, teaching aids and other amenities needed for an educational institution to run effectively. This calls for finance. The question is who pays? The reality is that all of us as taxpayers pay indirectly for the education of each and every child who attends a government school in this country, whether or not we have children.

Universal secondary education does not in anyway suggest that education is supposed to be ‘free.’ A case in point is Barbados, which in my opinion has the best example of universal education in the Caribbean region. The Barbadian government absorbs all the costs of educating its population up to the University level. It does not mean that education in Barbados is ‘free.’ The taxpayers in that country bear the cost of educating its people – the education is paid for.

The issue with Bishop’s College is that students who pass the Common Entrance Examination and are placed there by the government must pay a school fee. Students who ‘fail’ the examination must also pay a fee. Bishop’s College is a privately owned institution. Such schools are referred to as government assisted schools. In my opinion they should be classified as government ASSISTING schools since they greatly assist the government in absorbing students into the secondary system particularly since there is not enough space in the government system. The government subsidizes 50 percent of the fees paid by the students whom they place at Bishop’s College. They also assist with paying about 50 percent of the academic staff at the school. The brunt of the financial obligations however, must be borne by the school. The school has to employ a secretary, pay utility bills, purchase chalk, pay 50 percent of the academic staff, security, cleaners and take care of maintenance. The government does not assist with any of the above.

The school fee paid by Common Entrance scholars at Bishop’s College is a mere $70 per term. Not only is this the lowest fee charged by any private secondary school in the state but there are also private pre-schools and primary schools in this country which charge up to five times that amount per term. As a former member of staff, I am well aware of the fact that the monies gained from school fees and government subsidies are inadequate to run the school effectively and hence various fundraising activities are engaged in throughout the academic year to raise extra funds.

It is my view that as Vincentians we are too comfortable at times.

We are the only country in the region which pays nurses and teachers to be trained, in other words we pay people to go to school.

Students from other territories at the University of the West Indies marvel at the fact that we get three years study leave with pay, to pursue higher education. In Jamaica parents pay full school fees for their children to be educated from pre-school to university. Theirs is an economy that is supposedly worse off than ours.

At universities teachers are now being trained to teach using electronic visual aids. This equipment costs money. If our children are to benefit and gain a solid education in this technologically advanced age then we must be prepared to brace ourselves and pay for it – it is neither cheap nor free.

Maybe the government could pay 100 percent subsidy for students attending private secondary schools and simply increase taxes.

Guevara J. Leacock