PORT MORESBY – I’ve been investigating the operation of the Tuition Fee Free (TFF) process in Papua New Guinea and whether it is doing the best it can for schools.
And also whether it might be better structured to do more to support education and, in doing that, to support the development of literature and literacy in PNG.
We should bear in mind that, despite TFF, schooling is not ‘free’ in PNG. School fees always apply, and often they are substantial.
At present the national TFF subsidy from the PNG government is divided in three ways:
40% is distributed to individual schools.
30% is handed over to each of the 79 or so PNG districts for school infrastructure development. (The district infrastructure fund is meant to augment this where there are major projects.)
30% is the school supplies and stationery component. It is given to a central company, understood to be Port Moresby-based Treid Pacific (PNG) Ltd to supply and distribute a standard set of stationery to nationwide.
There is at least one significant problem in all this. It is that school budgets are prepared based on the full stated amount of funding – the total 100% allocated.
But schools are not given the two 30% components, and many have developed a bad habit of preparing their budgets based on the full 100% when in fact they’re receiving only 40%.
So every year many schools budget to operate on much less funding than they are going to get. It is no surprise they run into money problems.
That said, trying to get confirmation and more detail of the way this system work is problematic.
The education office seems to think this information is a state secret, and minions down the line feel they too cannot divulge that the TFF is not payed outright at 100% to individual schools.
There is a small unit of the education department housed at the PNG Education Institute that manages the 30% percent stationery and school supplies fund but is of no help because it says it knows nothing about how the funds are spent.
Neither is it possible to confirm whether District Development Authorities are receiving the 30% they are supposed to receive for infrastructure.
I tried searching online for a report on this funding but there was nothing except for a small article in a 2014 PNG Education News.
This alluded to a saga in Morobe Province where Treid Pacific had been late in supplying stationery to schools.
This seems to be a common problem even in 2021 as schools have got used to buying their supplies when the ones from the central supplier either do not come or come very late.
This problem gets repeated year in and year out.
The type of stationery bought was listed in this PNG Education News, and includes a bible, or portions of it.
It is not clear whether the supplies/stationery and infrastructure practices are still in operation and whether they work more effectively.
There is a possibility (perhaps I can call it a presumption) that these two 30% components are going into sinkholes somewhere and that schools have to look after themselves.
I have read in PNG Attitude that it would be helpful for both schools and PNG authors if the government decided that some part of the 30% component for stationery was used to purchase PNG-authored books which could be distributed to schools.
This seems like a good idea to me and I would urge prime minister James Marape to review the stationery arrangement to determine if it is working effectively and to see if there is some scope to include appropriate PNG-authored books
In this way Mr Marape would not need to look for new funding to buy PNG-authored books.
And, if this could be achieved, the prime minister would be able to lay another important tile in the mosaic of 'Take Back PNG'.
According to its website, Treid Pacific is a 100% PNG-owned company with about 80 staff and has been in operation for over 30 years. Based in Port Moresby, “the philosophy of the company is to partner the Department of Education in all areas contributing to quality education for all in PNG”.
Treid also operates a commercial printing division which has offset printing presses and related machinery and equipment. With these, Treid develops and prints PNG curricula, text books and other education resource materials.
Seems like a good opportunity exists there for collaboration with PNG authors - KJ