About 35,000 primary school children have dropped out of school in the past five years due to financial constraints, says Pratap Chand, Opposition spokesperson on Education.
Speaking during debate on Budget 2006, Chand provided statistics to show that large numbers of children were dropping out even at Classes one and two levels: in 2001, 12,841 pupils enrolled in class one. In 2002, 1049 of these had dropped out of school with enrolment in Class two dropping to 11, 792.
In secondary schools, 4000 students drop out each year before they complete Form six. “Again, the main contributing factor is finance,” Chand said.
Chand questioned government’s granting of a flat tuition fee grant to all students, rich and poor alike “when there are thousands of destitute, unemployed, single parents and poor families who cannot afford to pay the school levies and meet the cost of basic school requirements”.
Referring to a recent announcement of an increase of 3-8% in tuition fee at the University of the South Pacific, Chand said if the trend continued “education in this country will only be accessible to the elite within the community. The poor will be pushed further down and education will be totally beyond their reach,” he warned.
To assist poor students and schools, he suggested that a classification system based on needs be worked out for schools to ascertain the level of assistance required by each school.
He questioned government’s claim that the Education Budget had gone up by $40 million. He asserted there was no increase in Budget estimates for Education for 2006 compared to 2005; nor had their been an increase in scholarships for the Fijian Affairs Board and the Multi-Ethnic Affairs Ministry as claimed by government.
Worse still, the Auditor General’s report shows that the Ministry for Multi-Ethnic Affairs did not spend $51,000 of its 2004 Budget when there were hundreds of poor children clamouring for State assistance.