The recent proposal by Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha on blacklisting parents with school fees debts is misguided. It instead brings into public scrutiny the financial management capacity of our secondary schools. It is a misuse of the role of credit reference bureaus in sharing information on the creditworthiness of citizens.
There are myriad causes of perpetual outstanding fees in public secondary schools including the following, and how they can be tackled.
One is public schools management. Principals of secondary public schools seem to exercise management styles that focus mainly on the attainment of good examination results. They chest-thumb when their schools are ranked high in examinations at the expense of running schools as business enterprises. Principals should run schools as CEOs instead of merely supervising curriculum implementation.
There is a need to train principals on financial management, particularly debt collection.
Two is that public secondary schools do not have a clear policy and procedures on the collection of fees revenue. Such a policy would outline the steps to be undertaken for the collection of overdue fees. Instead, schools have relied on refusing to release examination certificates to students whose results can be confirmed in writing from the Kenya National Examinations Council.
If students with outstanding fees were not allowed to sit for public examinations, a variety of fundraising events (bursaries for the needy) would mushroom to produce the fees. Schools should develop a fees collection policy with a provision for declaring unpaid fees as a civil debt on parents to be enforced in our court system.
The third is the responsibility for finance. It is a pity that some schools do not have a specified person responsible for fees debts collection. Others expect the school clerk, with no training on credit management, to undertake debt collection.
For schools to tackle the collection of fees debts, they should create the position of credit (fees) manager. The holder of the position must possess professional credit management qualifications and relevant working experience.
Fourth is the lack of proper financial management systems. Although the computers market is flooded with affordable accounting software, some schools are still accounting for revenues and expenditures using manual methods.
Obtaining quick information on students’ outstanding fees is not fast enough for debt collection. Schools should embrace automation of financial administrative matters as a key step towards the recovery of outstanding school fees.
The fifth is interference by local leadership. Principals, parents, teachers and students find themselves in a dilemma when local leadership meddles with fees collection matters. Yet the leadership is unwilling to support initiatives such as the introduction of school production units that would lessen the school fees burden on parents.
Some leaders have even attempted to advocate for the writing off of outstanding fees without offering the wanted finances. When the public and parents expect that due fees can be cancelled, no settlement attempts shall be made. The leadership should spend energies on requesting for bigger county government budgets including bursaries for students from poor families.