School faces financial crisis, over 800 children sent home

By Anita Roberts

Classes at Ecole St Jeanne D’Arc have been put on hold since Monday this week

Unless the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) meets the financial demands of Ecole Saint Jeanne D’Arc, over 800 children from the primary school will not resume classes, said Principal Merani Johanin.

Classes at the government assisted school in Port Vila have been put on hold since Monday this week as the school tries to resolve its financial crisis.

There are only two weeks left before the next school break, but the school cannot continue to pretend that it is not suffering financially due to the current COVID-19 situation when in fact it is true, the principal stressed.

“COVID-19 was not part of our budget plan this year. We (the school) have exhausted our budget in developing the home school packages,” he said.

“It costs a lot for a school like mine with a large enrollment to develop the home packages.”

Like other schools throughout the country, Ecole Saint Jeanne D’Arc needs the annual grant from the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) to keep operating.

Principal Johanin said the school has already provided its application for the next grant but the MoET is taking too long to release the funds.

“The school’s tuition fee structure has not been approved. Tuition fee is one of the sources of income for the school.

“The stimulus package should cover the homes school package costs but primary schools and kindergartens are not entitled to this.”

Operated under the Catholic Education Authority (La DEC), Ecole St Jeanne D’Arc also enrolls early childhood learners.

Director of La DEC, Simon Bangus, said the school has been facing financial stress since 2017 and COVID-19 crisis has made the situation worse.

He assured parents that they are negotiating with the MoET to sort out the issue for classes to resume.

Apart from Ecole St Jeanne D’Arc, other schools are also facing similar challenges.

For example, Ulei Junior Secondary School in north Efate has issued a notice on July 31 to parents not to send children back to school yet as the school is facing shortage of funds and cannot meet its expenses.

Ulei Junior Secondary School stressed that it is still waiting to receive subsidy funds from the economic stimulus package as promised by the government.

A decision is yet to be made concerning the school fee structure and whether students will not resume or not resume classes until after two weeks break.

Meanwhile in a statement issued yesterday, the MoET said principals and school councils must get approval before closing doors due to reasons relating to finance.

“Everyone should be reminded that teaching and children’s learning is always priority compared to school development projects in this current crisis,” the MoET stated.

“Principals and school councils must ensure children continue learning.”

All principals and school councils are reminded to follow the process and meet the requirements in place in order to access the next grant and all information should be provided through the Open VEMIS.

The MoET conveyed that it is also reviewing school fee structures that were submitted this month and has urged school authorities to submit fee structures before August 21, 2020.