Managers of public boarding schools have called on the Government to set up funding for students from vulnerable families who excel in national exams.
The call follows complaints from some head teachers that boarding secondary schools have been plunged into debt because some parents fail to cater for their children's school dues.
Boarding schools are considered to guarantee a better learning environment for children compared to day schools. This belief is supported by the fact that the best students in the national exams usually come from boarding schools.
"Every parent wants their child to have a place in a boarding school where they have ample time to study with less distraction," Frère Célestin Rwirangira, the headmaster of Groupe Scolaire Officiel de Butare (GSOB), adding that without considering their financial ability some parents send their children to boarding schools where the fees are higher than in day schools.
Consequently, he said, some parents end up defaulting, leaving the schools in dilemma.
"Considering that these students are the best, we don't expel them but do our best to keep them despite losses," Rwirangira said.
Groupe Scolaire Officiel de Butare sometimes ends up with a financing shortfall of up to Rwf6 million every term, largely stemming from unpaid student dues.
Boarding students at GSOB pay between Rwf90,000 and Rwf100,000 every term, which is in the same range with other boarding schools across the country.
Rwirangira added that some parents even promise to pay in instalments but after sometime they fail to honour the agreement.
Sister Immaculée Uwamariya, the head teacher of College Saint Bernard of Kansi, said that unpaid school fees affects them, especially because it makes it difficult to feed students.
"The paying gap can range from 10-20 per cent (of the school budget) each term. We try to close gap by growing food on our school garden. But if all students paid well, it would make a big difference; the school would have the capacity to feed students with ease," she argued.
Besides setting up a government fund to cater for schools' funding shortfall, Uwamariya proposes that parents put in money to support students who excel in school but face financial difficulties.
She said non-government organisations such as Imbuto Foundation, Caritas Rwanda, and Compassion International have been very supportive but the number of students they fund is still very low.
The headmaster of GS Bigugu, JMV Muhigana, said that with the exception of ordinary-level students who get higher capitation grant from the Government, schools try to raise funding through extra charges on A-level students.
Ordinary level schools get Rwf5,250 per student each term while advanced level students are allocated Rwf56 per day under the school feeding programme.
The head teacher of LT Rusatira, Jean Damascène Ndagijimana, said that: "I think the 12-year-basic schools were created for needy students. If parents can't afford boarding schools, they should take their children to day schools. The curriculum is the same".
In an interview with The New Times, Isaac Munyakazi, the State Minister in charge of primary and secondary education, said that it is his first time for such an issue to be raised.
According to him, if it was a shared concern it should have been raised through different platforms where government meets heads of schools.
"I think the issue of unpaid school fees affects some schools and we can act as the ministry only when we have realised that it has become a public issue that needs special attention. We have not received any related cases in reports we get from the districts. We need to get more details from the affected schools," he argued.
The minister added that schools that are affected have to address their concern to the districts in which they operate and that when the districts are not able to devise the solution, the concerns should be addressed to the upper levels. Based on the extent of the problem, he said, the Government can decide whether there is a need to set up a special fund for vulnerable students or look for other alternatives.