The Ministry of Education (MOE) is now seeking the intervention of the national leadership regarding concerns on rising number of foreign students attending public schools in Palau, saying their office had been urged to levy fees on foreign students.

Education Minister Sinton Soalablai, in a letter dated September 3 which was addressed to President Tommy Remengesau, Jr., said that some individuals are seeing the rise in foreign student enrollment in Palau’s public schools as an “[encroachment] on opportunities due to Palauan students” while others also raised concerns on the amount of resources the government is expending just to provide education services to “non-Palauans.”

The Attorney General’s (AG) Office, upon the request of the MOE for a legal opinion on the suggestion to levy charges for foreign students, said that the MOE does not have the statutory authority to act on it.

The AG also said that while Palau’s constitution was very specific about providing free education to its “citizens” from grades 1 to 12, levying fees for foreign students would be considered a violation on the Article 28 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in which Palau is a signatory.

Palau’s constitution defines citizens as those who are “born of parents, one or both of whom are citizens of Palau or are of recognized Palauan ancestry.”

Article 28 of the CRC provides that a state party must give access to free education to all children on the “basis of equal opportunity.”

Minister Soalablai, through the letter, said that while the MOE agrees with the AG’s legal opinion that levying fees to foreign students is contradictory to the CRC, he said that there is still a need for Palau’s leadership to address the issue through discussions or legislation.

The statistics from the MOE shows that the number of foreign students enrolled in Palau’s public elementary schools had increased to 321 in 2019 compared to the only 187 in 2015. Meanwhile, foreign students’ enrollment in public high school had dropped from 72 in 2015 to only 71 in 2019.

Palauan citizens’ enrollment in public elementary schools, meanwhile, shows decrease from the 1,587 in 2015 to 1,435 in 2019. There are currently 551 Palauans enrolled in Palau’s public high school in 2019 compared to the 588 in 2015.  (Rhealyn C. Pojas)