Ministry to review private school guidelines following the issue

Yangchen C Rinzin

With the Ministry of Education paying an additional fee for the extension of the academic year 2020 for government scholarship beneficiaries in private schools, many parents of self-financing students are questioning the basis for paying the fees.

This is because many private schools have also asked parents to pay an additional fee for the academic extension.

Parents raised that, if the ministry had not paid for the scholarship students, schools would not ask the same from self-financed students.

The schools remained closed since March owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.  However, Classes IX-XII resumed from July last year and extended the academic session till March this year.

The education ministry disbursed an additional tuition fee of Nu 6,250 for Class XII at the rate of the approved tuition fee of Nu 30,000 in a year, and boarding fees of Nu 6,000 for Class XI.  The tuition fee will be paid in April.

Some of the private schools have asked for additional fees of more than Nu 15,000 per child for Science students and more than Nu 10,000 for Commerce and Arts students.

A parent questioned the private school guidelines that did not have anything to say on such ad-hoc fees asked by the schools.  He said that it did not make sense for schools to ask for an additional fee when the school closure was the government’s decision.

“When I asked the education ministry, I was told that it wasn’t within their means and that change in fees was the schools’ prerogative,” he said. “The schools informed us that they had permission from the education ministry.”

Some parents shared that, even if schools had charged less fees, such additional fees were coming at a time when many had been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Some schools, however, had refunded Nu 5,000 to parents during the lockdown and school closures to help them.

A parent in Haa said that the difference between scholarship students and self-financing fees was enormous in the same school. “The ministry must monitor the private school fees.”

The ministry has received only two complaints against private schools for asking for an additional fee.

Chief of private school division, Dorji Wangchuk, said that the fees were calculated taking into consideration schools had continued to render services to the students through various online education even during lockdown.

“We’d disbursed money after studying the situation and getting approval from the minister,” he said. “Although boarding facilities were closed, expenses were paid to meet utility bills.”

Dorji Wangchuk said that the additional fee was calculated based on the academic year extended for classes IX and XI for two months (January to February) and academic year extended for classes X and XII for two and a half months (January to March 15).

He added that it was understood that tuition fee collection for one academic year is calculated for 12 months, and that boarding fees collection for one academic year is calculated for ten months.

“Before we received the complaint, we learnt that some schools were asking for additional fees. So we sent a notification saying that schools must have a basis to collect additional fees,” Dorji Wangchuk said. “Schools were reminded to implement the realistic collection.”

The letter, addressed to the Private School Association of Bhutan, also asks schools to consider or refund the minimum feeding expenses to students, who did not avail of feeding facilities during the nationwide lockdown.

It also says that since schools’ tuition fees collection is calculated for 12 months, schools should not charge the additional fees for classes IX and XI if the child was continuing in the next grade in the same school.  However, schools can charge an extra fee for utility expenses.

The division has also decided to review the private schools’ guidelines.

“But there have been complaints that schools weren’t following the notification,” Dorji Wangchuk said. “We’re going to revise the guidelines to address such issues in the future.”

About 63 parents have complained to Office of Consumer Protection against Karma Academy in Paro about the exorbitant and untimely revision of the fee after the ministry “failed” to intervene.

It states that no school management or board meeting was held to deliberate on the additional fees. “The extension of the academic session was the government’s decision, and the school shouldn’t take advantage of the situation.”

The parents argue that they had already paid the full fee although their children had to stay home for more than four months due to the two nationwide lockdowns.

A parent, Karma Choden, said that the parents were willing to pay an additional Nu 2,000 over the government’s additional fee for two and a half months—Nu 6250.  “The proposal was denied.”

Although the education ministry intervened to negotiate and proposed the concession, Dorji Wangchuk said that the proprietor was not willing to agree.

However, he added that the proprietor informed the division that he would consider the concession to parents, who have been genuinely impacted due to pandemic if parents made the request.

Karma Academy’s proprietor, Karma Wangchuk, said that the collection of additional fees was as per the Ministry of Education formula.

Additional reporting by Phub Dem in Paro