The private school fee debate

With the education ministry indecisive and the Prime Minister leaving the issue to be resolved between schools and parents, the Private Schools Association of Bhutan has taken the matter in their own hands.

Parents who have not paid the first term fees will have to pay in full.  Schools will give a 15 percent discount on the second term fees. If schools reopen, regular fees would be charged.

The decision has not gone well with parents as the “To whom it may concern” notice went viral on social media. The common resentment is that schools closed a month after the academic session began following the Covid-19 pandemic and that there were no classes or expenditure involved.

Some parents have done their own math and feel that schools are being unreasonable in charging full fees and giving only a 15 percent discount. They reason savings from expenditure on utility bills, wear and tear of furniture and other school infrastructure. Some even want the internet charges, for online classes, to be worked out in the cost while others feel that it would be a waste of money if students are not assessed or promoted.

On the other hand, schools are claiming that schooling has not stopped even if children didn’t come to school. The online learning services, which the education ministry has commended is the justification. They will also have to pay the teachers who have not been laid off.

The debate will go on. What must be done is an analysis if fees should be charged, how or how much. There is no basis for the 15 percent discount. In the wake of the Covid-19 parents are as affected as the school proprietors. There is no parent’s association to appeal or voice their concerns. It is in the interest of both schools and parents to come to an agreement.

There are some who feel that they should support the schools when they are in need. But sending children to a private school is no more a privilege of the rich. Some are forced because of other reasons like not having ‘seats’ in the public schools or students couldn’t make it to government schools.

The argument that the quality of education is better in private schools hold water only at the primary level. At the higher secondary level, it is the opposite. Those that do well are absorbed in the government schools. Private schools are only the secondary choice.

Private schools are businesses first. If they can impart better education through specialisation, cost would not be a factor and they would do well. They could have done better during the closure, for instance, using technology. Have they done that? Parents would know better.

Like in much business, everybody will have to bear the loss caused by the pandemic. The only reason parents should pay, if ever, is to ensure the teachers received their salary, full or reduced. We are donating to the Covid-19 voluntarily. The teachers are the victims of Covid-19 pandemic. If the schools go broke, teachers would lose jobs.

However, everything should not be left to parents. Like a parent said, school proprietors have also benefited from the government’s fiscal and monetary policies beside the tax holiday they enjoy. There is still time for discussions to work out on an amount backed by good reasoning and analysis. Parents will understand.

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