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Jan 13, 2008

No arbitrary extra school fees


The public outcry by parents over the additional fees or contributions they have to make to their children’s schools has opened up a can of worms. It highlights the arbitrariness and high-handedness of many schools, and in some cases their parent-teacher associations, when requesting for all kinds of payments to be made by the parents.

Parents had been complaining about such charges for some time now but the schools had somehow managed to prevent them from becoming a public issue. It is not easy, as some parents found out, to complain to the education ministry. So most parents stoically paid up whatever fees their children told them their schools wanted them to pay. Until, of course, Budget 2008 announced that parents no longer had to pay the school fees of RM4.50 for primary school and RM9 for secondary school.

As education was going to be free the expectation was that it was going to be free all the way.
The high expectation was raised even higher after it was announced that pupils will receive free text books. But their high expectations came crashing down when schools reopened last week after the long year-end holidays.

They were told by their children that they had to continue to pay the additional fees and make the usual contributions and in some cases they had to pay even more. Their ire was raised and they decided that it was time that what they had been griping about be brought to public notice.

Following a series of denials, the education ministry is now admitting that schools had misinterpreted or "misread" its guidelines on contributions by parents. Of course the public had always been skeptical about schools not receiving sufficient funds from the government for them to function as they should as billions are allocated for education every year.

But what many parents fail to see is that some schools, for reasons of prestige and pride, want to be different while others want "to keep up with the Joneses" in terms of facilities like halls or surau so that they would be the preferred schools of children of some well-heeled parents.

And for these extras the schools have to look elsewhere. And this perhaps explains how "toilet use" and "computer usage" are included in the list of payments parents had to make. The ministry must put a stop to these arbitrariness by ensuring that all payments requested by schools are carefully vetted and approved only if they had been endorsed by the annual general meetings of the PTAs.

At the same time it is the duty of all parents to attend PTA meetings to ensure the proper running of the children’s schools. Had they been doing so diligently in the past matters would probably have not come to such a state


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