Saturday, 12 January 2008

Letter: Schools' Extra Fees Unjust


As volunteers who assist needy families, we can identify with the hardship experienced by low-income earners caused by the schools’ imposition of additional fees.

The Ministry of Education has made an official pronouncement that parents who could afford the additional fees should not ask to be exempted, as the said fees would be used to improve the schools’ infrastructure, teaching facilities and services.

We beg to differ and believe that the imposition of additional fees are not motivated by charitable objectives. We speak without vested interests when we state our belief that certain parties, (be it school principals, cooperatives or suppliers) are being unjustly enriched by these additional fees.

Among the additional fees charged by schools in Setapak and Wangsa Maju include the following:

RM18 for school track pants and RM12 for sports t-shirts for sports events and Physical Education. Such outrageous prices for child-sized sports outfits raised our suspicion that crony businesses and the school cooperatives are reaping huge profits. In contrast, track pants in the approved school colours purchased from hypermarkets cost RM6 or less.

RM20 charged at the beginning of the school year for the school’s award day and end-of-year party. This sum is exorbitant, as it is on top of the RM30- RM50 charged as PTA contribution. The children we work with are already marginalised and at an academic disadvantage. Awards Day has little context for them, as they are statistically less likely to be the recipients of prizes for good performance. The RM20 fee, which they could scarce afford, would add to their feeling of being left out of things.

RM3.50 charged for the Student’s Etiquette Handbook, RM2.80 for the School Rules Handbook, RM2.50 for the Report Card and RM3.50 for the Student’s Personal Folder are among the other unnecessary expenses that are profligate of paper. Pocket-sized booklets should not cost more than RM1. Alternatively, the school rules could be painted onto the school walls as a mural, read out during assembly to serve as a reminder or incorporated into the back of exercise books or the Report Card. Students could be taught to make their own folders in art class or to print out the rules on reused paper (i.e. already printed on one side) to paste onto the backs of exercise books as a form of early training in environmental responsibility.

RM8 for school tie and RM6 for a pair school socks. Again, this raises suspicions of corruption. We believe that as long as a student is outfitted in the uniform sanctioned by the Ministry of Education, there should be no need for special ‘school socks’ and other accessories. Students who are not holding any special office (prefects, school librarians, class monitors) should not be required to wear a necktie. Unfortunately, the students we work with are too afraid of the repercussions of not conforming to want to follow our advice to go without the said items.

RM10 for the use of the school library and RM10 for the library access card. A simple, inexpensive library card system and the enforcement of the ‘no schoolbags inside the library’ rule would be sufficient to prevent the loss of books. The children who are unable to afford this fee are also the ones least likely to have access to reading materials and a conducive study space at home.

RM8 for Moral Studies / Islamic Studies. No reasons are given for this sum being charged, and since these are compulsory subjects, students who are unable to pay the additional fees do not have the option of dropping these subjects.

We have written letters to the respective school principals for a waiver of the fees on behalf of these children, but there has been no response from the schools. Not all parents were able to meet up with the school heads themselves, because the parents are either functionally illiterate, unable to communicate fluently in Bahasa Malaysia or English, ill, victims of domestic violence or more commonly, working at jobs that do not allow them to take leave.

In those circumstances, some of the older children were encouraged to inform their class teachers of their family circumstances. The children invariably reported to us that the class teacher said that they must pay up and no exemptions would be allowed.

We are strongly of the view that much of the additional fees charged by these schools are not for the purpose of improving school facilities or student welfare, but to enrich the cooperatives and other crony parties. We are now also of the view that none of the PTA funds collected are used to aid poor and disadvantaged students. In our humble opinion, the Minister of Education is naïve indeed if he truly believes that the additional fees are used entirely for the students’ benefit.


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