Commercialized education

Public education, especially at elementary level, is free in principle as the Government wants to ensure that all children can go to school, and has earmarked sizeable funds for education, estimated at 20% of the country’s annual State budget. Like elsewhere around the world, education should not be a financial burden for parents who send their children to public schools.

In reality, however, many parents nowadays find it beyond reach to have their children attending school. The tuition fee, owing to the Government’s policy, is not high, but it is the various other fees and expenses that make their children’s schooling unbearable. And it is unacceptable.

As the school year 2017-2018 begins, laments are heard again. The financial burden for parents, as covered in local media these days, is extremely heavy at many schools across the country. Stories that have surfaced these days – though just a tip of the iceberg – show how schooling expenses have become excessive for many people.

There is the story of an elementary school in Haiphong City imposing a fee of over VND9 million a student a year, or the story of another elementary school in the Mekong Delta province of Dong Thap demanding VND16 million.

For a country whose gross domestic product per capita is roughly VND48 million a year, the sum is too high, as an average-income family with two children attending school, for instance, will have to spend half of that GDP per capita on school fees. That is not to mention various other unnamed overheads that parents have to bear in a school year.

As such, for a poor family, the only way is to force children to drop out.

In the story of the elementary school named Minh Tan in Haiphong City’s Thuy Nguyen District, it all begins with a status on Facebook, complaining about the fee of over VND9 million a student. The bill is later said to be fake, as the school’s management asserts all fees collected at the school are in accordance with regulations, according to Tien Phong. Nguyen Ngoc Huong, vice chairman of Thuy Nguyen District, also explains to reporters that the invoice posted in social media is forgery.

However, it is finally declared that while the invoice is fake news, most of the sums stated in the bill are real. Education inspectors of the district, according to Tien Phong, have verified that as many as 18 sums in the bill detailing some two dozen sums are payable. Due to such irregularities, the district government has suspended the school’s principal pending further investigation.

In the other story, Chu Van An Elementary School in Cao Lanh City in Dong Thap Province is said to collect as much as VND16 million from each first-grader. The school’s vice principal Nguyen Thi Thu Nga denies the school’s policy of collecting such fees, saying in Tuoi Tre that all those sums are proposed by the school’s parents society without the knowledge of the school.

In fact, the excessive collection of school fees has become rampant in as many years, without any effective preventive measures on the part of State management agencies.

According to Tuoi Tre, parents in Bac Lieu have complained about schools imposing fees to install air-conditioners or fans in classrooms, while in Nguoi Lao Dong, a parent complains he has to pay a lump sum of VND2.5 million for a school in Kon Tum Province, including a sum called “socialization fee.” Thanh Nien refers to the collection of many weird fees including security, hygiene-keeping and teaching tool fees. In certain schools in HCMC, parents also have to pay sums for acquiring TV sets, laptops, or pay electricity bills for schools, according to Tuoi Tre.

Tuoi Tre says the parents society in many cases is in fact a collaborator of the school’s management in excessive collection of fees and other expenses from students. Whenever challenged over such collections, the school often uses the parents society as a shield, saying it is parents who propose such fees. Citing regulations from the Ministry of Education and Training, the paper says the parents society must adhere to their mandate, which is to cooperate with the school to improve education, rather than to maximize collections.

Aware of such regularities, provincial education departments have banned schools from collecting fees not prescribed by the prevailing regulations.

In Thanh Hoa Province, for example, the Education Department has ordered schools not to collect fees from parents to cover expenses borne by the State budget, such as lighting and security. Hanoi City’s Education Department also asks all schools to refund all sums wrongfully collected from parents, while HCMC’s Education Department also has a list of collectibles at schools. Hanoi City also announces hotlines to receive complaints from parents to fight irregularities at schools.

In Nguoi Lao Dong, a reader ponders whether education officials are capable of overseeing schools. “How has the education sector dealt with this problem? Why has the situation of excessive collection of fees been staying for so many years,” asks the reader.

Education development has been touted as the country’s top priority, and huge budgets have been spent on public education. Last year, the State budget disbursed up to VND246.92 trillion, or over US$11 billion, for public education, including VND195.6 trillion to cover the payrolls and VND39.32 trillion for capital construction in the sector. That sum demonstrates a great effort of the entire society at a time when the country is still grappling with financial constraints. However, it is believed many schools are still seeking to maximize gains from students and their parents by designing various types of fees to cover expenses already funded by the State.

Public schools, especially elementary ones, must ensure free admission for all children, especially those from poor families. The trend towards commercialization – and bogus commercialization at that – in public education should by no means be tolerable.

SGT

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