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Is it time to have a school regulatory board? PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 03 February 2008

Phenomenal fees, high profit, lowly paid teachers and implacable commercialization plague our schools and the sufferers are the increasing number of mid-income people. Perhaps it’s time to address the problems on TV with the involvement of all concerned parties

Towheed Feroze

THE year comes to an end and the prime concern of parents is to have their children admitted to a decent school. Interestingly, the term ‘decent’ in the education scenario is very vague as most will not be able to define it beyond the line that it stands for institutions that have name and fame in the market.

Well, someone can open a school, spend a generous amount for publicity and still get that market name. For many of our top schools it’s the results that matter though parents hardly ask if the distinguished results achieved by their children reflect proper education.

That, by the way, is a matter titling more towards the ethical side of education and not our concern at this very moment. What we are more concerned about at the moment is the astronomical fees that many schools charge for admissions and for promotion from one class to another.

In truth, in a society where conspicuous consumption is becoming a norm often, spending a huge amount for the education of children is perhaps essential for the nouveau riche but, out there, we have thousands of middle-class parents who find themselves lost in a turbulent sea of fees.

In this regard, a directive from the Ministry of Education states that fees cannot exceed Tk 5000. We are also informed that most schools are not bothered about the directive and the literal extortion of money from hapless parents continues unabated.

To understand this fee-phenomenon, one has to go back a few decades and look at the beginning of the commercialisation of education. In the seventies, there were hardly any schools that had a monthly fee exceeding Tk 150 but with the arrival of privately owned schools the fees began to go up. Of course, when a school is privately owned there is always the matter of making profit but to what extent is profit important or justified?

Sadly, standing at the beginning of 2008, we are compelled to say for 80 per cent schools making money seems to be the main objective. Now, it would also not be right to denigrate some of the top expensive schools that operate in the city because some of these schools do have international events as well as top of the range facilities for students. Schools like these are for the affluent and the children of the diplomats but if there are institutions for the rich then there has to be institutions for the mid-income people too.

Unfortunately, we have heard plenty of stories where the matter of donation is discussed before a child is considered for admission in schools that, incidentally, came to the market with the motto of providing good education at a competitive price to the mid-income people.

If we turn back, we remember a repulsive incident where, reportedly, the principal of a well-known school asked donations from the parents of the students for the construction of a new building.

Thankfully, an editorial lambasting such a low-minded and profiteering step was published in this paper and, eventually that decision to fleece the parents was withdrawn. Now the most interesting thing is that when the schools are demanding monumental fees from parents they are paying peanuts to their teachers.

There are many reports that certain schools take Tk 50,000 during admission but a look into the salary of teachers will reveal that the senior teachers hardly get Tk 30,000 per month. So, there is a huge discrepancy between what the school is earning and what the teachers are getting.

Regrettably, no one has ever asked this question and as teachers in private schools do not have a wage board, the salary is left at the discretion of the management. Naturally, the trick here is to get the best at the lowest.

A year ago there was a debate about the standard of teachers at schools and quite a few principals commented that the standard was not up to the mark as teachers did not have proper training. But, would it be wrong to assume that teachers are not qualified because the qualified ones go for jobs with better pay?

It stands to reasons that if teaching as a profession was handsomely paid there would not be any questions on quality but when the salary is meagre what more can we expect? Schools, especially English-medium ones, are locked by their horns to make profit and we see all the publicity gimmicks in action to lure more students: foreign principals, publicity with foreign teachers, offering of a variety of courses and so on but what about special training for teachers. If a school really wants to do some good it should arrange for training sessions of teachers so that the instructors are top range.

It’s time that there was a regulatory body to oversee how the schools are operating. For instance, many teachers often complain that their treatment by the management is often despotic and as there is no unity among teachers of schools there is no way to protest against such oppressive behaviour.

Same for schools too because in Bangladesh there is no union among school owners that strives to safeguard a standard and a common interest. Out there it’s a war and it’s really ugly. One school slams another and this is how ugliness spreads. Just a regulatory body is not the answer, though; parents must come forward too and protest against the criminal charges that they have to bear to have their children admitted.

On top of that, school authorities must be more transparent. Owners of schools who have made millions in the last decade need to be questioned if there has been a balance between the income and the payment of the teachers or the services provided.

Maybe this sounds nasty, but it’s true that, for some, establishing a school has been purely a commercial venture. These schools hire and fire teachers at will, charge large fees and have people with dubious academic background and equally unfathomable motivations at the head.

If there is a regulatory body comprised of civil society members who really think about the progeny then many so-called places of excellent education will close down and that will be for the better.

At least, parents will not be deceived into believing that their children are getting the best. In addition, let’s involve some key social figures to talk about schools and what they should offer. We have a lot of talk-shows and almost all of them are focused on one thing only – politics.

There is much more to life beyond that and there must be an attempt to break out of monotony too. Bring the students, school owners and parents for an open conversation.

If these programmes are live then comments from the people can also be taken.

Then, teachers need to open up too because we feel that they are hostages at the hands of school authorities. Many of the teachers are women and are often averse to communicating their status.

But they do not see that by doing so they are not only relegating teaching as a profession but also ensuring that they remain underpaid forever.

Be that as it may, it’s time to bring the schools and the problem surrounding them to the front and have candid discussions.

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