The parents of children studying in Karma Academy, Class XII (stream: Science, Commerce and Arts), Shaba, Paro appealed for negotiation on additional fee levied by the School for the extension of the academic year 2020.
This, however, seems to be a similar issued faced by many students and parents across Bhutan as parents question how additional boarding fees are being levied at a time when most boarders stayed home for 4 to 5 months in a year due to lockdowns.
The parents expressed that there was no proper justification nor clarification was provided. In addition, repeated pleas by the parents to schedule or hold a meeting with either the Principal or the Proprietor over social media (WeChat) and through direct phone calls went unacknowledged.
A parent said the academic extension by the education ministry for class XII is two and a half months and the boarding fees collection is for 10 months only, plus tuition fee collection is for 12months. 100% fee for the term was made without any fuss or questions despite children having to stay home when the first national lockdown was announced on 6th March. The schools were closed till 28th June, 2020.
For Term II, a discount of Nu. 5000 was granted by the school.
During the second lockdown which commenced from 20th December, 2020 children were home from 15th of December 2020 till 20th January, 2021 and an additional one-week in quarantine facility. Parents said the boarding fee must not have been utilized although the parents do respect the limited remote learning being carried out.
The education minister Jai Bir Rai said there should not be any hitches to pay the tuition fees as long as the students have learned through contact teaching or online classes. But if it is the case of hostel fees then the case is different. He said the ministry has learned of private boarding schools having waived hostel fees.
An official from the Private School Division, MoE said right after the first lockdown, when the government extended the academic session for two more months, the proprietors visited the ministry and enquired whether the school will be paid additional fee for the extended period. He said even if the ministry denied them, the proprietors would have collected.
The ministry disbursed an additional tuition fee of Nu 6,250 for class XII for the extended academic period of two and half months at the rate of the approved tuition fee of Nu 30,000 in a year and a boarding fee of Nu 6000 for class XI.
The problem for the parents is that schools are asking Nu 10,000 to Nu 15,000 for self financed students. They feel this is too much given the lockdown losses they already endured.
The official said the current school fees for the private schools are as per the private school’s guideline and all the schools have followed the ministry’s calculation.
The official also clarified that the ministry did not issue any order to collect the additional fees for an extended period. Earlier the ministry received complaints from few parents that the schools are collecting exorbitant fees and the ministry only advised the private school that if they wish to collect additional amounts then they have to follow the ministry’s way of calculation. The schools did follow the ministry’s calculation but parents feel that the amount is still huge.
The ministry said it understands the parents’ appeal and tried to negotiate with the proprietor but he is not willing to do so. However, the proprietor is willing to consider concessions for those who have been genuinely impacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic and few private schools have also done that.
The General Secretary of Private Schools Tshering Dorji said the additional academic session that came this year was not expected and was not planned due to COVID-19 pandemic. The education ministry paid for the additional fees for an extended period for the students under government scholarships. Since the MoE thought it was rational for them to pay the additional fee, accordingly the fee was collected from the self-financed students as well.
He said schools have collected the fee on the basis of how the education ministry has done it because in the absence of guidelines, the schools may have thought it is for activities in the schools that will take place.
He said as a private school, additional activities in the school means additional cost. So this is why the private school must have collected the fees.
He said if private schools have charged exorbitant fees then it is not right on the part of the private schools.
Meanwhile, the case is being investigated by the Office of Consumers Protection after a complaint was filed by parents.