The sum is collected under various heads — ‘building fund' to ‘smart classrooms'
Parents might as well start saving up for their child's school admission right from the time she is born, if the huge sums of donation being charged by city schools currently are any indication.
This year, many private schools in the city are charging anything between a few thousands and a few lakhs of rupees as donation, depending on how “posh” they are. The problem persists across aided, matriculation, CBSE and ICSE schools.
According to the fee receipt issued to a young couple by a popular school in T. Nagar, the total amount charged as “fee” for pre-KG admission is Rs. 39,815. In addition to this, receipts were provided for Rs. 150 towards PTA fund, Rs. 20 towards postal charges, Rs. 200 as orientation fee, and workshop fee for parents (Rs. 200 if one parent attends and Rs. 250 for both).
In effect, the couple paid over Rs. 40,000 for the admission.
“It is a donation. Just that the school cleverly distributes it under various heads. Since we needed the seat badly, we did not ask questions,” said the mother.
She might seem better off if you heard the story of the Shankars, who were eager to put their two sons in a school known for putting less pressure on students. This school in R.A. Puram, now acquiring popularity for some of its novel methods of teaching, had no qualms declaring that a donation was expected right at the time of giving away application forms. The donation quoted was not in thousands, but in lakhs.
“I was dead against paying donation, but as a parent one has many considerations. We did a lot of research and found very few schools meeting our requirements. Such schools invariably came with a huge price tag as they know they are in demand,” said Mrinalini Shankar.
What are these requirements and what pushes parents to pay so much? The responses that parents gave ranged from the quality of education to the reputation of the school. However, no parent was willing to go on record regarding the amount charged by their ward's school as donation or about the reasons that drove them to put their child in a particular school. Shuba, who paid nearly Rs. 50,000 for an LKG seat last year (the receipt said ‘building fund') in a particular school in MRC Nagar, said: “I chose the school because it was known for its emphasis on extra-curricular activities. I thought my child will have all-round development in such an environment. I don't feel all that bad because my cousin who tried in another school this year was asked to pay Rs. 2.25 lakh.”
The school Shuba's son goes to insists that parents pay the donation in cash. “I remember having a hard time withdrawing so much cash. My husband and I had to do it using multiple accounts, over a couple of days,” she added.
Another parent said though he was initially reluctant to pay a donation of nearly a lakh, he changed his mind as the regular school fee was “reasonable”. “I thought the fee matched the facilities, but the donation is clearly unjustified.”
If institutions are collecting huge sums as donation, what do they really spend on? The lack of transparency has only meant that no parent actually knows the break up of expenses incurred by a school. “I see some buildings coming up on the school premises, but I am not sure if my donation went towards that,” said a parent.
Ask schools and they say their highest revenue expenditure is on teachers' salaries. “Since institutions have to go strictly by the Sixth Pay Commission norms, we pay about Rs.20,000 a month on an average to each teacher. But the fees take care of the teachers' salaries,” said the head of a CBSE school, who did not wish to be named. The school head also pointed out that expenses incurred on buildings or auditoriums are capital in nature and should not recur every year.
In that case, the obvious question is whether some city schools run on a profit-making model.
If one were to look at progressive teaching and learning methods adopted world over, LCD monitors or air-conditioned classrooms are hardly considered basic requirements. What really matters is whether a school has well-trained teachers, a healthy teacher-pupil ratio and an engaging curriculum that encourages children to think independently. But sadly, for most city schools, fancy facilities in the garb of infrastructure and ‘smart classrooms' have become unique selling propositions of sorts. The schools have a way of excluding parents who are unwilling or unable to pay donations. Sridhar, who is trying for an LKG seat for his daughter, said: “In one school we applied to, they interviewed my daughter a few days ago. Though she knew the answers to what they asked, she was so scared that she did not open her mouth. The school promised to get back in two days, but we have not heard from them. We have to look at other options, I suppose.”
The Right to Education Act prohibits both — the practice of schools accepting donations as well as interviewing children during admissions. However, nothing seems to prevent schools from seeking donations during admission time every year. And parents continue to pay.
(Names have been changed on request)