Dhankuta community schools charge students despite free educationSchools say the budget allocated by the government is insufficient to pay teachers.
Rabindra Prasad Bhandari’s son passed grade five from Gokundeshwar Secondary School at ward 6 in Dhankuta Municipality. But his son decided to continue his studies at another school, so he needed his academic certificates including a character certificate to join the new school.
On May 11, Bhandari’s son visited his school to get the certificates, only to be shocked to find out that he had to deposit Rs1,300 at the school administration office to obtain them.
The school charged him Rs500 for the character certificate and an additional Rs800 as an enrollment fee for grade six although he had already decided to shift to another school, Bishranti Gurukul, located in Ward 9 of the municipality.
“My son is already studying at Bishranti Gurukul. But his previous school charged us an enrollment fee and extra money for the character certificate,” said Bhandari, showing the receipt the school had given his son. “Gokundeshwar Secondary School refused to release my son’s certificates unless I paid the requested amount.”
“The school administration said that grade five students must enrol in grade six in the same school. But I don’t think it is mandatory. I have the freedom to choose the school my son wants to attend,” Bhandari quipped. “I think it is just a tactic for schools to exploit poor people like us. I do menial labour to provide for my family, so Rs1,300 is a big amount for me. I feel cheated by Gokundeshwar.”
According to Bhandari, he repeatedly told the school administration that his son did not want to continue his studies at the school and that they should allow him to go without hassles. “Government schools are the only option for poor people like us, because as per the rule they are free. But in Dhankuta, even government schools have started charging students under various pretexts,” he said. “I requested the school administration several times, but they did not listen. I even met the principal and told him that I would pay Rs500 for the certificate, but the school should not charge the admission fee. However, he did not listen to me.”
Like Bhandari, several parents whose children attend community schools in Dhankuta complain about schools charging them monthly fees and enrollment fees, and demanding donations before releasing academic certificates.
Article 31 (2) of the constitution says every citizen shall have the right to compulsory and free education up to the basic level and free education up to the secondary level from the state. However, successive governments haven’t allocated the needed budget to implement the constitutional provisions that compel public schools to ask parents to pay “donations” to support the schools.
“Fees are charged as donations in order to support the school. I do what I am told to do,” said Bishnu Shrestha, accountant of the Gokundeshwar Secondary School.
According to Yagya Prasad Chapagain, the principal, the school has been charging students for various services in coordination with the municipality. “The local unit has developed guidelines for community schools and their students. As per the guidelines, after a grade five student passes the grade, he/she must enrol in the same school for higher education,” he said. “In Bhandari’s case, we had to charge an admission fee because his son’s name was automatically registered for grade six.”
Chapagain claims that charging students for certain services is the only means to sustain the school because the government does not allocate budget for hiring teachers on contract. “We have hired some contract teachers because there are not enough teachers. The school pays them their salary and we do so by collecting ‘donations’ from students,” he said.
Govinda Rai, principal of the Bhasa Secondary School in ward 3 of Dhankuta Municipality, said they also collect donations from parents every academic session because the government-allocated fund is insufficient to run the school.
According to Rai, the school charges Rs1,200 per student annually for additional courses up to grade five; Rs6,500 for grades six to eight, and Rs7,500 for grade nine to ten as annual fees. Similarly, Rs2,000 is charged as admission fee for students in grade 11. The school further charges Rs400 monthly tuition fee for grades 11 and 12 students.
Rai added that his school does not charge those fees to students from poor backgrounds.
The Compulsory and Free Education regulations-2077, stipulate that public schools cannot collect money under the pretext of student enrollment fees, monthly tuition, examinations, or textbooks up to the secondary level.
Mohan Rai Linkha, head of the Education Development and Coordination Unit, Dhankuta, who is also aware of the aberration, said that the Education Act and Regulations do not allow community schools to collect any kind of fee from the parents.
An official at the Dhankuta Municipality also dismissed the claims made by Gokundeshwar Secondary School Principal Chapagain, that the students were charged by taking permission from the municipality.
Narendra Mani Shrestha, head of the education unit of the municipality, says the municipality has not authorised any community schools to collect money from students under any pretext. “We have found that community schools are charging students using various loopholes. The municipality has not made any decision to allow schools to collect money from students as ‘donations’,” said Shrestha.