I was sending my boy to school a few days ago when he asked me for RM5. Having already given him his allowance, I asked what it was for – for “transportation” he said. Apparently his teachers had made an announcement to the school chess team that due to insufficient funds, the students had to chip in to finance the transportation costs to the competition venue.
Not wanting to spoil my boy’s mood so early in the morning (especially right before school), I reserved my queries for much later and gave him a green note.
There is nothing new with my boy asking money to pay for school activities. If my memory serves me right, he has made a pretty generous contribution to the school prefect board – RM1 for every time he was late to school (prefects are expected to arrive at school by 6.55am). This money apparently will be used to finance the prefect board’s annual dinner at the end of the year. Funny, prefects are appointed to assist teachers and the school, yet they end up paying for their own “thank you” party.
Another time, while helping out a friend to fetch her kids from school after an extra-curriculum activity, I discovered a group of adults playing football in the school field. At first I thought it was the school teachers themselves. However, according to the kids, they were outsiders. Upon a little investigation, I found out that it was common for some schools to rent their fields outside of school hours, to earn extra money.
This did however make me wonder – are schools in our country so short on cash, they are forced to find other means of making money?
I remember having to walk around my old town in Penang collecting contributions for jogathon events. The funds collected usually went towards upgrading school facilities – renovating toilets, building a new library or filling the sports room with new equipment. Today, donkey years later, we are still doing the same thing. Jogathons, marathons, Canteen Days and Open Days are nothing new to parents with children in public schools.
But that’s not all. From time to time, schools also get involved in third party businesses. They allow private companies to make use of school facilities and students become easy prey. Private colleges give talks during school assemblies to promote their colleges; independent book stores hold book fairs inside school premises; even App developers promote educational tools to school kids, encouraging them to tell mommy and daddy at home about their wonderful products.
At times, even parents become consumer targets. I remember once while attending my daughter’s school PTA meeting, I had to sit and listen to a representative from a sales company present and demonstrate their water filter machine for a good 45 minutes!
Ah, and how can I forget about this story a friend shared with me – her daughter came home one day with an Origami book she had purchased for RM10 simply because she felt sorry for the bookseller – apparently the school had called the students to the assembly hall to watch a magic show conducted by an ‘Origami Magician’. After a series of demonstrations, the origami maker introduced his books to the students, telling them that he was from India, trying to finance his journey back home by selling the books – by purchasing a book, the students could help him reunite with his family.
I find these activities totally unacceptable. While schools have clear regulations against students selling things in the school compound – I remember my son’s classmate who was warned not to sell his mom’s homemade nasi lemak during recess time – apparently most schools close an eye to teachers doing the same thing and practise double standards.
Seriously, schools should not be asking money from their students. If they have insufficient funds, instead of charging students to represent the school, the school board should stay away from participating in inter-school competitions or other co-curriculum activities.
Schools also have no business organising jogathons and other similar activities. Instead of bombarding teachers with the extra work of organising these events, they should be left to focus on educating the children instead. If teachers and the school management are so caught up with organising school events to generate funds, perhaps they should think of becoming entrepreneurs, not educators.
The Education Ministry seriously needs to get two things done:
1. Investigate schools who turn their students into consumer targets.
2. Provide ample funds for schools to carry out their activities without pestering students to go collecting donations.
There is no point branding ourselves as having one of the best education systems in the region when our students are made to fund school activities themselves. Truth be told, it is rather embarrassing and could very well be a contributing factor to the drop in the quality of our education.