Tuesday, January 5, 2010

10 sen a day is small price to pay

THE start of each school year is always a trying time for the Parent-Teacher Associations of most schools. For some, it can be just a headache while for others, it can escalate into a migraine. If it is the PTA of an elite school, I am told, the headache is likely be caused by too many parents fighting to sit on its committee because of the prestige that comes with it.

But for the sekolah harian, the generic majority of day schools in the city where anyone seeking education is accepted irrespective of creed, colour or education-level, the pain the PTAs face are normally of migraine proportions -- and this usually has something to do with the collection of fees.

Not only does the PTA have to figure out how to survive on limited resources, it also has the tough job of getting parents to attend the soon-to-be-held annual general meeting, and selecting new board members to replace those who are retiring.

Two years ago, when the government announced the scrapping of school fees, some parents saw red when PTA fees remained on the list of charges they had to pay at the start of the school year. One school I know had to deal with a horde of angry parents demanding explanations on why they had to pay PTA fees since the "newspapers had said that education was free".

These parents had failed to realise that what was done away with was the school fee of RM4.50 per primary pupil and RM9 per secondary school student.

The PTA fee, which varies from school to school, is decided based on the average income level of the parents. For city schools, it is between RM25 and RM50 annually, to be collected at the start of each school year. The school I know collects RM30 annually from each family regardless of how many children are enrolled in the school.

The meagre sum is collected to fund a host of things for the benefit of students and teachers. This ranges from equipping the multimedia room with a speedier Internet connection to buying attire for the school teams for competitions. A part of the funds is used as incentives for good performance to motivate students and teachers, as well as to organise talks, seminars and additional classes.

A small sum is also used to sponsor meals for students from poor families so that they can keep their minds on their books instead of on their hunger, and gain an education that will hopefully pull their families out of their financial quagmire.

All this may seem unbelievable in a city school but it is the reality of the PTA's spending.

For schools that collect RM30 in PTA fees, the amount works out to less than 10 sen a day -- a paltry sum that will not even buy you a glass of iced water in the city today. Of course, the PTA fee is not the only payment that parents have to pay at the start of each school year. I have been facing the same issue for more than a decade now. In fact, my wife has become quite the expert financial planner when it comes to dealing with this.

But what I am trying to figure out is how some parents who gripe to me about PTA fees can afford the latest cellphones, enjoy satellite television and drive luxury cars. Maybe someone can tell me why a nominal contribution to our children's education should take a backseat to our lifestyle wants?

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