The recent demand for Rs. 2 lakh as caution deposit from students of SSM School in Chennai and the subsequent arrest of its correspondent, K. Santhanam, has yet again put the focus on the fixation of fees in self-financing schools and the viability of running such institutions.
The Tamil Nadu Schools (Regulation of Collection of Fee) Act, 2009 prohibits collecting fees in excess of what has been fixed by a Fee Determination Committee, based on the available academic and physical infrastructure in an institution. However, a section of representatives of private schools contends that running an institution with the current fee structure is not economically feasible.
“While we do comply with the Central government norms with regard to pay, the teacher-student ratio that we are asked to maintain isn’t always possible. We have additional teachers for subjects such as maths and science as well as for co-curricular subjects which we are often asked to restrict,” said B. Purushothaman, correspondent of the Everwin Group of Schools.
If an institute has over 90 teachers, only 70% of their salary is taken into consideration by the fee determination committee, he added. While the preferred student-teacher ratio is 30:1, several schools rope in teachers for extra-curricular activities. “The demands of parents too have greatly changed in the last ten years and they come with a set of expectations from the school with regard to the facilities they provide,” said C. Satish, director of the Paavai Group of Schools in Namakkal.
He explained that with students taking serious interest in learning music or a sport, they had to hire specialised teachers. “We have 200 students taking the Trinity music exam and several students who are aiming to become cricketers or footballers, for which we need to engage in collaborations which are expensive. These are facilities that are made optional and both the students and parents want them and we naturally can’t meet them from the tuition fees,” Mr. Satish said.
“Of the 15,000-odd private schools in the State, there are only a few that charge exorbitant fees. There exists a wrong perception that a majority of schools across the state fleece parents which isn’t true,” said R. Visalakshi, president of the Tamil Nadu Private Schools Association.
Stating that the fee determination committee makes limited allowances for large sums spent on the construction of new buildings or the upgradation of secondary infrastructure, the principal of a state board school said that technological advancements such as smart boards and robotics are in great demand. “Our school has furniture which is more expensive as I have the comfort of my students in mind. With air-conditioners and smart boards in every classroom, the parents are aware of the facilities and ready to pay, so why should there be a restriction on our fees,” he asked.
While expenditure for educational tours, smart classes and modern technology are part of expenses that schools are asked to declare, schools feel that the tuition fees often don’t cover these, as a result of which additional fees are charged.
Prince Gajendra Babu, educationalist and general secretary of the State Platform for the Common School System, pointed out that many schools collect high fees to open new schools. “There are several schools which have expanded like this, which violates the basic norm that a school should function as a non-profit entity established by a society or a trust,” he said.
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