In the next budget Vat on the fees of private schools should go to make
education more accessible
atimatuzohra, a mother of two school going children, has a dream. She thinks, in this challenging world of globalisation, the only way to survival is through learning English and this is the only reason why she, after her husband's death, is still sending her children to a private English Medium school. It has been very hard for her, because save for what she earns by tutoring students at home, she does not have any other source of income. Her dream of giving her children quality education has been hit hard last year when the government imposed Value Added Tax on the fees of private schools. “The amount may look very insignificant to some, but for people like me its huge especially when the prices of essentials have been skyrocketing,” Fatima says.
The head teacher of the school to which she sends her children agrees. The teacher, who wants to remain anonymous, says, “In the long run it will hurt our private education, at a time when the government schools have failed miserably to live up to the expectations.”
The idea of imposing tax on education is itself atrocious. Fatima thinks that the idea that the parents have to fill in the tax form where their children are mentioned as bhokta (consumer) is very insulting. She asks “And of all these people why should children be forced to pay tax, do they earn?” She says that the government, instead of giving a helping hand, is making life even more difficult for those involved with the private school business.
Iftekhar Hassan, a former student who has got four As in his A' Level and has also won the Daily Star Award for English Medium students, also thinks that the Vat, if it is kept in the next fiscal year, will also mean that private schools will become more and more inaccessible to students belonging to the middle class. “If you go to an English Medium school you will find that the most come from a fixed income background. My father is an engineer; the parents of all my friends at school have been doctors, teachers and bureaucrats. Our parents do not want us to go to India to study, instead they want to us to be with them and get quality education at home.” Students like Iftekhar would not have access to quality education if the option of going to a private school had not been opened before them.
The head teacher also thinks that if the Vat is not withdrawn immediately more and more students will have to compromise the quality of their education by going to substandard schools, or good schools will have to lower their fees, and will have to take cost effective measures, which will harm the quality of education.
There is no denying that in the last couple of decades the standard of our government-run schools has left much to be deserved. The mushrooming of English medium schools or private schools in the country is a testimony to that. It will spell disaster for everyone if the government chokes the last way that the people of this country have to get good quality education for their children. To begin with the Vat should go, the government must give uninterrupted power supply to every educational institution of the country, interest free long term loan should be offered to the schools so that they can develop infrastructure and transport facilities.
Ours is a government that, whatever the reasons may be, cannot provide quality education to its own citizens. It should not take economic policies that will make quality education an impossible proposition. The government must know that a step towards making education more accessible and less expensive is expected of it.
(R) thedailystar.net 2008