Students take physical exercise at a Catholic primary school in Gazipur district of central Bangladesh. A church official has defended various church-run schools that charge extra annual fees. (Photo courtesy of Chandan R. Rebeiro)
A senior church official in Bangladesh has defended certain prominent Catholic schools charging annual fees above the level determined by authorities.
As per Education Ministry regulations, in line with a 2011 High Court directive, schools in metropolitan areas of Dhaka can collect a maximum of 5,000 taka (US$60) in annual fees if they are under the Monthly Payment Order (MPO), a government system for payment of teachers’ salaries.
Non-MPO schools in the capital are allowed to charge a maximum 8,000 taka and the fee in metropolitan cities is 3,000 taka.
The rule aims to hold up so-called “admission business” in public and private schools that has sparked a massive public and media outcry for years.
This year, two renowned church-run schools — Bandura Holy Cross High School and St. Euphrasie’s Girls High School, both located in the Nawabganj subdistrict of Dhaka — allegedly collected more than double the 2,100-taka fee fixed by the Subdistrict Teachers’ Society.
Bandura Holy Cross charged 5,000 taka and St. Euphrasie’s charged 6,650 taka, private TV channel Ekushey reported.
Holy Cross Brother Albert Ratna, principal of Bandura Holy Cross, denied any wrongdoing over the fees.
“This is a baseless allegation because we have not collected an extra amount from the students. Admission fees differ from grade to grade and there is no hidden fee in our institute,” Brother Ratna told ucanews.
However, he did not mention the fee the school has charged this year. Officials at St. Euphrasie’s School, run by Our Lady of the Missions nuns, did not respond to calls from ucanews.
A mother in Dhaka had her two sons admitted to grade three and grade seven at St. Joseph’s Higher Secondary School. Speaking on condition of anonymity, she admitted that she had to pay 19,000 and 10,000 taka respectively for her two sons’ admission to the top-ranking Catholic school run by the Holy Cross Brothers.
“I don’t know what fee the government has fixed but considering the quality of education and various good facilities, I think we can agree to what the school charges,” the mother told ucanews. “Educating children at such a renowned school is a dream. Many people have a lot of money but their children cannot qualify for this school.”
The government-fixed fee is redundant and unacceptable, said Jyoti F. Gomes, secretary of the Bangladesh Catholic Education Board, the supervisory body of Catholic education institutes.
“Many schools charge much higher fees than church-run schools. The rule set in 2011 is not compatible in 2020 because our schools won’t be able to deliver quality education without having the money to finance the facilities. In Dhaka, schools cannot manage with an annual fee below 10,000 taka,” Gomes told ucanews.
The admission fee rule needs to be reviewed but there will be a probe into allegations that church schools collect extra fees, he added.
Christians, the majority of them Catholic, number 600,000 in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, which has a population of more than 160 million. Despite being a small minority, Christians are highly regarded by Muslims for their contributions in the fields of education, health care and social-economic development for poor and marginalized communities.
In eight Catholic dioceses, church-run schools and colleges are regularly ranked among the top education institutes in terms of academic excellence, extracurricular activities and discipline, making them much in demand in their respective areas.
The Church runs one university, 12 colleges, 579 secondary and primary schools and 13 vocational training institutes, teaching nearly 100,000 pupils a year, mostly Muslims.