Shakir Ahmed (not his real name) admitted his daughter in Class I at Viqarunnisa Noon School & College in 2022. During the admission process, he had to pay gas, water, generator and legal and advice fees. The school also charged the guardian software fee, lab fee, milad and puja fee.
"Some of the fees are simply absurd," Shakir said. "My daughter cannot operate a computer yet but I had to pay software and lab fees. Besides, why would I be paying for the MPO [monthly pay order] listed school's legal fee as the government is responsible for it."
Another guardian, Kamrul Hasan, admitted his son in KG Discipline at Willes Little Flower School and College this year. He says the child does not need to imbibe Information and Communications Technology-based learning right now. But the school is nevertheless extracting ICT fees from the KG Discipline students.
These are two examples of Dhaka's reputed schools charging different fees, such as SMS fee, computer lab fee and teachers' welfare fund fee, from the students which their guardians find "ludicrous".
The reputed schools charging such fees include South Point School and College, Ideal School and College, Viqarunnisa Noon School and College, Monipur High School and College, and Mirpur Girls' Ideal Laboratory Institute.
For example, Viqarunnisa Noon School & College charges Tk1,400 as tuition fees per month, while Viqarunnisa students have to pay Tk200 gas and water fees, Tk500 generator fee, Tk100 legal and advice fees and Tk300 software charge twice a year.
The institution annually charges Tk3,000 as session charge, Tk1,500 as development charge, Tk200 for games and annual sports competitions, Tk250 for magazine and Tk150 for such occasions as milad and puja.
Willes Little Flower School and College takes tuition fees through mobile banking and does not show the fees separately. But in January this year, the institution provided tuition documents to guardians, which show the school charges ICT fee even from kindergarten students.
Monipur High School and College also takes fees through mobile banking, but does not show the fees separately.
Biam Laboratory School charges each student Tk700 SMS fee, Tk100 computer lab fee and Tk100 teachers and staff welfare fund fee.
Kamrun Nahar, principal of the school, told The Business Standard that the institution charges less than other well-known institutions.
Viqarunnisa Noon School & College has four campuses and about 27,000 students.
About the gas fee, the principal said, "I do not make the decision alone, it is rather the school committee which decides everything."
Education Minister Dipu Moni told TBS that the educational institutions have been asked to not charge unnecessary fees in the name of operating expenses.
"We will take action against the overcharging institutions. In fact, we have already forced some of the institutions to return the unnecessary fees they took earlier from students," she said.
No pay, no admit card
Rumen Mridha, a businessman in the Eskaton Garden area of Dhaka, told TBS that he faced a drastic income cut during the pandemic. But the educational expenses of his two children almost doubled in the meantime.
Biam Laboratory School has been annually charging Rumen Mridha Tk700 as SMS charge for his kindergarten child.
"The school was supposed to reduce fees and drop the unnecessary ones considering our pandemic-hit income. But it didn't. Unfortunately, my child did not get the admit card for the exam until I cleared all the fees," he said.
Nazim Uddin, a guardian who is a private job holder, told TBS that he has to pay whatever extra charges Monipur High School and College levies on students.
"They [schools] simply do not care what we say about the mounting tuition fees," he added.
Allegations against teachers galore
The Secondary and Higher Education Directorate has recently received allegations against ten principals of government high schools. The allegations include misappropriation of school funds, academic irregularities and appointment scams.
Dhanmondi Government High School Principal Abu Sayeed Bhuiyan, according to the allegations made before the directorate, bought an apartment with money from the school fund and spent school money for other personal purposes. To cover up such personal spending, he started charging fees for model tests and milad from students.
However, talking to TBS, the principal dismissed the allegations.
Belal Hossain, director (schools) of the directorate, said the authorities have received the allegations from the guardians and are now looking into the matter.
On 4 June this year, the governing body of Dhanmondi Ideal College suspended its principal and two other teachers for their alleged involvement in various irregularities and controversial activities.
In 2020, Viqarunnisa Principal Prof Fouzia Rezwan was made an officer on special duty (OSD) under the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education. The move was made after allegations of irregularities over the appointment of an administrative officer surfaced against Fouzia Rezwan.
On 8 November 2021, the Anti-Corruption Commission summoned Ideal School and College Principal Shahan Ara Begum over allegations of amassing illegal assets.
Guardians gearing up for protests
Ziaul Kabir Dulu, president of the Bangladesh Guardians' Forum, told TBS that many schools are charging extra fees amid the rising costs of living.
"This is just inhumane," he commented. "Our income has not increased, while it has actually fallen for many."
"We are planning to launch a movement against the schools that are charging extra and unnecessary fees," he said.
Md Abdul Majid Sujon, general secretary of Guardians' Forum of Viqarunnisa Noon School & College, told TBS that the forum has been demanding since the outbreak of the pandemic that the school authorities reduce fees.
"We formed human chains, held rallies and organised press conferences to press home our demands, but to no avail. Now we have no option but to take to the streets soon," he said.