Most secondary-level schools in the country are allegedly charging students more than the government-stipulated fees for signing up for this year's SSC examinations, placing a tremendous financial burden on the guardians amid the ongoing pandemic crisis.
The education ministry has fixed Tk1,970 as the form fill-up fee for science group SSC candidates, and Tk1,850 for those in the commerce and humanities streams. But a majority of institutions are charging students Tk3,000-6,000, including tuition and coaching fees, each.
Speaking to The Business Standard, many guardians expressed their anxieties, saying they have been facing financial crises since the outbreak of Covid-19 in March 2020 and they are now trying to barely survive.
They urged the education ministry to take proper initiatives so that schools cannot charge additional money from students and guardians during the registration process for the public tests.
Kalam Mia, a guardian, told The Business Standard, "I had to pay Tk6,000 for completing my daughter's registration at Paradogair Adarsha High School in Konapara, Dhaka.
"I am now struggling to survive as my income has decreased by almost 90% amid the pandemic. Bearing the educational expenses of my children has been a challenge for me during the ongoing crisis.
"On top of this, the registration fee for my daughter's SSC examinations came as an added burden. What is more, the school took coaching fees from me," he said.
When contacted, Amirul Islam, head teacher of Paradogair Adarsha High School, told TBS that the Tk6,000 the school took from Kalam included monthly tuition fees apart from the registration fee.
"There are 49 teachers in our school. Only 13 of them are enlisted under the MPO [Monthly Pay Order] scheme. So, we have to take some fees from the students to pay our teachers who are not on the MPO list," said Amirul Islam.
Meanwhile, the guardian of a student of Gafurganj High School, wishing anonymity, told TBS that he is a poor farmer and has had to borrow money to arrange Tk4,000 charged by the school authorities for his child's registration.
Zakir Hossain, head teacher of the school, could not be reached over mobile phone.
Dr Manzoor Ahmed, professor emeritus of Brac University, told TBS that people, especially those from the middle and lower-middle classes, are in severe trouble due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Taking extra fees should be stopped, he said, suggesting that the government can support poor students so that they can register their names for free.
Professor Dr Syed Golam Faruk, director general of the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education, told TBS that MPO-listed institutions with no guest teachers have no scope for taking extra fees from students.
"We have asked institutions not to impose the burden of extra fees on students," he said.
The South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (Sanem) recently found that the percentage of the population living below the upper poverty line has nearly doubled from 21.6% in 2018 to 42% in 2020.
About 20 lakh students are supposed to register for the SSC exams this year. Most of them will take part in the examinations from rural areas.
When will SSC exams be held?
SSC students must attend classes for 60 days and will get 15 days to prepare for examinations after completing the short syllabus.
Earlier, the education ministry had a plan to hold this year's SSC examinations in June. But now if schools open on 23 May and classes are held for 60 days – 20 days a month, there is no possibility of holding the tests before October.
Usually, SSC tests begin on 1 February every year.
The government on 16 March last year decided to shut down all educational institutions and coaching centres in the interest of students' safety. The closure was later extended multiple times.
The government did not also hold the Primary Education Completion (PEC) and Junior School Certificate (JSC) exams last year due to the pandemic.
The students of these two classes were automatically promoted to the next classes, while HSC examinees were assessed on the basis of their JSC and SSC results.
All students from primary to secondary levels were also promoted to the next grades automatically.
About 4.5 crore students from pre-primary to higher education are enrolled in nearly 2 lakh educational institutions across the country.