The Dhaka Tribune’s Nawaz Farhin speaks to the Scholastica School’s Managing Director Syeda Madiha Murshed to shed light on the current problems faced by English Medium schools
Although the government allows VAT exemption for Bengali Medium schools, it charges a 7.5% VAT from English Medium ones – something many parents term as discriminatory. Do you think withdrawal of the rate would help English Medium schools play a more effective role in the educational development of the country?
A recent High Court decision stayed VAT on English Medium schools and so parents are not paying VAT at the moment. However, this remains an unresolved issue. In this respect, I believe that education is the most important factor in the development of a country. In the case of Bangladesh, this is particularly applicable – we have a large population which is entrepreneurial, resilient, and hard-working. To ensure that the future of our country is bright, education and excellent educational services must therefore be nurtured, supported, and encouraged by all.
I feel that any VAT on education is an undue burden on the education sector. Nowadays, many middle class families send their children to English Medium schools, so any tax on education places a great burden on them. We should encourage parents to seek out the excellent educational opportunities that are available in our country rather than penalizing them for doing so; and many English Medium schools provide excellent facilities and modern teaching methods and build important skills – all of which are necessary for developing productive, committed, and hard-working youth who can give back meaningfully and help further develop our country.
The government has recently decided to collect information on all educational institutions using foreign curricula after allegations of involvement with militant activities surfaced against a number of educational institutions. Many parents think teachers of English Medium schools have alleged links with militancy. Do you think the perception is affecting the English Medium education system? Also, how do you view the government initiative?
I think it’s a good thing for the authorities to collect information on all schools to ensure that schools comply with the regulations and laws of the country. If there are any individuals who are promoting any kind of militancy, of course they should be found out and held accountable by our authorities.
But yes, I do also feel that it is inaccurate to suggest that there is a particular problem in English Medium schools – if you look at the militants who have been identified in the last couple years, they are all from different backgrounds. We have to be careful not to ignore the any segment of society while targeting another. As educational institutions, we all have a duty to support parents as they raise their children to have a commitment to and pride in our nation, as well as to work towards positively contributing to the country. Every school should take this responsibility seriously.
The government’s policy says English Medium school authorities would be allowed to increase their admission and session fees by a maximum of 10% each year. Do you think it is possible for such schools to maintain their quality if the ceiling is in effect?
The latest gazette states that English Medium schools cannot increase fees beyond 10% a year; however, it did not fix any ceilings for fees.
What is your take on some parents’ views that English Medium schools are collecting excessive fees because they consider their institutions businesses?
I think it’s important to look at the quality of service being provided by a school, and ask whether the fees charged are commensurate with their service. At Scholastica, we try to provide a high quality of education and invest a lot in training, facilities, extra curricular programs, curriculum development, events, teaching resources, and so on. We feel that we are able to provide our students with a high standard of education and our fees reflect our needs as we do so.
What problems are being faced by the English Medium schools nowadays that you would like to bring to the attention of the government?
We have been meeting with the authorities to discuss our concerns and challenges as well as to take advice and support from them. It has been good to have been in a dialogue with the government, and I appreciate that a number of our concerns have been heard and addressed in different ways. It is really important to work closely with the government in order to face challenges together, keep an open dialogue going, and avoid miscommunications; and I am happy that we have been able to do this to a large extent over the last few years.