by Bich Huong
Many Vietnamese parents struggle to cover the so-called "voluntary contribution" to class and school of their children as a new school year starts.
The contribution is usually a payment that is recommended and collected by a representative group of parents in a class or a school. Parents voluntarily pay at the first meeting of students' parents and teachers in an academic year.
This year, voluntary contribution once again incensed parents because the cost seemed higher.
Local media, for the last few days, reported an estimated payment for first grade in Vo Thi Sau Primary School, a public school in HCM City. The school needed up to VND66.6 million (US$3,000) to improve class facilities including two air conditioners, a TV, a printer, a bookshelf and window curtain.
There are 47 students in the class, meaning that parents of each student would pay about VND1.5 million ($66.7).
In addition, they are suggested paying another VND1.5 million to give day-care assistants about VND2 million ($89) per month each. Parents of the class also contribute VND400,000 ($15.7) each to the parents' association of the school.
The voluntary contribution of over VND3 million ($133) was a financial burden for many couples, especially low-income earners.
Viet Nam's current minimum wage varies from VND2.15 million ($96) a month in rural areas to VND3.1 million ($137) in major cities like Ha Noi and HCM City.
A father of a first grader in Vo Thi Sau School told vnexpress.net that he did not understand why students' parents have to pay to buy schooling facilities and allowances for day-care assistants that should have been covered by the school with collected tuition fees and Government's grants.
A mother of a second grader in the same school said last year, she paid VND 2.2 million as voluntary contribution to help modernise the school facility and this year VND 2.1 million.
The Vo Thi Sau School principal Nguyen Ha Phuong Thanh said students' parents proposed and collected the voluntary contribution by themselves.
"It's good when parents join in to improve the learning conditions for students," she said.
Last month, ahead of the new school year, headlines over so-called voluntary contributions or informal school fees hit local media. Some schools in Ha Noi were reportedly suggesting parents buy new school uniforms or school stationery despite the fact that the existing ones were still good.
However, many parents shared the thought that they would rather to meet the bill than make their children the black sheep in class.
Vuong Thanh Nhan, mother of an 11th grader in Ha Noi and also a member of a parents representative group in her son's class for years, said that the key to develop and operate "Voluntary contribution" fund was transparency.
In some cases, parents were upset about proposed voluntary contribution because they had no idea about it prior to parents-teacher meetings, she said, adding that the parents and teachers must keep in touch to find what the students need.
She said that there were regulations on voluntary payment by parents.
"Any extra fundraising must be discussed and agreed upon by parents in class. Those who want to contribute more, we welcome," she said.
She said that a parent representative group also sent regular accounting reports to parents of students in class. — VNS