School fee

The new school year started on September 2nd, 2020. Despite Covid-19, GiKaD remains in contact with the schools, teachers and parents so that the Greenleaves funding runs smoothly, because the scholarship supports motivated children who come from poor backgrounds so that they can continue to go to school.

The article School fee (click here to read to the vietnamese article) on the Vietnamese online newspaper VnExpress from September 24th, 2020 picked up exactly this topic. As the article is only available in the Vietnamese edition, here is the translation:

Dozens of eyes looked at me like an alien when I refused to pay a 100,000 VND text message fee at last year's parent meeting.


So, at last week’s parent meeting for my nephew, with those same other parents, I did not dare to react; I just quietly prepared the money, and took notes to report to my sister. She has four children still attending school. Because the parent meetings at the beginning of the year cover two days, other family members assist my sister by attending the parent meetings for each of the four children. I went to the scheduled meeting for her third child.


My nephew attended primary school in a public school in the city. Just like last year, the head teacher explained the amounts to be paid. The compulsory fees include: student insurance 504,000 VND; uniforms with two sets for the classroom, two sets of gym clothes, and two sets of half-day clothes, a total of 6 clothes at a cost of 1.2 million dong. The  textbook fee is 325,000 VND, 12,000 VND per month for drinking water, a total of 144,000 VND for the whole year; class toilet paper money is 200,000 VND a year; English books are 80,000 VND. Accounts payable monthly include meals and child care surcharges at 900,000 VND; an afternoon course fee of 100,000 VND, an English learning fee with a foreign teacher of 200,000 VND, electricity and photocopying of learning materials are collected monthly. That is not including the study support fund, the natural disaster prevention fund, welfare assistance,  island assistance,  and finally the fee to send test score text messages for 100,000 VND.


In addition, she also pointed out a number of items in the school that are degraded and in need of immediate repair, such as damaged restroom faucets, broken stair railing, and broken glass doors. To repair these items, the school must submit a cost estimate to the finance supervisors and await approval through a protracted award process. And so, "the school calls on the sponsors to help". When the parents noticed that a metal baluster had developed a dangerous sharp point from wear, the parents reminded each other to pay an additional 300,000 VND. 


A gentleman serving as the class parent representative then reviewed expenditures from the previous school year including: installation of more classroom ceiling fans, replacement of old light bulbs to protect the school children’s eyesight, and organizing mid-Autumn and Tet gatherings ... and then he suggested that the necessary fee for the first semester of the new school year needed to be at least 800,000 VND per child. The total amount payable for my nephew at the beginning of this school year is over 4.8 million VND.


This is just one of the expenses my sister and her husband would need to pay at the beginning of the school year for one of their four children. Last year, I was shunned when I refused to pay 100,000 VND for school text messaging. Because firstly, this is an optional fee and my sister already struggled with the necessary school fees for her other children at the beginning of the year. Secondly, my nephew takes notes very carefully, and the text messages only included exam scores making them superfluous, so I decided to avoid this fee.


With four children in school, the amount owed at the beginning of the school year is more than twice my sister’s teaching salary. Each month, tuition fees and extra-curricular activity fees consume nearly half her income. I once saw an image of a man calmly racing to an emergency room while clutching a snake that had bit into his thigh in an effort to prevent its venom from reaching his heart. When he awoke after receiving treatment, the first question he asked was, "where is the snake?" According to family members, the man risked his life to catch the snake that bit him to earn money for his children's school fees. 


There are no complete statistics on private education spending, but from my family and society's anecdotal observations, I think that school tuition and fees account for a large portion of a majority of households budgeted expenses. For poor families, spending on education is still a burden, so in many places, many parents reluctantly stop sending their children to school.


Minister Phung Xuan Nha, when speaking at the World Education Forum held in London in 2019, said that the annual federal education budget in Vietnam accounted for 5.8% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) spending, adding the private contributions collected from fees represented 8% of GDP. According to the General Statistics Bureau, GDP reached $261.6 billion USD; therefore, education spending equates to around $15.17 billion USD.


Vietnam's public education funding has steadily increased as a proportion of federal funding, an increase higher than the global average, and even countries with developed education systems. According to World Bank statistics, Vietnam’s education expenditures in 2008 accounted for about 4.9% GDP compared with the global average of 4.34% of GDP. In 2016, this proportion increased to 5.65% compared with the global average of 4.49%. 


According to the 2017 final federal budget, Vietnam's total education and vocational training budget was equivalent to 24% of the budget's recurrent expenditures. 2.5 times higher than spending on health, population and family planning. 19 times higher than investment in science and technology. That share is also much higher than the US education expenditure of 15% (2018) and Singapore's at 16% (2018).


International studies all show that education spending in developing countries is positively correlated with the quality and rate of economic growth. As for the “Asian Dragons”, investment in education is the key to help them take off, with the implication that good investment in education means investment in a prosperous future.


However, this conclusion does not seem to hold true for Vietnam as the results of Vietnam's education are still modest. According to the ranking of 80 countries in US News & World Reports, Vietnam ranked 65/80 in 2019. The World Economic Forum's Readiness for the Future of Manufacturing report in 2018( ranked Vietnam 68/100 in the quality of math and science education, 63/100 for critical thinking, and ranked 75/100 in higher education quality. The numbers are below average. In the region, the quality of our education ranks behind Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Singapore even though we are spending more on education.


Unreasonable or frivolous fees and charges still take place at schools, in all levels, both public and private schools across the country. Education is, after all, an essential and popular resource that requires every family to participate. The State has also invested a lot from the federal budget with the expectation of improving the quality of education. Provinces and cities also have regulations on education fees, yet for many years, the local cost structures have continually fluctuated. We are concerned with closely controlling the prices of commodities such as gasoline, oil, electricity and water, but market controls seem ineffective when it comes to children’s education. 


We parents want our children to be well educated and we appreciate their teachers. We are very willing to share the burdens of educating our children and contribute within reason. Parents will quickly forget about a 100,000 VND text messaging fee for their children, but lingering doubts about the education system remain.