Classroom apartheid: No canteen for kids who pay less, says Chennai's Bala Vidya Mandir

What would it be like to run a school like they run luxury hotels, someone at the Bala Vidya Mandir school in Chennai must have thought.

FP Staff June 03, 2015 14:10:11 IST
Classroom apartheid: No canteen for kids who pay less, says Chennai's Bala Vidya Mandir

Someone at the Bala Vidya Mandir school in Chennai must have wondered what it would be like to run a school like a luxury hotel. The result? A new fee structure, which reads slightly like a hotel brochure. The more money you pay, the more 'facilities' you have access to. And that includes protection against child sexual abuse.

News Minute reports that the school, a fairly popular one situated in upscale Adyar, recently sent out letters to the parents informing them about the new structure

"BVM sent letters to parents on May 25, giving them a choice of two fee structures – one a basic fee as prescribed by the Tamil Nadu government-appointed Singaravelan Committee, and another, higher fee structure which provides 59 more educational institution activities for students, some of which are provided by most schools by default," it reported.

Classroom apartheid No canteen for kids who pay less says Chennais Bala Vidya Mandir

Bala Vidya Mandir. Image courtesy: School website.

The 'revised' free structure means people who pay between Rs 34,000 to Rs 39,000 a year will have their children just attend classes.

However, parents who pay between Rs 54,000 to Rs 69,000 per annum, will be giving their children the opportunity to participate in various other activities. That apart, the school's TULIR child sex abuse prevention programme will be only extended to people who cough up extra money.

As expected, the incident has sparked a furore and is being discussed hotly on social media.

A scanned copy of the letter, which is being shared on social media, lists 59 activities including medical attention, participation in programmes that take care of the children's mental health and sport activities. The high fee bracket will also offer the students facilities like assistance in developing 'critical thinking', something that the school itself doesn't seem to think needs to be taught by default.

Then again, if a child's parents are paying the lower fee, he or she will be excluded from basic activities we associate with going to school - like using the canteen, going for picnics, taking part in the school band, participating in functions like Annual day, Teacher's Day, Parent's Day among others.

Everyone knows the kind of emotional value the farewell day holds for a student. But according to school, students who have paid less will not be invited to the graduation day function. And mind you, the students who are paying 'less', are actually still coughing up nearly Rs 3,000 a month in just school fee and the school's fee is just a fraction of the money parents have to pay to educate their children.

Children crumble under peer pressure easily, which is the reason why most schools have rules against bringing mobile phones, expensive watches, video games and such markers of luxury into the premises. The idea is to not push children into comparing social statuses and suffer from either arrogance or low self esteem. Despite schools' best interests, students, especially the younger ones, are easily distracted by the smallest of things, like even a fancy pencil box.

The idea is clear: treat students who pay less like outcasts, so that they can't bear the humiliation and force the parents to pay up more. Picture this: during lunch break, your child will be banned from entering the canteen because you have paid less, while most other children will be flocking to it. The result? A very unhappy child with low self esteem and oodles of shame, something that no parent desires.

What is also horrifying is the school also treats prevention of child sexual abuse as a luxury, not as an essential duty. The letter lists the following among the 59 privileges that students paying Rs 30,000 extra a year will get: "TUUR training programme on prevention of child sexual abuse by empowering all stakeholders in the school."

Cases of sexual abuse are not new in schools in India, in fact, children have been raped in schools in the country. Schools should play an important role in sensitising students about sexual abuse and should help them identify abuse in the first place. When the school says that a people who pay more will be included in a programme on prevention of child sexual abuse, it almost seems that children whose parents have paid less shouldn't be coached by the school to protect themselves from child sexual abuse. Prevention against sexual abuse shouldn't be a business opportunity.

However, one should remember that while Bal Vidya Mandir may be overdone the business bit, many private schools across the country routinely indulge in such discrimination. The idea of 'exclusivity' is central to private school education in the country, who more often than not, indulge in various forms of discriminatory activities.

While some offer extracurricular modules for an extra price outside school hours, some others organise functions and events where the children can participate only if the parents pay up extra. The unfortunate bit in this case is that seeking government regulation isn't a great idea either given how the government itself has been subjecting schools to its many whims.

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