Parents in some private educational institutions of Bishkek complain about the lack of significant exemptions in payment.
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Due to the worsened epidemiological situation in Kyrgyzstan, all educational institutions, regardless of ownership, moved online from April 8. Any payment by parents to public schools was strictly prohibited. The situation with private educational institutions was more complex – many parents found it impossible to pay tuition during the lockdown; however, teachers of private schools depend on this money.
According to one of the parents whose child studies at Zvezdockha private school in Bishkek, after the self-quarantine regime and financial hardships that followed, he and other parents turned to the school principal and asked to reduce tuition fees by one half. The school administration did a partial favour – they excluded food costs only.
“Despite the fact that students studied online and their costs were reduced, they decided to cut food costs only,” a parent who asked not to be named said. “My friends’ children who study at other private schools did not do that. There are particular schools that took all tuition fees for three months (May, April and March). Those who lost their earnings during the lockdown had to transfer their children to other schools.”
According to the interlocutor, despite the difficult epidemiological situation in the country, the parents of pupils had to meet strict requirements – to pay tuition fees for September, as well as for summer months of the future academic year until June 1.
“Moreover, we don’t know if the school will work on September or not,” he continued. “Because of the pandemic, they could have reduce costs for summer. They explain it by the fact that they need to reserve a place for every child. They want 13,200 som for September and 6 thousand som for summer months. Those who don’t pay until June 1 will be automatically excluded.”
“We ask them to pay some money”
The principal of school Zvezdochka, Nadezhda Denisenko, explained these requirements by the need to make an estimate of costs including salary of teachers, building rental payments, utilities services and minor repairs of the premises. Tuition fees for September as well as for future summer months, according to the principal, are needed as a guarantee of a child’s study at school in future. However, she assured that based on the situation she can postpone payment of tuition fees before the beginning of the next academic year at parents’ request.
“The procedure was as follows: they pay for May and leave, and it’s hard for us to find them and explain that we must pay rental payment in summer, too. Where can I find them then?” the principal of Zvezdochka asked. “That’s why we decided to have them pay for summer and for September before the beginning of the next academic year. When new students apply, I cannot accept them because I don’t know if our previous students will come or not. That’s why we ask them to pay some money.”
Despite the fact that the building owner reduced the rental payment, Denisenko said it was impossible to reduce tuition fees largely because they have to pay salaries to the kindergarten staff as the payment of their services was fully cancelled.
A more aggravating financial situation of families during lockdown has led to plenty of requests from citizens asking or even demanding to introduce the unified rates in private educational institutions or to cancel payment of tuition fees. In mid-April, the relevant group letter was sent to the media, human rights defenders and the ombudsman. In reply to it, Ministry of Education and Science of the Kyrgyz Republic asked the principals of private educational institutions to accommodate parents who lost earnings in a force majeure situation and reminded that school costs were reduced significantly after the transfer to distance learning. This message was advisory in nature.
“We don’t have a right to intervene into the activity of private schools and tell them what to do,” Gulshan Abdyldaeva, lead specialist of the Office for School, Preschool and Out-of-School Education of Ministry of Education and Science of the Kyrgyz Republic, said. “We can demand only the proper training process. The only thing we asked for was to introduce payment by instalments so that parents could pay accordingly if they cannot pay the whole amount at once. We cannot ask them to reduce tuition fees. We recommended them to eliminate food costs, stationery and other accessories expenses.”
One month before, after repeated requests of parents, a group of deputies of Zhogorku Kenesh prepared a draft law entitling the relevant agency to bind private educational institutions to reduce tuition fees by 50 per cent. However, the relevant committee of the parliament never considered the draft law in time. According to one of the draft law initiators, Dastan Bekeshev, it’s unlikely that the initiative by the deputies will be considered by the parliament before the end of this convocation.
“I don’t know why they don’t consider it, although there are initiators among the member of the committee,” Dastan Bekeshev, deputy of Zhogorku Kenesh, said. “When I ask them, they say they would consider it soon, but more than a month has passed since then. Kindergartens cancelled fees right after the draft law was initiated. Unfortunately, universities do not make concessions, private schools respond differently. However, the majority offered discounts. We have a few sessions to hold, but I don’t think we’ll have enough time. If only the committee hurries up. I don’t know if anyone is concerned with the failure of this draft law.”
According to the ministry of education, 140 schools out of 2,300 secondary schools across the republic are private. The majority of them are located in Bishkek. The average monthly tuition fee varies from 50 to 1,000 dollars, the average fee is 400 to 9,000 dollars. About 28 thousand students study at private institutions out of 1 million 300 thousand students of secondary educational institutions.
Based on the situation, the majority of these institutions reduced tuition fees until the beginning of the next academic year by 20 to 45 per cent. Other institutions did not have this opportunity. Representatives of such schools explain it by the fact that they need to feed their families just like other teachers. They admitted that they had to cancel contracts with some parents who failed to pay for further study of their children. School administrations refused to tell the exact number of such children saying it was confidential information. Parents also refuse to speak about it as they fear unwanted consequences for their children even after they left school. According to lawyers, it is impossible to postpone, reduce or even cancel payment in court. The legislation does not provide for similar situations.
According to lawyer Vladimir Pluzhnik, who specialises in protection of consumer rights, a force majeure situation does not mean cancellation of payments.
“They can only be exempted from liability for default. For example, from penalties for late payment of tuition fees,” the lawyer said. “There are no other legislative initiatives for such cases. In the Civil Code, a force majeure is specified in one clause only. It doesn’t specify a state of emergency, it could be any government resolution that impedes work. But since online education is not prohibited by law and it was used, the obligation to pay remains accordingly.”
The relevant department in this situation they can offer only two options: either come to some kind of agreement, or change the place of study.
State schools could not do without parents’ help
Meanwhile, in state schools, which are under the direct control of Ministry of Education and Science, all fees were prohibited during the lockdown. Salaries to teachers are paid by the state. However, with insufficient funding, without the help of parents, according to the principals of some schools, it is almost impossible to solve even the most basic issues. An emergency is no exception.
“Only with the help of parents we could perform disinfection at school, bought sanitizers, masks, even thermometers to measure temperature. It all cost about 30 thousand som. The state did not allocate anything for these needs. It has never covered our costs,” Anara Abduraimova, principal of the capital’s school-gymnasium No. 24, said.
If in this case the fundraising was dictated by security considerations, the demands to pay, for example, for repairs at school despite the ban, were still received by parents during the lockdown. According to the representative of Ministry of Education Gulshan Abdyldaeva, the department received these complaints almost every day. Unfortunately, the vast majority of requests were anonymous, making it difficult to identify such facts, she added.
Based on telephone recordings provided by some parents, 5 teachers were brought to disciplinary liability. Upon the recommendation of the Prosecutor General, the responsibility of six school principals is currently being considered. They most likely will receive a reprimand, since the Labour Code of the Kyrgyz Republic prohibits the dismissal of an employee during an emergency.
This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project.