Schools demand fees from pupils after cyclone

Jun 4, 2008 (DVB), As students returned to school following the cyclone that devastated parts of Rangoon and Irrawaddy, parents said they were being asked for school fees despite government promises of free education.

The government announced that schools would reopen for the new academic year on 2 June, although many schools in the Irrawaddy delta that were destroyed in the cyclone will not open for at least another month.

Some schools have waived fees for pupils in cyclone-affected areas whose parents can no longer afford to pay.

But in Ward 54 of South Dagon township, Rangoon division, the headteacher of Basic Education Primary School (6) asked parents to pay a registration fee for their children, according to one parent.

"The government has approved a free education system for school children and there were posters that read ‘Education is free’ all over the school," the parent said.

"But when we went to the school to register our children there, we found out education was not free at all," he said.

"The school charged us 1000 kyat for papers and another 500 kyat for the school fund."

South Dagon township was one of the areas of Rangoon hit by Cyclone Nargis last month, and many parents are struggling for money.

"Most of us have lost our businesses and jobs because of the cyclone and it is difficult for us to pay the 1500 kyat the school is asking for," he said.

"The school said they can wait until July for the money but they made us sign an IOU document."

Parents complained about headteacher Daw Sein Hla to the town education administration office but they have not yet seen any response.

In the Irrawaddy delta, many parents have not been able to register their children after more than 3000 school buildings were destroyed in the cyclone and have not yet been rebuilt.

Even those schools that have opened have seen a low turnout for student registrations, one parent said.

"On the first day the school opened, only about six students went to register," he said.

"Everyone is worrying about their food and living conditions first and foremost at the moment."

Dr Thein Lwin, director of the Migrant School in Chiang Mai, Thailand, said it was a critical time for the children.

He called on the international community and people across Burma to help students in cyclone-affected areas continue their studies.

"The children have suffered great mental trauma after what they have been through with the cyclone," Thein Lwin said.

"It’ll make it more difficult for them if they lose their chance to study."

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw and Maung Too

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