Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Perpetual Pursuit Of Rising Cost

During the first week of school in January this year, the parents of primary 1 kids were invited to an orientation day at St James, Likas. The purpose of the event—apart from getting to know the principal and teachers—was to provide as much information as possible to the parents about the rules and regulations of the school, the education system, and any other issues relating to St James.

After the lengthy briefing by the school representatives, there was a short Q&A session. Parents and guardians who attended the session raised some interesting questions. An elderly man who attended the orientation on behalf of his son (his grandson's in primary 1) raised the topic of fund-raising. He pointed out that St James had started the so-called fund-raising programme many years ago for the purpose of building a new block of classrooms; but his son had all grown up now and even has a son of his own; yet there's still no new block of classrooms. He asked what has happened to all those money supposedly raised throughout all these years.

Those of you who send your kids to the Chinese schools such as St James would know that these schools are forever trying to raise funds to meet escalating operational cost, let alone constructing new school buildings.

As an activity of the KK Rotary Club, we made a recent visit to SM St Francis Convent, and I was given to understand that they, too, have been trying to raise funds to build their new school. I suspect most, if not all, of the schools in the country have similar problems too.

Most schools would have annual bazaars which are normally held on a weekend. The bazaars are just one of several means of raising funds. Foods and drinks, and sometimes games and other knick-knack are sold at very expensive prices. Whatever profits they make from these bazaars will all go to the school coffers.

Another popular means of raising money is to send out "donation cards" to the public through the kids themselves. A typical "donation card" usually consists of a short message, pleading for donations; followed by a table comprising between 20 to 30 rows. Donors are then supposed to fill up their names within the rows, together with the amount donated, and their respective signatures. This donation card thing has been around for as long as I can remember—since the days when I myself was still in school.

Well, my JJ brought home one such "donation card" recently. Now I happen to know that a lot of people would bring along these donation cards to their workplaces to pass around amongst their colleagues. Beyond that they'd also pass around to their family members and relatives. At times, it is possible to see a few of those cards going around in the office at any one time, because several of the staff have kids from different schools. The typical attitude of the colleagues is that of reluctance to give. But sometimes, on grounds of "giving face", they'd give RM1 each, if only to fill up the space in the donation cards.

Knowing the general attitude of those in the office, I refrained from passing JJ's donation card to my staff. I did not want to put them in an awkward situation of having to please their boss by filling up his kid's donation card. To be fair, however, some of them are generous people; but, y'know, how can I tell for sure, right? So to save all the trouble, Mia and I decided to keep things simple—each of us donated RM50. Out of 20 to 30 rows in the card, we only filled up 2—one each for our names.

I thought RM100 collected for a donation card was just too little. But when Mia sent the card back to the class teacher one morning, she noticed that the teacher was laboriously counting the coins from the donations brought in by the other kids. Beyond the coins, there were plenty of RM1 notes too.

It's very strange that people are generally reluctant when it comes to giving donations. I'm not talking about very big amounts here. I'm sure many, many people can afford to donate at least RM5 to RM10 each every now and then for a good cause. Yet very, very few of them actually give anywhere close to that amount. And when they do give, it's always with reluctance.

With a handful of RM1 notes and coins, it's not likely that the school will be able to catch up with the rapidly rising cost of construction. It did not happen in the last generation, and I doubt that it's gonna happen within this generation either; unless of course, if by a stroke of miracle, the people can suddenly change their mindset and become more generous to donate for the good of their children and the next generation.

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