Starting from donating money for toilet paper, ending with the kolkhoz approach to the physical appearance of the students.
Yesterday I attended the first PTA meeting at the school where my son-six-grader studies, in the new academic year. The school made a gloomy impression on me. And here is why.
This year my son has been transferred to a second-shift schedule for the very first time, so the first part of the meeting was dedicated to organizational issues: lessons schedule, extra classes, hobby groups, homework etc.
Keeping school diaries was made an important issue. The class master insisted this should be done with “neat handwriting”. The kolkhoz theme started sounding already. In response to this, one mom asked permission (sic!) to fill her son’s diary instead of him, as the boy broke his arm (does she do homework for him as well?) The class master agreed, having added that if parents think they will keep their children’s diaries better and more accurate, she is okay with that. I mean - are you serious? Parents keeping the diaries of their 6-graders? Is the neat handwriting really the most important thing here?!
Our son is left-handed, and it happened so he broke his left arm last year, and learnt how to write with his right hand. It was even some sort of fun for him. Moreover, the main purpose of a diary is to serve a student, so that they would put down their schedules and homework assignment there. Who cares about handwriting? The main thing is to study well.
The second plea was not to let our kids dye their hair in different colours. The class master explained that green or red hair would distract other students from classes. No normative document provides for such a prohibition, but it is generally accepted at school. I wonder, have they ever had an idea that dyed hair distracts only because it is forbidden? If everyone dyed their hair in “their own” colours, no one would have even paid attention to that.
The parents asked if there was a possibility to ban gadgets at school. According to the class master, it is impossible to do it now, because there is no one to make a closet to store the students’ gadgets during classes. At this point, they suddenly recalled that the shop teacher of the boys this year is a woman. Due to some reason, this caused disapproval of some fathers.
The most interesting started when we got to monetary issues. First, every student during the academic year will need 4 rolls of toilet paper, 3 rolls of paper towels, and 4 packs of napkins. I don’t mind donating BYN 5 for my child’s needs, but why doesn’t the school provide hygienic supplies? Moreover, my son says he doesn’t know whether there’s toilet paper in school toilets, and whether they give napkins in the canteen. Either he doesn’t use this stuff, or there is none.
The parents also buy workbooks in different school subjects for their own money. As far as I understand, they go as a follow-up to ordinary copybooks, and are obligatory for the classes. Well again, it turns out that my taxes, on which the education system exists, somehow are not sufficient to buy workbooks as well. And they say we have free education…
The cherry on top was donating money for making repairs at school. The class master said right away that the headmaster was supposed to raise the theme during the all-school meeting that was held the other day. However, he appeared to have some urgent meeting instead, so the class masters were authorized to carry out unpleasant conversations with the parents. At this point, I felt some pity for the teacher. She was clearly ashamed to speak about it. It wasn’t her idea, but she will answer for it. So she was pleading, please, this is not pressure, everything is voluntary, donate as much as you can, no cash, only wireless transfer to the school’s bank account… And here comes the first clarification - it must be BYN 20 per student. One of the parents even rejoiced. He said they collected BYN 50 from each first-grader in this very school. Apparently, the parents there are not sophisticated enough yet.
The class master says repairs are necessary. Like, look at the walls in the classroom. I look at the walls and I realize - everything is okay with them! They look good from a distance, some scratches are visible if you come closer, but these are kids, such things are inevitable. Who needs these repairs after all? Is the aesthetic feeling and perfectionism of the school administration suffering? My child doesn’t care about scratches on the walls, the same as the others, I am convinced. I wouldn’t even replace the wooden window panes for plastic ones, as the former at least let in some air, while the stiff air at schools really seems a problem to me. If you enter any classroom during a lesson, there’s a feeling they have no air in them, it seems they never air the premises.
A separate issue is the subscription for the “Yuny Spasatel” publication, and the fees to the Belarusian Red Cross Society. They suggested the parents should subscribe for the journal of the Ministry for Emergency Situations for the school library. Like, “Yuny Spasatel” will raise the cultural level of the children. Ask your kid whether he or she read a single article from it.
I am not even saying anything about the Red Cross. They collect 93 kapeykas from each person for it. The approach is the same: everything is “voluntary”, the same as with repairs. One father asked: “Do you begrudge a ruble?” Hinting on me being poor. Meanwhile, I am accustomed to counting my money. There were about a million school students in 2018/19 academic year in Belarus. So, if everyone donates without objections, the Red Cross will receive 1 million rubles just like that. They milk the enterprises the same way, but for bigger money. A decent budget is formed in the end. But there is no money to make repairs at school…
Here’s a little more about the paperwork load on the teachers. The class master asked to make sure to bring either a statement or an explanatory note if a child stays at home on a school day. It turns out, a class master is obliged to justify every day of absence of their students in the reports. This should be confirmed by a document from the parents. Can you imagine how much time it takes? Wouldn’t it be better to spend it on education, or personal life? Everyone would have benefited - the teacher, the kids, and their parents.
P. S. A website called pobory.by has recently appeared on the Belarusian segment of the internet. It is needed to assess the sums that parents voluntarily pay extra for the “free” Belarusian education.
Viktar Krauchuk, Euroradio