TEA-MONEY OR DONATION? A PROBLEM?
By Prathip M. Komolmas
The decade after World War II was a period of political and economic reconstruction. But from a social viewpoint, a campaign for illiteracy eradication was the country's top priority. In this regard private schools played an important role.
In the 1950s, private schools increased in number as the demand for education increased. People in general looked upon schooling as a means of liberation from poverty and also a means for uplifting their status in society. Most government schools then were mediocre at best. A good number of Catholic schools, especially those long established were popular. The more famous of these are in Bangkok.
The big famous Catholic schools could not cope with the demand for admission.
Parents who could not succeed in having their children admitted into a particular school of their preference had recourse to the help of some politicians or government bureaucrats. In return for the favour, the parents were willing to contribute some money. The school authorities were also willing to accept the gift and used it for school improvement. Sometimes, the authorities asked for donations when a building project was undertaken.
This practice went on for years till it became known all over the country. In the early 1960s, many other private schools (other than Catholics) began to demand extra money (tea-money or donation) as a condition for admission. They employed different methods to coerce the parents.
The concept of 'tea-money' is a Chinese introduction into this country. Popularly called 'pae chia', it stands for a payment for no services rendered.
However, in the opinion of Mr.Trakarn Thakranonthachai, in Thailand, it has evolved in two major areas of activity and does stand for 'value added' in some form or other, viz.:
a.Real Estate. With particular emphasis on shophouses, it stands for an advance payment of a lump sum of money for a specified period such as three years, five years, ten years, fifteen years, or more whereby the monthly rental charges to be paid by the tenant are greatly reduced.
b.Education. The extreme discrepancy between supply and demand in pretigious educational institutions has created the necessity for the payment of a lump sum entrance charge, although ; illegal, to purchase a seat. This payment, however, is tantamount to the payment for the 'prestige factor' in order to maintain or obtain elite status among a specific group or class in society. The prestige so purchased will later create a payoff in many respects especially in the pursuit of higher paying employment than a degree, diploma, or certificate from less prestigious institutions. Thus, it can be treated as a payment for 'value added', and not a payment
for no services rendered as the original Chinese introduction.1
Miss Kanittha Witthaya-anumas defines tea-money as a money and/or things (e.g. desk, table, etc.) donated by the parent to the school over and above the school fee (tuition & other fees) prescribed and authorised by the Ministry of Education. The parent may give tea-money directly to the school or through an orgainzation e.g. Alumni Association, Parents and Teachers Association.2
The above viewpoints concerning tea-money are sufficiently all-embracing. However, one may add to these views the role of 'free will' on the part of the parent which is sometimes questionable.
Why do schools accept tea-money or donation ?
The 1950s were the booming years for private schools. The school fees, prescribed and allowed by the Ministry of Education, were sufficient for the mainatenance and development expenses. The schools then even had some profit. The extra money the authorities received were all spent for school expansion and improvement.
The prosperity of many Catholic schools, was, no doubt, an incentive for many people to open private schools for profit motive. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, school business became a thriving industry. Many profit making schools came into existence and many of them charged 'tea-money' in order to make people believe that only good schools charge tea-money.
Toward the end of the 1960s, the schools in general began to face difficulties and financial problems because school fees remained on the 50s level despite the sharp rise in the cost of living.
In the early 1970s, big Catholic schools especially the old ones could not meet their ordinary expenses with the amount of fees they collected because teacher salary and social benefits in these schools were higher than those of the government and other private schools; also the maintenance of their facilities added to the expense. At the same time, government schools were coming up fast in number and quality all over the country. This perhaps was an incentive strong enough to push the big Catholic schools to maintain academic excellence, improve educational equipments and promote personnel development. All this means financial investment and heavy expenditure.
How do the big Catholic schools get the fund for these? The answer is simple: 'They get it through donation from parents.' Some call it 'tea-money.'
Why do parents give donation or pay tea-money to schools?
To understand this question one should ask more questions about it. Why are people willing to give 'donation' to some schools and not to others? why do some people pay tea-money yet boast about it ? Or why do some people who do not contribute anything yet proudly say they have done so? Why do some people vehemently condemn it yet willingly give it ? Why do some people call it 'tea-money' and not 'donation' and vice versa?The practice of giving or receiving tea-money, though sometimes necessary and even beneficial to both parties, is, to a certain extent, a psychological question.
If we examine our society we might agree with Niels Mulder when he says that 'Thai society is a presentational society, emphasizing formality, conformity, belief in ceremony, while easily taking presentation to be the heart of things'.3 'The presentation of one's social self tends to include the whole set of one's social paraphernalia, and these should not be hidden. Even in the most casual encounters, people soon want to find out who the other person is in terms of his social rank, and consequently, their relative social distance. What is the work he does? To what institution or group does he belong? What rank does he hold? Is he rich or poor? Has he studied and where ? His age, his relatives,....' 4
It is a fact that not all private schools can ask for tea-money. Only some famous ones can do so. And of all Catholic schools, only the big famous ones, mostly in Bangkok receive some gifts while scores of others can hardly make ends meet.
Tea-money, if it is a problem, is a problem mainly for those who want to choose to enter a particular school despite the fact that there are vacancies elsewhere, both at good private and government schools. It is a matter of prestige.
However, some say that tea-money hurts some parents who cannot find any room for their children in government schools. This might have been true someyears ago; but it is not the case now (1980). The Ministry of Education has reported that in many government schools in the provinces, class-rooms are half empty; even in Bangkok, municipal schools are not always full.Some of the reasons why parents give tea-money.
What is the general reaction to it? Discussion of the general reaction to tea-money or donation may be divided as follows: A. The Public -- Bishop's Pastoral Letter
-- Catholic Laity B. The Media -- Newspapers C. The Government -- Ministry of Education Bishop's Pastoral Letter. In the 1960s, the Archbishop of Bangkok issued a pastoral letter to all the faithful to the effect that it was immoral to receive tea-money because it was unjust and that Catholic schools were forbidden to accept it.
+ In 1960s, the Ministry of Education forbade any person to found a school with European name.
The practice of receiving tea-money was stopped for some time. However, the practice was resumed afterwards under the argument that it was not tea-money but a donation or gift which had to be disposed of according to the intention of donors. Moreover, it was argued that this question had nothing to do with 'justice' since there was no infrigement of anyone's rights in this matter. No further argument arose thereafter. The problem is not solved. The practice continues.
In 1979, the Catholic Education Council invited three laymen to a panel discussion on this topic. One represented Catholic community in Bangkok. The other two were professors from State universities. All Catholic school administrators in Bangkok were invited to attend the meeting. The three laymen were asked to point out what, in their opinion, were to be 'foibles' of Catholic schools. They argued on many points e.g. Catholic schools being rich and prestigious catering for the rich, a shame for the Church, etc. But on the question of 'tea-money or donation,' they differed greatly. One university professor did not see any wrong in the practice since it was necessary for the running of the school. Instead, it was suggested that the school should pay more attention to improving educational standards.
NewspapersMany newspapers were very fond of reporting the threats and condemnations given by some Ministers. Some columnists, for some while, were against the practice.
Towards the end of the school year i.e. February and March many newspapers featured special columns on tea-money condemning private schools for weeks and months. Every year between the summer and the start of a new academic year, newspapers of various denominations used to harp on their favourite theme. Nowadays newspapers seem to ignore this issue altogether.
Ministry of Education
Between 1965 and 1969, the Ministry of Education condemned the practice of tea-money in schools. It threatened to close down any school caught in the practice.
Politics plays a special role in the system of education in Thailand. Ministers are often replaced. The same one could be appointed and removed within short notice. In such a situation, it is very difficult to have a consistent policy on any matter! Ministers were sometimes heard in the press giving approval to the practice. Some officials argued that there was nothing wrong if it was .willingly given for the improvement of schools. Others threatened to close down schools that practised it. But the practice continued unabated and no school was ever closed down for that. Now, the Ministry of Education does not speak of it any more realizing fully well that even some government schools get donations.
What is the situation now?
Two years ago, the National Education Commission which is the highest policy-making authority in the country for education, appointed a committee to study the problem of 'tea-money' in private schools.6
The committee set about interviewing groups of parents from all parts of Thailand, asking them their opinion on the matter.
The result of the inquiry is follows :
The conclusion as drawn up by the committee is that parents in big schools are indifferent to the practice. A small group of parents in small schools are even pleased to give it.
Needless to say that this report disappointed the anti - tea-money group.
At various meetings (be they in committees appointed by the Ministry fo Education), participants acknowledge and accept the fact that many schools cannot survive without receiving donation or tea-money (it depends on how one calls it!) This is so because big schools incur more expenses than smaller ones and that the standard of living and inflation rates have gone up many times faster than the school fee rate.
The practice of tea-money was partly the result of a natural process of supply and demand, and of school-fee control.
Nowadays, it becomes a necessity, not only from the point of survival but from a quality education viewpoint as well. It has now become a fact of life. Many schoolsare dying out for lack of funds. Last year alone (1981), more than one hundred schools closed down, not because they collected tea-money, but because nobody gave them financial aid.
However, it is true that some school administrators abused the practice. Would government subsidy remedy this evil, if it is an evil? It is doubtful ! It is a well known fact that government subsidy will never be sufficient for quality education in a developing country. The government might do well to subsidise schooling of all poor children. Let the rich pay for the education of their own children.
*ครู อาจารย์ นักบริหารการศึกษา และนักบริหารการพัฒนา : ภราดา ดร. ประทีป ม.โกมลมาศ