news Friday, June 05, 2015 - 05:30

In the past week, Bala Vidya Mandir in Chennai has been at the receiving end of severe criticism and government action. The school is being attacked from all sides for creating a discriminatory dual fee structure for its students. Parents are angry, students are worried and even the school’s own teachers are not happy with the way the school is being run. It turns out that the dual-fee structure controversy was just a tipping point. For an average Chennai resident, BVM is one of the most reputed CBSE affiliated schools in the city. It had a humble beginning. Started in 1956 by three teachers who were earlier teaching at St. Michael's Academy, the initial capital for the school was from the pension and provident funds of the teachers. The school, initially named Bala Brindavan School, was just a hut with a thatched roof back then. The teachers, Subbulakshmi Ammal, Padmini Chari and Subbaraya Aiyer, had just one goal: providing quality education to children. As the school grew, it stayed true to its roots for a while. But insiders say that by 2005, the school had started changing rapidly. Bala Brindavan School eventually turned into Bala Vidya Mandir and, some say, the focus of the school management went beyond just providing education. A teacher who has taught at BVM for 27 years narrates how the school has changed over the years. "Earlier, we were true to the idea of being child-centric. But now, questions are being raised on whether the school’s intention is just that. If I feel this way myself, what confidence can I offer to parents?” she asks.  She also refers to another incident which brought the school under dark clouds. Earlier this year, four students from grade 12 were stopped from giving the revision tests before the final exams. They were reportedly told that since their fee payment had not been processed due to a bank holiday, they would not be allowed to write the exam. After a parent found one of the students crying outside and learned what had happened, a group of parents approached the administration to allow the students to write the examination. Parents allege that they were spoken to rudely, and they led a protest on the streets. “In the past, we’ve had children who couldn’t pay fees, but we’ve personally contributed towards their fees. When Robotics was introduced, we accepted that we had to grow with time, but we thought the basic philosophy and love for children will remain. When the differential fee came in, we couldn’t take it anymore and we decided to take a stance,” says Kalpana, a teacher at BVM. Robotics was introduced in the school initially from the third grade. But according to parents, even students of commerce were forced to study this subject later. “Nobody is even interested in Robotics,” says Meera, a parent. The fee for robotics is at Rs 9000 per student, and is compulsory. Their IIT coaching program, Meritus, has also earned BVM a bad name. “If you want to opt out of the Meritus coaching, you’ll have to pay the amount for all the four years. It costs 90,000 per year, and you are not given the option to leave it unless you pay,” adds Meera. Alumni of the school too turned up at the school following the recent fee controversy. “During my time here, there were more educationalists in the administration and the perspective of the management was academic and not money making,” says Aparna, a former alumni who is now the mother of a child studying in grade 2 in BVM. She also criticises the management for being family-run, and alleges that their only objective right now is running the business and ensuring that their coffers are filled. “This is not what BVM stood for. That an academician like S.S. Nathan can be ridiculed like this is disheartening for me as a student and parent.” SS Nathan was the principal of the school since 1988, and later took over as the CEO of BVM Global in 2010. He has been terminated after the controversy broke out for showing support to the parents and taking a stance against the school management board on the dual fees concept. “He brought it to this level of glory and academic proficiency. To smear someone of his character is below the belt” she says, fuming with anger. Teachers are also unhappy with how the management has handled the controversy. "The Vice Principal who worked as a teacher for 17 years has taken early retirement. When this kind of treatment can be meted out to SS Nathan, then what will be our state?" asks a teacher, as she breaks down. Many of the alumni are very attached to the school, crediting it with being a building block of their identity. Two of the alumni who spoke to TNM told us that when the time came to put their children in school, they would definitely choose BVM, despite all that has happened. One of the alumnus' daughters was all slated to join the school on Thursday, but classes for all children below the 10th standard stand cancelled as of now.  

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