Students fight unauthorized text fees
Claiming they were charged unauthorized fees, a group of students in Central China's Hubei Province are suing education authorities in the city of Qianjiang.
The students, about 14 of them aged between nine and 15, study at a village primary school and a township middle school in Qianjiang.
They say the bureaux of education and price listed guidance materials as compulsory textbooks that had to be purchased.
According Ministry of Education documents, guidance materials cannot be included in the list of mandatory textbooks since April 2003, and primary and middle schools cannot organize their students to purchase after-class tutoring materials.
The Qianjiang People's Court has taken up the case but has not decided when to hold the first hearing, said a court official who chose to remain anonymous.
Zhang Wenfang, one of the plaintiffs from the Primary School of Qianming Village, said she refused to buy guidance materials at the beginning in February because her impoverished family could not afford them.
However, Zhang's school rejected her request and she had to pay 107 yuan (US$13) for the materials in early April to continue her education, said Zhang.
By the time she filed the lawsuit in May, Zhang had only received half the materials she bought.
Documents issued by the education department of the Hubei provincial government say the guidance materials Zhang bought are optional and schools cannot order students to purchase them.
"We wish for local primary and middle schools to charge fees according to rules and regulations, so that all children, especially those in rural areas, can afford a basic education," said Zhang, whose parents are both handicapped and earned very little every month.
Zhang Jiagao, a 70-year-old retired teacher, said: "The education and price bureaux look on the students as a source of income. I support my grandson's and granddaughter's decision to file the lawsuit."
Yao Lifa, a teacher at the primary school in Qianjiang, said the local education bureau could earn at least 5 million yuan (US$605,000) a year only from the 20 kinds of guidance materials such as after-class exercise-books.
Yao said the Qianjiang education bureau also ordered all primary and middle school students to buy a book published by an institution affiliated with the bureau.
"The price of the book was 7.6 yuan (90 US cents) in previous years, but it soared to 16 yuan (US$1.9) this year," said Yao.
Besides, there are no English teachers in most of the villages in Qianjiang, but the primary students there still have to buy English books.
"The students have neither had English lessons nor have they even been given the books," said Yao.
The teacher also said that all the primary and middle school students in Qianjiang were ordered to pay movie fees every semester, but many schools did not organize film showings.
The Qianjiang education bureau and the price bureau said they had not received the court summons so far.
But the two schools, where the 14 plaintiffs study, have started giving students some of the money back for unauthorized charges.
Chu Zhongxi, a lawyer with the Yijiang Law Firm in Hubei, said the unauthorized collection of fees by educational institutions is somewhat rampant in rural areas.
However, lawsuits against education and price bureaux are rare.
He said refunds of arbitrary charges would not affect the case.