G N Shakir
At a time, when there is a debate on social media about collection of fee and other charges by private schools, almost every day , Government, civil society and the parents in general have to think for a while and maintain a balance in their response to such discussions. No doubt in the fact that we are going through the worst health and economic crisis in a century. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, over 12 crore people in India have lost their jobs and nearly 84% households have suffered a loss in monthly income. And when it comes to Jammu and Kashmir, numberless households have lost their earnings at the cruel hands of Covid-19 pandemic and for many, it is like a digging a milk canal on the mountains ( joye-e-sheer lanay wali baat ) to sustain under the present situation. Under such circumstances, survival is, and should of course be, the first priority and education of children the second. But when we say 12 crore people have lost their jobs, the number certainly includes thousands those working in private schools as principals, teachers, drivers, helpers and support staff and who are, in most of the cases, the sole bread earners of their families. While not advocating for a fee hike by private schools during the pandemic, we should not forget that hindrances in collection of fee by private schools can render many people jobless and resultant starvation of families associated with them. Leaving aside the parents who solely depend on daily wages or belong to the labour class with no solid income, we honestly know that there are numberless parents having a Govt job and are regularly getting their salaries even in the lockdown. We also know that 99% of children enrolled in private schools are the wards of salaried persons. Then what is the logic for not paying school dues on the pretext of lockdowns?
Last year, when the Covid pandemic hit the world, schools, like all other establishments, were forced to be closed because health and well being of children was the top most priority under such un-favourable circumstances. But when the situation got a bit better, many private schools were not able to collect the tuition fee from their students on one reason or the other. This year the timing of the pandemic was such that it affected schools badly (all schools were shut down by mid-March). It’s the time when schools are starting their new session and fee is to be paid. Many schools, in fact, were not even able to collect last session’s fee from some students.
Since the pandemic and the lockdown ravaged the job market, resulting in shrunken economic prospects for many sections of the population, especially large force of daily-wage labourers, several budget schools find themselves robbed of crucial fee income. And, to add to it, the situation is grim, with the schools claim an added challenge in the difficulties they are facing carrying out online classes.
A survey released in June, last year, sought to express the Covid-related fee conundrum of budget private schools in numbers. The survey was conducted by the Indian School Finance Company, a non-banking financial company. It involved 1,678 respondents, comprising school owners and principals of private schools, colleges, and vocational training institutes, with budget private schools forming one segment of the report.
According to its results, 87.5 per cent of the respondents reported challenges in fee collection. The challenges cited were parents not having the income to pay fees due to the lockdown (55 per cent), parents not being able to come to school or bank premises to pay fees owing to the lockdown (24.5 per cent), parents receiving salaries late and unable to pay on time (12 per cent), and parents not keen to pay for online classes (8.5 per cent).
Low-fee schools, the report stated, have seen a significant impact on revenue due to school closures and widespread non-payment of fees for this period. A lot of low-fee private schools have reported that no fee was collected during lockdown and, because of this, many teachers were not paid their salaries.
The school shutdown imposed in light of the Covid-19 lockdown has left the school’s finances in a shambles. Some schools have no funds left, since February their balance sheets read zero. A private school owner cited recurring expenses – rent, water, electricity charges, EMI of school buses – to say the school might not survive until the end of the year.
Although the private schools have heaved a sigh of relief by the recent directions issued by the Apex Court of India in which parents have been directed to pay hundred percent fee during the pandemic period which will be equal to the fee paid in the academic year 2019-20. However, private schools will feel the relief only once the parents start depositing the fee and the arrears due on their part. Only then the schools will be able to pay the salaries of their staff especially the teachers who are presently delivering online classes like their counterparts in the Govt sector.
Need of the hour is to maintain a balance when we issue any statement on the social media keeping in view the plight of thousands of households depending solely or partly on private schools. Only then we can call ourselves sympathizers of society and our endeavors on social media front will be able to get good results that are in the interest of society as a whole.
G N Shakir