There is an ongoing crisis in the education sector in India that has barely caught the attention of the media or the government. Children, some under the age of 10, are excluded from online classes at some of our fancy and prestigious schools as many parents struggle to afford tuition.
Over the past two weeks, I have been following and telling the stories of these parents. At the Delhi Public School (DPS) in the capital’s Mathura Road, a group of parents spent the last few days camping and protesting outside the gates; they were even prevented from entering. A couple who requested anonymity (“we fear our child will be embarrassed or punished by school”) are grappling with the coronavirus pandemic; the father tested positive. The past few months have been a time of enormous difficulty. Their two daughters are students at DPS in Delhi. According to the parents, the two children were stranded in online lessons and were summarily thrown in front of the other students. They also say at least 250 students have been excluded from online classes and WhatsApp school forums due to non-payment of fees.
Finally, the school proposed that a minimum of two months of tuition fees be paid. Some were successful, others drew on their savings and others who still couldn’t pay had to deal with the trauma of their children, not only being stuck in online courses but also in major internal exams. . I personally corroborated this by speaking to at least half a dozen parents.
DPS is not the only school where a serious battle is brewing between parents and the school administration. Vaibhav Garg in Uttar Pradesh lost his job in May and received his last salary until the end of March. His wife is self-employed in a small business with virtually no income. He asked his children’s private school to charge only the tuition and not the full package, but to no avail. He told me that they are able to cope for the time being because of the moratorium on EMI payments. Once this is gone, he will no longer be able to pay the full tuition fees and repay his loans. With no job in the market, he considers himself privileged that the household already has two laptops for his children’s online lessons. “If I needed to buy a laptop, I don’t have the money today. ”
Its story is a grim reminder that only 11% of households in India have computing devices. The digital divide is only worsened by the contraction of the economy.
For many parents, going out and talking about struggling to pay their children’s school fees is difficult. They feel embarrassed to admit that they may have seen their wages go down or that they have lost their jobs altogether. Most, however, worry more about their children than their own situation. My inbox is flooded with plaintive requests from parents, most of whom requested anonymity. They fear that if they say so, the school administration will attack their children and that they will lose all room for maneuver for a compromise.
School principals argue that a full fee is necessary as they must maintain the maintenance of infrastructure during the post-Covid-19 period. They also say that teachers, who have all had to unlearn and relearn skills in this online age, need to be valued and paid. No parent disagrees with this. But the irony is that several teachers also contacted me to tell me that they had suffered salary cuts or, in some institutes, that they had not been paid at all.
It is this lack of transparency that is worrying. Parents say that when they try to organize themselves into groups of parent-teacher associations that can negotiate with principals, they receive no official recognition from executives. Even in the prestigious Mayo College, this battle rages on with forums of parents unable to access the school administration.
I’m sure schools have their own struggles. But the perception that most private schools are often owned by business barons and influential groups has only added to the disbelief that they struggle to pay their staff. Their silence only adds to the confusion and chaos. To make matters worse, each state has its own rules for determining whether children can be stranded in online classes due to non-payment of fees.
But just as governments have stepped in to cap the fees that private hospitals could charge, a similar measure may be needed for schools.
I am not a big fan of government interference in most matters. But when children start to be kicked out of classrooms, we should all be alarmed.
Barkha Dutt is an award-winning journalist and author
Opinions expressed are personal