This is the tale of a father who feels bad that his daughter has to suffer due to the greed of private schools. Let me share how I got involved with the school fee issue; and how it impacts us parents.
My daughter is in the third standard. We were extremely shocked to realise that access to her online classes was blocked by her school on August 5, 2020. She has studied in this school right from Nursery. We soon learnt that many private schools have blocked online education to some kids.
Almost all parents have been paying whatever schools have demanded in various ways. That’s because we wish the best for our kids. Also, all private schools in Bengaluru charge fees in a similar range. So, there is no way out for parents. Some schools have even formed associations to get the maximum out of parents.
COVID, the last straw
The year 2020 brought COVID, resulting in huge losses for my cab business, besides the associated stress. The Karnataka government announced that schools can only charge unhiked tuition fee from parents. One can refer to these three official documents: Circular 32544 dated 24-Apr-2020, another dated 28-Apr-2020 and specific notice C5/Shulka Vasuli/01/2020-21 dated 19-May-2020. There were subsequent circulars reiterating the same; that school can only take un-hiked tuition fee from parents.
This brought some relief in our minds, and we wrote to my daughter’s school requesting to follow the government’s directives. For third standard, the fee was about Rs 1.5 lakh. We were willing to pay as per the government circular, which would make it about Rs One lakh.
Another point to note is that schools take the fee for the next year in February or March itself, even though the school starts only in May or June. For our son, who is in his 10th standard, we had paid the due amount by March, as classes for 10th started early. For our daughter, school did not start till June 2020, hence we did not pay in advance.
Even when online schooling started, I felt that the school was not providing value for the Rs 1.5 lakh fees. Also, we had to arrange a laptop, a separate space in our 2-BHK and what not.
We wrote to the school management that we are ready to pay as per the government order and that too, keeping teachers in mind. We did not want any teacher or support staff to lose their job or even take a cut in salaries. The Rs One lakh is by no means less. In fact, some schools started harassing teachers and support staff citing the fee issue and started creating a divide between parents and teachers.
No money, no class
I personally wrote 5-6 times over two months, and the management replied that they are looking into it. To our shock, classes were blocked on 5th August. The management’s message was that parents can do whatever they want but we will not provide education. Many parents came together and even filed a case. Thanks to COVID, the case has not progressed much as of February 21. My daughter online classes are still blocked as on today, 27 February, 2021.
Some of us approached the local MLA for help. He called the school management, but the school management did not heed to this either.
We approached the education minister a few times and finally had a big meeting on 31 August, 2020. Even the minister and Commissioner of Public Instruction understood the parents’ agony and instructed schools to follow their order. Even then, our school did not pay heed.
By the beginning of September, we understood that the school is not willing to budge. Hence, some of us enrolled our kids in an alternate online education platform (a homeschooling platform) so that the children do not lose out on learning.
By this time, we realised that it is not just some but that thousands of parents are affected. So, we started coming together. Multiple whatsapp, telegram groups were formed and parents started exchanging information. We realised that we need to reach out to more and more parents to make them aware of their rights.
We came to know that many private schools have multiple violations to which even the education department has not given much importance to. The good thing is that some parents started researching and made others aware of their rights.
Finding a voice
We formed the Voice of Parents (VOP) group in late August, 2020. As of today, 5300 parents are part of it. Many parents have been fighting with their respective school management for years and we all started getting connected. I sincerely appreciate some parents who have been torchbearers and provided much needed momentum to this movement.
VOP held many protests in November and December. Media channels started noticing it and helped spread our concerns. Some parents met the education minister and authorities again in November and December. Some parents were even briefly arrested for protesting peacefully. At last, the government issued another order that private schools should collect only 70% of the tuition fee. Private schools started going to court against this directive.
The education sector needs mega reforms, beginning with regulation of fees. When there is an MRP on each and every item, the government must also regulate school fees. If a school is run by a trust, then it should adhere to the cause of the trust that founded it. They should be held accountable for unfair and unethical practices.
VOP is now a movement. It is ready to talk about education reforms on in the long term. School managements need to understand that they have certain obligations towards society. Some of them make huge profits but do not serve society even as per their own Trust’s objectives. Teachers also need to take a stand. Otherwise, how do we teach our kids integrity, honesty, compassion and such values.
Hoping for better empathy from school managements.
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[Disclaimer: This article is a citizen contribution. The views expressed here are those of the individual writer(s) and do not reflect the position of Citizen Matters.]