Private schools worried as Covid drags on



Representative image of an empty classroom in a school | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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New Delhi: With schools closed for more than a year now due to the Covid pandemic and classes being held virtually, educational activities have been hit hard across the country – and it’s not the students alone who are suffering.

Private schools are particularly affected, many of them even struggling to pay their staff. To cut costs, some also had to “temporarily” terminate their faculty’s services for extracurricular and extracurricular activities such as sports and the arts, in addition to other staff members.

Schools ThePrint spoke to blamed the shortage of funds on various instructions issued by state governments to reduce fees, to ensure that students and their parents are not charged for facilities that schools will not be required to pay. provide during virtual lessons.

Most states have passed ordinances ordering schools to take only tuition fees from parents and not to charge transportation costs, developmental fees, and those levied for extracurricular activities.

However, many schools have said that collecting only tuition has also become a challenge, especially in the second year of the pandemic.

Swoyan Satyendu, director of the ODM public school in Bhubaneswar, the capital of Odisha, told ThePrint that the school’s bad debts have increased.

“In our case, the bad debt or in other words the default amount has increased exponentially. We have no choice but to reduce all possible costs. In the second year of the pandemic, we find it even harder to collect fees from parents. “

Most of this, he said, is borne by teachers “who work hard day and night, but have not been able to get a deserving raise even on their salaries over the past two years. “.

Many schools have told ThePrint that they not only have to pay their staff, but also some overhead and maintenance costs whether the campus is in use or not.

Virtual lessons also brought new costs for some schools, with authorities having to buy laptops and pay for internet connectivity, for teachers who did not have the infrastructure to deliver lessons online.

ThePrint spoke to private schools across the country and all had the same thing to say: Managing finances has become extremely difficult.

The only relief for private schools so far has come from the courts.

In February of this year, the Supreme Court authorized schools in Rajasthan to charge 100% of the fees to parents for the 2020-21 academic session, which is equivalent to what was billed for the 2019-2020 session.

Although later, on May 3, the Supreme Court ruled that schools can collect fees with a 15 percent reduction, due to unused services, even that 85 percent is more than the tuition fee, this that most private schools were to be allowed to collect during the pandemic.

Following the precedent set by the SC, some high courts, such as the Delhi HC, have also granted similar relief to private schools to collect more than tuition fees from parents.

However, not all private schools in the country have received similar relief.

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“A Herculean task to get parents to pay fees”

“The Covid pandemic has been financially difficult for almost all private schools as parents have not been able to pay the fees on the due dates due to lockdowns or other personal reasons cited by them “said Hina Desai, director of Birla Open. International School of Spirits, Bombay.

She added that if “schools had to incur expenses, it was a Herculean task to convince parents to pay their dues because they wanted discounts and concessions.”

Parents are demanding that they receive a reduction in fees because classes are conducted online, and the managing authorities of most schools have responded to a call to provide parents with a fee structure for virtual classes, a Desai said.

Needless to say, schools with modest funds have a harder time surviving.

A school principal at a mid-budget private school in Navi Mumbai, who did not wish to be named, said: “We had to give up our sports coaches and our arts faculty, because we didn’t have everything. just not the funds to pay for them, at a time when parents are not paying the full price.

Alka Kapur, principal of Modern Public School, Delhi, said staff salaries are paid from fees collected from students, and stressed the importance of money being paid on time.

“The school fees have to be paid on time by the parents, because it keeps the machinery running. Salaries are paid to staff from fees that are collected by the school. If the fees are not paid on time, it would not only demoralize staff but also affect their livelihoods, especially at a time when a financial crisis is looming in the country. Therefore, I think it is very important that parents recognize this problem and duly submit fees on time, ”Kapur said.

Even schools that have managed to pay their teachers’ salaries so far admit that they have done so with difficulty.

Vamsi Krishna, principal of Delhi public school, Surat, told ThePrint that there have been financial difficulties for the school, but added that they have been able to manage so far. “We have managed to pay full salaries to all of our staff and have not had to fire anyone so far. The government of Gujarat asked schools to charge only 25% of the fees and we did, ”Krishna said.

But not all schools were lucky.

Suvarna Singh, a teacher at a private school in Delhi, said: “I haven’t received my full salary for at least four months. I don’t even know if the next month’s salary that I will receive will be full, or with some deductions. Now the problem is I can’t even go to school administration none of us can… they’ll say students don’t pay tuition so how can we pay your wages. “

During the pandemic, many people lost their jobs and there were pay cuts across all sectors. Many teachers interviewed by ThePrint said that while they realize that parents can face financial hardship as well, they themselves depend on the fees the school collects.

A teacher from a private school in Hyderabad said: “As teachers, we understand that parents may have problems paying the fees or may not want to pay the full fees because the classes are held in line. But what about us teachers? We also have to manage our home, have children and families to support… no one wants to think about our best interests.

Read also : How Covid has reshaped the way we learn and why online courses are here to stay

Maintain an empty campus

Schools, meanwhile, said they had other expenses besides salaries as well.

A head teacher from a Delhi school explained, “Schools have annual contracts for the maintenance of swimming pools, vehicles and sports fields. Now, just because the kids don’t come to school, these contracts can’t be canceled. We must continue to pay these people to maintain the school. This is an expense incurred regardless of whether the students are on campus.

Apart from that, the schools said, they have had to undertake many new expenses over the past year due to the ‘work from home’ situation induced by Covid. This included purchasing additional laptops for all faculty members, subscribing to various web services for webinars, online assessment tools, Zoom membership, internet connections for teachers who might not. not have them at home, among others.

DPS Surat, for example, had to set up 25 to 30 makeshift classrooms in schools where teachers who did not have facilities to deliver online lessons at home came to attend.

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Courts to the rescue

Following the February Supreme Court order allowing schools in Rajasthan to charge more than tuition fees, the High Court of Punjab and Haryana in March passed an order allowing private schools to charge fees. full costs to parents.

The Delhi High Court also on May 31 passed a similar order allowing private schools to charge parents the full annual fee – the Delhi government, however, moved the court against the order.

The Delhi government had asked schools in 2020 to charge only tuition fees, but this court order will change that and schools will be able to charge annual and development fees, with a 15% reduction for services that cannot. not be provided online.

Ameeta Mulla Wattal, Principal of Springdales School, Pusa Road, Delhi, said: “The Delhi High Court order allowing schools to charge fees in categories other than tuition is a relief for those who are struggling with financial problems.

She added that although “the court also asked to deduct 15% of the fees for unused services, to relieve the parents and we will follow that. But if the court order is respected, things should be better by the end of the year ”.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

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