After 8 Months of #NoSchoolNoFee, It’s #NoFeeNoSchool in Rajasthan

There is perhaps no other solution left for the private schools than to put locks to their institutes after Rajasthan HC directed all the government and private schools to not force their students to pay school fee until reopening. In October, the Office of the Director of Elementary Education, Bikaner, issued the order after receiving complaints from parents and guardians that the schools are threatening to remove students from online classes if the fee isn’t paid on time.

The order said that ‘the schools are not functioning during the pandemic.’ But what we need to understand here is that the schools in the state, in fact, all over the world, are technically ‘functioning’ as online classes are going on regularly and the teachers are exerting non-stop to cover the annual course. The only difference is that instead of a school building, we’re now in an unusual (technologically-rich) set-up.

Following the HC judgment, in a press conference on 4 November 2020, the Forum of Private Schools in Rajasthan, including CBSE, Rajasthan board and missionary schools, announced its decision to put an indefinite bandh on the ongoing online classes from November 5 onwards. The current mass strike of Rajasthan’s private schools is a way to tell the state government and parents that without funds they cannot run efficiently and pay the salaries to their staff that made sure students studied every day during the lockdown.

ScooNews spoke to Mr. Anil Sharma, a private school owner based out of Jaipur and a prominent member of School Shiksha Parivar. He informs, “Our motive is not to make the students’ education suffer but put some pressure on the government and parents likewise. All the private school committees have jointly decided to finally take a stand and end this eight-month-long fight regarding the school fee.”

After a double bench of the Rajasthan HC extended the stay on collecting school fee by schools till October 20, the Rajasthan HC put a stay on the decision declaring that no school can force or rusticate any child for not paying the fee.

“There are about 50,000 private schools in Rajasthan and more than 11 lakh teaching and non-teaching staff members employed by them. With no fee flowing in during these months, a majority of these employees, about 10 lakh, weren’t paid their salaries at all. Parents need to understand that not every private school has got buffer money in stock. Even if they have some extra savings, surviving for 8 months is practically impossible,” Sharma expresses.

He also opened about the other expenses that a school expenditure is incurred with. “Right from the building’s rent to monthly fixed bills of water and electricity to paying the insurance of school buses, there are several other cheques that need to be signed in the month-end. Amidst this, it’s our responsibility to look after the staff members and make sure their families don’t suffer on account of financial stresses,” he shares with ScooNews.

During the press meet, the Forum also appealed to the state government to lend private schools some help if parents are forbidden from the fee-responsibility. Though there is no specific module ready to propose, Sharma suggests Rajasthan government can at least allow school-reopening like Haryana and Uttrakhand governments so that things can begin to normalise for both the parties. “We can let bygones be bygones and start afresh before 2020 ends, for the sake of next semester,” he states. Another alternative, according to him, is that the government should release the RTE money of the schools and thereby, help them run for a couple of more months.

The declaration made by the private schools sounds legit and probably that’s the reason why schools from other states have also begun to back this decision.

Policies are usually double-edged in nature and tend to support one side of the judgement. However, in this case, we also need to understand that while on one side we’re fighting for the right to education for all, on the other hand, we’re not ready to support the institutes that provide our children with quality education. Just like other businesses, the education sector, too, is going through turbulence but thankfully, here, the difficulties faced can be surmountable if a right decision is taken at the right time. There is no way schools would want to make the learning of their students suffer but aren’t they equally responsible for their teachers as well? Their headwork needs to be paid off sooner or later, after all.

Talking about students whose parents have paid the fee, Sharma says, “The decision is not friendly to the parents who volunteered to pay the school fee, partly in some cases. It’s a big question in front of the Forum that how we will benefit such students and be fair to them. There must be a way out to compensate and we’re working on it. For now, it’s not appropriate to ask our teachers to conduct online classes for hardly five students. Thankfully, after the decision was taken, a local parents’ association got in touch with me to discuss the possible solutions and I see this as a ray of hope.”

But what about the students whose parents are absolutely not in a position to pay the fee? Sharma explains, “That’s what private schools that don’t charge handsome fee have been doing so far, throughout the pandemic. We continued to teach every child, irrespective of their financial standing. In many private schools, where the students belong to humble backgrounds, we realised that some families had suffered huge money losses because of the lockdown and so, nobody forced them to pay any fee. Trust me when I say we don’t want to snatch the opportunity from a child.”

ScooNews thinks that schools and teachers have proved their sincerity and taken the responsibility of our wards so far. Now it should be our obligation to pay them back and be grateful for their relentless efforts as true COVID-warriors. After all, someone has to think about it and see what values we’re leaving behind for our future generation.

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