‘Tight spot’ – School fee during COVID-19

Extra ordinary times call for extraordinary measures!

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Photo used for indicative purpose only. Source: Internet

During this economic uncertainty comes the question of SCHOOL FEE. How will the parents pay the school fee when their own sources of income and livelihood have been affected? Almost three months down since the 20-21 Academic Session began in Shimla, a sudden bank message received by the parents of Auckland House School created an uproar.

Fear and confusion has  gripped everyone today as the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world. The economy was hit that hardest with everything shutting down. India too closed its doors to International travels and imposed curfew from 24th March onward. The hardest hit sectors during this period are tourism, banking, retails, real estate, auto and education.

The State governments shut down schools, colleges and universities immediately with an uncertainty about when they would open again. Yet amidst ongoing uncertainty, the schools began online classes, sending homework/assignments etc in Whats-app messages. By the first week of April, most schools had adopted various means to connect with the students.

Moreover stark reality is the threat of a hit to the teaching fraternity. With pay cuts and lay-offs becoming a common news, the teachers too are worried lot, if they would be paid. Their remuneration directly dependent on the Fee received by the school authorities, which too is uncertain.

With complete economic lock-down, various State governments came to the rescue of parents and teachers announcing that the fee payment be delayed. State Education minister Suresh Bhardwaj said that the parents who are incapable of paying the school fee will not be charged any penalty and at the same time schools cannot force the parents to pay under these circumstances. Secondly, the schools cannot remove or fire any of the teaching staff, and they are required to pay their salaries on time.

In a notification dated 25th April, 2020, by Dr Amarjeet K Sharma, Director of Higher Education, HP, also categorically stated, “Such behaviour of private school management is clear cut violation of the ‘The Epidemic Disease Act’ / ‘The Disaster Management Act’ and ‘The Himachal Pradesh Private Educational Institutions (Regulation Act-1997’.” It further added, “This may be treated as last warning to adhere with the directions and neither force the parents of the students to deposit the School Fees & Funds nor hike the fees & funds, till further orders.”

However the other side of the coin. Director Principal Namita Lal, North Oak Public School, Sanjauli, Shimla said, “The Corona pandemic has affected all businesses, private institutions and the humanity. In today’s time it is a matter of survival for everyone. The parents who have admitted their wards to private schools have full understanding about private school education economics. Like any other institutions, schools also have responsibility towards all the teachers and peripheral staff whose livelihood is their salary only. When the government is not interfering in other corporations, businesses, corporate then where is the need to interfere in private schools. Yes, since everybody is affected, a road map can be found with the cooperation of parents so that schools are not affected and parents are not burdened too.”

Here parents have a divided opinion. Few said that ‘yes’ we are willing to pay the fee, but we should only be charged ‘Tuition Fee’ and no other additional charges, while others said ‘no’ and expressed total reluctance and inability to pay as their income source was completely affected. Those in agreement also shared a sympathetic view that the teacher’s salary too is important and we empathize with them and the present scenario. At the same time we expect to receive some sort of concessions from the school management.

With the number of COVID-19 cases on the rise and Nation-wide increase, schools are likely to be remained closed for a much longer time. But come to think of it, till date no major announcements have been made by the government to ease the financial pressure be it in terms of tax reduction, GST waver, zero utility billings, bank EMIs rather the only concession given is no charges of any kind of late bill payments.

So are the educational institutions likely to give parents a breather? Even as we wait for the government to step in and present a module for fee concession or otherwise, a propitious solution can be worked out by schools and parents that is likely to take care of both parties without making either more vulnerable.

After all, extra ordinary times call for extraordinary measures!

Writer is editor of ‘Keekli’ a niche fortnightly news publication. Views expressed are personal.

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