The economic upheaval brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic has forced several families to migrate to other cities for jobs or move back to their native places. But the escalating pandemic has also given rise to a different type of migration – from elite private schools to less expensive ones or, in some cases, to government-funded schools.
Amid layoffs and pay cuts across sectors, affordability has become parents’ prime concern over the ‘elite school’ tag. Unable to meet the fee structure, many parents are mulling moving their children to less expensive ones or to government schools. Some are angry with schools administrations for not giving fee concessions or demanding quarterly fees.
A Tough Call
“It’s not like my children won’t have a good education if I don’t send them to a private school,” said Jai Singh from Haryana.
Singh thought hard and long before writing to the private school his children currently attend, informing them that he would be shifting his children to a government school soon. “This model won’t work with three kids to be educated,” he said.
Earning Rs 12,000-15,000 per month as a helper in a shop, Singh was earlier able to afford Rs 6,200 school fee for his three children – Rs 2,300 each for his older kids and Rs 1,600 for the youngest one. But money is hard to come by these days. “I have to shift them to a government school and am not ashamed of it,” he said.
Singh wrote to the principal of Vaishya Model School a few days ago, informing them that he had lost his job and can’t afford to send his children to a private school anymore. He the school authorities to give him his children’s school leaving certificate.
“I have lost my job because of the pandemic. I won’t be able to pay high fees for my three children who study in your school. I want to send my children to a government school. Kindly provide the School Leaving Certificate so that the process of transferring them to a new school is expedited,” he wrote.
Like Singh, several other parents are forced to face the new reality. Delhi-based Neha Paswan used to earn a living by making rotis at weddings.
“I have spent my life making rotis at weddings. I want my children to have a comfortable life. I sent them to a good school (private school) for the same reason. It gave them a good environment to study, but now I can’t afford that education,” she said.
Paswan’s income has dried up since no lavish weddings are taking place during the pandemic, and smaller gatherings don’t pay well. “There is no work for me to do,” she said, “With no certainty of money coming in, I will shift them to a government school. Even amid job losses, education should not suffer,” she said.
Three of her children study in BR International Public School, but now they will attend a government school nearby.
Some parents have been forced to compromise on the ‘elite’ tag in exchange for affordable education.
Affordable vs Elite
Simple Bedi’s child was studying at the prominent DPS School in Delhi’s Mathura Road. A single parent, Bedi lost her job as a fitness trainer in a Nizamuddin gym which was shut down. Now, she cannot afford DPS, but doesn’t want a radical change in her child’s education.
“I cannot radically change the school environment for my son. Switching from an elite school to a government school is not what I am looking at,” she said. “I will send my son to a less expensive private school because he has studied in a certain kind of environment.”
She will now be paying Rs 3,500 as fees in a new private school, far less than the Rs 10,000 she was paying at DPS.
Aparajita Gautam from the Delhi Parents’ Association, however, warned that parents opting for cheaper private schools may eventually be forced to consider government ones as the pandemic and its effects drag on. “In Delhi, the middle class would prefer migrating to a private school over a government one. But if the job losses continue, there will be more students shifting to government schools.”
Breaking the Stereotype
The desperate times are forcing parents to shed the notion of public schools being ‘bad’. “During lockdown, schools didn’t open and online education has not been effective for my children. There are disruptions but there has been no fee relief in private schools,” said Pradeep Kumar Yadav, a health worker in Haryana.
“If you see the Board results, there is not much difference in performance between students of government schools and private schools. Learning takes places in government schools too. I don’t mind sending the children to a sarkari school,” he said, adding that he cannot afford expensive smartphones and laptops private school students need for e-classes.
Yadav cannot spend Rs 40,000 a year on his daughter’s education in a private school and is planning to shift her to a government school. He said he has “influence” in his locality and helped almost 45 families go for private schools in happier times. “Now all 45 of them will listen to me… padhane ka matlab bhaari fees nahi hai (educating your children doesn’t mean a heavy price tag).”
Meena Sharma, an activist in Haryana, said she has helped several parents, who cannot afford high fees in private schools, find budget private schools or government schools. “The trend has started, we don't know how it will unfold,” she said.
No Cooperation from Schools
When Jai Singh pulled his children from the private school they attended, he asked the authorities to provide him the school leaving certificate, which is necessary for admission in government schools.
The government of Haryana had on July 15 passed an order asking schools to ensure there is no academic loss to students due to non-availability of SLCs. But in 10 days, the government changed its stand and issued another order making SLCs mandatory for transfer to government schools.
“Schools are not providing the certificate without demanding fees for next session. How can I give that with no job?” Singh said.
Sushil Verma, a child rights activist and formerly with Haryana State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, said, “Private schools have exposed their corporate style of working. It is disappointing to see how the government made a U-turn from its earlier stand in the spirit of RTE ensuring no academic loss due to non-issuance of SLCs. It has now made SLCs mandatory for migrating students.”
In his petition filed in the Haryana High Court, Verma has appealed for action against private schools that are violating the state government’s directive to collect only monthly tuition fees. He alleged that schools are “adopting malpractices by increasing their tuition fees which is almost equal or higher to the amount of total fees charged by them during last academic year, as monthly tuition fees”.
He said “many schools are still demanding quarterly fees from parents despite state government directions to collect only monthly tuition fees. Many schools are pressuring the parents to deposit the fees by sending them messages or issuing circulars on school websites.”
The situation could have been managed had governments in various states acted transparently, said Aparajita Gautam. She said governments should have uploaded the approved fee structure of private schools. “Then the migration from private to public schools or from costly to less expensive schools wouldn’t have happened,” she said.
The Other Side
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Aware of the migration, private schools maintain that they are acting as per rules. Shiju Augustine, director of the All India Private Schools Association, said they are following rules and court orders without any violation of the RTE Act.
“Due to Covid-19 and the job crisis, there are situations where parents from the middle-class who send their children to private schools are facing challenges. We are aware, but we have to pay teachers. We have also given relaxation in payment of fees and announced scholarship schemes. The buildings are closed, not the classes. We need to pay teachers who are working hard,” he said.