Reshma Ravishanker (Bengaluru)
Even as the reopening of primary-secondary schools on November 8 after 64-weeks of pandemic lockdown cheered the state’s 21,000 private unaided schools, a new circular of the state’s BJP government directing them to issue transfer certificates (TCs) to students within seven days has proved a dampener. On November 25, the education ministry issued a circular warning to private school managements, that if they don’t issue TCs to parents seeking to withdraw their children within the prescribed time frame, there will be “action”.
“Should schools fail to issue a TC within one week after it is sought for by the parent, the aggrieved parent can lodge a complaint with the Block Education Officer. The Block Education Officers will then serve a notice to the schools and give them a seven-day period to revert to the parent. Should school managements fail to issue the TC despite this, BEOs have been authorized to lodge complaints against the head of the institute and the management of the school under section 106 (2) (b) of the Karnataka Education Act 1983,” states the circular. S.106 states that if a school’s governing council fails to deliver details of properties, records or accounts within time specified by a judicial magistrate, it could invite a punishment of imprisonment extending upto six months and a fine of Rs.2,000, or both.
The backstory of this circular is that over the past 16 months of the lockdown, a large number of parents have not paid their children’s school fees citing job loss and economic hardship. Now after schools have reopened, instead of settling their pending dues, not a few of them have enrolled their children in other schools. But a TC issued by the transferor school is mandatory for a child to be admitted into the transferee school.
Confronted with the prospect of huge unpaid debts, managements of private schools — especially budget private schools (BPS) — struggling to stay afloat, are balking at issuing TCs until parents settle their bills. However with parents associations pressurising the BJP government, on November 25, the state government succumbed. As it did earlier, on January 29, when it issued a directive to all private schools — including institutions affiliated with pan-India CBSE and CISCE exam boards — to collect only 70 percent of tuition (and no other) fees for the academic year ended April 2021.
Budget private schools, which attract children from dysfunctional government schools neglected and ruined by state governments, have long been hate objects of politicians and bureaucrats, especially since they provide — or claim to provide — English medium education. This has never been accepted by state level politicians championing vernacular languages as the medium of instruction.
Therefore, the prolonged lockdown of schools because of the Covid pandemic provided them a good opportunity to force mass closure of BPS. Despite loud calls, private schools were never accorded the status of MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises) eligible for special and concessional bank loans to tide them over the pandemic crisis.
The Associated Managements of Private Schools in Karnataka (KAMS), which has a membership of 4,000 budget private schools, has reacted strongly to the November 25 circular. At a meeting held on November 29, it advised member schools to file criminal complaints against fees defaulting parents.
KAMS spokespersons say that 30-40 percent of parents have not paid their children’s fees for the year 2020-21, and fees arrears owing to private schools have accumulated to a massive Rs.4,000-5,000 crore. They contend that affordable budget private schools are on the brink of financial bankruptcy with most unable to pay teachers and staff. They warn that 3,000 BPS will have to shut down permanently if parents are issued TCs without clearing fees dues.
“Since the closure of schools in March 2020, many parents have not paid fees citing government mandated fees cuts and circulars prohibiting schools from coercing parents to pay fees. Some parents have not paid fees for two years with some having not even paid the fee for the academic year 2019-20. Therefore, we have advised member schools to file police complaints against defaulting parents,” says Shashi Kumar, general secretary, KAMS.
Unsurprisingly, parents’ associations have welcomed the November 25 circular. “We welcome this circular as it will enable financially distressed parents to either enroll their children in other low-price private or free-of-charge government schools. We also welcome KAMS decision to file complaints against parents. This will force them to reveal the actual breakup of the fees they collect annually, and how much of it is permitted by the government and how much is illegal. Private school managements want to bully and threaten parents into clearing their dues even if they have lost their jobs and incomes,” says Chidananda P.E, member, Voice of Parents, a Bengaluru-based parents’ representative association.
Ethics and morality dictate that if the government believes that BPS — whose right to engage in the vocation of education has been affirmed by the Supreme Court — should be forced out of “business”, it should raise teaching-learning standards (including English) in its own 49,000 government schools statewide. But unwilling to commit the resources required and initiate intelligent reforms, Karnataka’s politicians and bureaucrats are availing every opportunity to force BPS promoters out of the vocation of education. The TCs issuance order is yet another stick to beat budget private schools.
Also Read:Karnataka: Belated reopening