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Maharashtra: School fees agitation

November 17, 2020

– Dipta Joshi (Mumbai)

Irate parents and parents associations in Maharashtra are protesting the state government’s inaction in reducing private school fees for the academic year 2020-21. On social media platforms, they are slamming the Shiv Sena-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government for ignoring their demand for an ordinance decreeing 50 percent reduction in tuition fees and cancellation of all overhead charges for the academic year 2020-21. On the other hand, private school managements believe that parents should pay higher fees for the uninterrupted online education they have been providing since the Central government announced closure of all schools and education institutions in mid-March following the outbreak of Covid-19.

Bowing to parental pressure, three months ago (May 8) the state government issued a GR (government resolution) directing private schools to refrain from raising fees for the current academic year (2020-21) and permitting parents to pay in instalments. However, this GR was stayed by the Bombay high court (June 26) in response to a petition filed by several private school managements.

The grouse of a small but noisy minority of parents in Maharashtra is that the state government has provided no relief to parents during the pandemic while other states including Gujarat, Odisha and Tamil Nadu among others, have reduced tuition fees by 25-30 percent. On October 10, the Mumbai-based Forum for Fairness in Education (FFE) called a nationwide protest against “unjust fees” charged by private schools. FFE is demanding a state-wide government audit of private schools which they claim are “flush with funds”.

“We have been demanding education minister Varsha Gaikwad’s resignation because she has not done enough for parents with children in private schools during these tough times. She has not ordered audits of schools that are brazenly flouting the state government’s Regulation of Fees Act, 2011,” says Nilesh Salunkhe, president of Nashik Parents Association which has a membership of 1,400 parents.

Although the Maharashtra Educational Institutions (Regulation of Fees Act), 2011 allows private schools to levy self-determined tuition fees, it requires fees to be approved by every school’s parent teacher association (PTA). Moreover, Divisional Fee Regulation Committees (DFRCs) can entertain complaints only if at least 25 percent of the school’s parents are party to a petition. However, most PTAs are sympathetic to the plight of private school managements for continuing to pay teachers, staff salaries and maintenance and overhead charges while providing online education to students.

Gradually well-informed public opinion is turning against the small minority of business illiterate parents continuously fault-finding private school managements. The Pune-based think-tank, System Correction Movement (SYSCOM) believes the current ees regulation Act is flawed and needs to not only be scrapped completely but replaced with legislation that brings in more financial transparency through digitalisation of administrative processes. SYSCOM also advocates linking fees of private schools with their capital and recurring expenditure. A SYSCOM spokesperson observes this is a time for parents to cooperate with rather than confront school managements. “While government intervention is imperative to resolve and find permanent solutions to fee-related issues, parents should not undermine the role played by private schools in providing education,” he says.

Good advice, but likely to fall on unheeding ears.

Also read: Delhi: Digital learning myth

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