– Dipta Joshi (Mumbai)
From mid-January onwards, 8,000 private unaided schools across Maharashtra will block online classes for students with unpaid fees. The state’s independent schools say they have been forced to resort to this action as a survey conducted by them indicates 38 percent of financially unhurt parents have been withholding school fees for the past six-seven months. Likewise, with a mere 30 percent of parents of children in affordable budget private schools (BPS) paying tuition fees for the past nine months, BPS have followed the example of private unaided schools.
According to the Federation of Schools Association of Maharashtra (FSAM) which has a membership of 5,800 BPS, many parents who refuse to pay fees block calls from school authorities even as their children continue to attend online classes. In mid-December, FSAM launched a ‘No fees, No school’ campaign and advised its members to discontinue online classes for three days (December 15-17). Over 1,500 schools in Pune, Mumbai, Thane and Dombivli responded by shutting down online classes.
“For our member schools, fees paid by parents is the only source of income. For most of our members 20-30 percent of tuition fees payable for the academic year 2019-20 and 50 percent of fees for 2020-21, which were payable in advance, remain pending. As a result most of us cannot afford to pay our teachers full salaries. Parents who refuse to pay fees are doing great injustice to teachers as well as other parents who have paid their dues. Now we intend to take a tough stand against parents who haven’t paid their children’s fees,” says Rajendra Singh, president of FSAM.
Following the national lockdown declared by the Central government to prevent spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, a large number of schools introduced online classes to maintain learning continuity of their students. Instead of being grateful, parents associations across the state demanded 50 percent fees reduction. To compound the problem, the Shiv Sena-led state government issued a government resolution (GR) dated May 8 warning private school managements of stern action if they increased fees or compelled parents to pay fees. Moreover, schools were directed not to collect remainder fees for academic years 2019-20 and 2020-21 and allow parents the option to pay quarterly or on a monthly basis. Aggrieved, educational institutions filed a writ in the Bombay high court which stayed the government’s GR on June 26.
Unsurprisingly, the state government has sided with the parents lobby, ignoring video clips of parents threatening school managers and has supported the populist argument that private schools are “profiteering” from the pandemic. Moreover, education minister Varsha Gaikwad has promised to introduce parent-friendly amendments such as reviving the divisional fees regulatory committee (DFRC) to address fees-related disputes between parents and school managements, in the already existing Maharashtra Educational Institutions (Regulation of Fee) Act, 2011.
Curiously, none of the irate middle-class parents’ representative associations provides a convincing answer to the question of why they don’t enroll their children in free-of-charge government schools, a telling commentary on the state government’s complete neglect of Maharashtra’s 116,233 government primary-higher secondary schools.
Evidently Maharashtra’s subsidies-addicted middle class believes it has the right to private education on its own terms. Hence the unseemly wrangling.