On Wednesday, February 10, the Alliance for #RightToLearn, an association of over 40 leading unaided private central board and international schools (with 46,000+ students, 4,000+ teachers & 4,000+ staff), met Karnataka’s education minister Suresh Kumar urging him to withdraw the recent order mandating all schools – irrespective of quality of offering, parents willingness to pay fee, size, financial position or life cycle – to reduce tuition fees by 30 percent for the academic year 2020-21.
Representatives from Teachers Unite, representing over 6,000 teachers, also met with the minister at the same time, requesting him to rescind the order that will affect the lives of thousands of teachers.
The Right To Learn presented a letter to the education minister that stated several issues affecting schools, teachers and students. Staff salaries for unaided schools is the biggest expense and the minister
was made aware that reduction in tuition fees would invariably impact salaries, thereby putting the livelihoods of thousands of teachers and other staff in jeopardy. Private unaided school teachers have continued to work through the pandemic educating thousands of students, and it is unfair as this order will impact their salaries while government school teachers continue to be paid full salaries.
The petition states that the actual cutback is not 30 percent, but about 50-60 percent as the government has not allowed schools to collect any other fees (e.g. transport, catering, etc.) and tuition fee is based on the 2019-2020 fee structure. Given schools have already spent their surpluses supporting students whose parents were unable to pay (partial or full) fees for the year, the retroactive nature of the fee cut makes it impossible for schools to reduce costs commensurately for an academic year that is already ending.
“The 40+ schools on which we have collected data went online by June 2020 (some of us as early as mid-March) with a blended model of synchronous and asynchronous learning, and are on track with syllabus completion. We continue to receive high satisfaction ratings from parents across schools. Schools are running their entire operations (not just academic) and infrastructure based on AY 2019-20 tuition fee, which does not factor in inflation or the significant increase in investments related to Covid-19. We have offered financial aid/support to 100 percent of our parent bodies. Those parents who have paid have done so voluntarily and with no pressure. With around 2,747 students not in a position to pay even 70 percent, over Rs 16.34 crore of tuition fee has been waived off, collectively across the schools, which averages to over 7 percent for each school. We have more than Rs 48 crore in fees outstanding. Almost no student has been barred except under rarest of cases (e.g. parent opting out for this year / after following due process). This while most schools have not laid off any staff including transport, catering, support staff so we are ready to open as soon as the government gives the go ahead, with staff trained for child care and already have police verification. We have made unbudgeted Covid-19 related investment of over Rs 9.1 crore for training, SOPs & safety, as well as to provide for hybrid learning (with some students at home and others on campus), which adds to teachers’ workload,” says Nooraine Fazal, founder-CEO & managing trustee of Inventure Academy.
“Further, between us, our schools support 1067 RTE students and have received no contribution from the government towards these students for AY 2020-21. All unaided private schools are registered charity trusts and societies, with accounts filed and audited as per the IT Act. Any surpluses are invested back into education,” she added.
In the meeting, teachers drew attention to the irony of the situation with respect to parents wanting high quality education. As the government is unable to provide this, parents are seeking admissions in unaided
private schools. With this order, the government is reducing the ability of unaided private schools to provide high quality education, thereby impacting the very parents that the government is claiming to support.
Both school managements and teachers presented several instances of how COVID has impacted everyday life, and how they went above and beyond to help students. Therefore, this 30 percent fee cut is a demotivator and will eventually have an impact on the quality of education. This will have a cascading impact on Bangalore as a ‘go to’ destination for IT professionals from across the globe, who look for such high quality education for their children, which they will no longer get, putting ‘Brand Bangalore’ in danger.
“Private unaided schools are already working towards implementing the NEP. By rescinding the 30 percent fee cut order, the government could encourage such schools to become NEP torch bearers, and motivate the best and the brightest to become educators,” says Ravi Venkatesam, founder, The Foundation School.
The written representation to the education minister ends with three indisputable facts, i.e. private unaided schools simply cannot continue to operate and offer quality education with any further reduction in fees, financial assistance has already been offered to deserving parents and that the government’s order is unconstitutional and contrary to law. For all of these reasons, the government must withdraw its order for a 30 percent fee cut. The government should instead offer subsidies and support to those in need – schools and parents.
Many schools in the #RightToLearn Alliance have offered to continue to support and work with the government schools on a PPP model and take responsibility for their learning outcomes, to help bridge the gap between have and have nots.
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