- It is a beautiful morning in Bangalore. It is raining, as it has been every other day over the last two weeks. Mother Nature seems to have regained her peace! Our daughter awakens Alexa with the soothing, made for mindfulness music from the sacred chants.
- It has been a busy week, with back to back workshops and webinars and today is expected to be as packed as it can be. The birthday surprise to a lonely Colonel in Panchkula touched a chord beyond normal. The compassion and reaching out during these troubled, stressful times by nondescript, anonymous human beings, through money, food, shelter and most importantly, the human touch across India, and the globe (beyond Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram videos & photos) is the remarkable rainbow of hope and positivity that moves me forward. Dare I say all of us, each one of us forward.
- I hesitate to put on the TV. I am a news junkie, but COVID-19 has brought a welcome change in that I have strictly rationed my news watching time to three specific slots. The heart celebrates positive stories, the brain, far too analytical to my liking now, is less sanguine. We have a hard, tough few months ahead yet, the unshakable belief is that we shall overcome.
- It is with this spirit of bullish positivity that I touch base with a school leader in a northern Indian city for the workshop on that person’s request. Despite limitations, the Principal had made significant progress in the quest for online learning, and at heart is a progressive, positive individual, whose motivation and drive has been an inspiration.
"Sir, I am admitted to the hospital… I am taken by the rudest of surprises." We have a quick conversation. Fortunately, the Principal is better after sustained body discomfort which was ignored.
There is now quite understanding of the corrosive nature of the stress the person was under. COVID-19, lockdown, online classes, parents, fees and now, the salary of the teachers.
- My mind raced back to several conversations I have had with school promoters, owners, trustees, Principals. Some difficult vignettes...
- Sir, how will I pay the salaries of 20 teachers? Even my family jewellery is with the bank against a loan taken last month.
- Colonel, I am broke, I cannot sustain my Schools beyond May 10.
- Sir, I am a single parent. I am yet to get my March salary.
- Sir, I have EMIs to pay. Banks are ruthless. With a 50 per cent salary cut, how do I survive? Please speak to the Director. Please..please.
- Colonel Sekhar, we have no option but to close down the school.
- My work pressures kept me off LinkedIn for a few days. The education community is active here. Today, I read this comment by Vishnu Karthik, one of our more thoughtful educational leaders. "Private school teachers are unsung warriors who will soon be martyred in the months to come. Thanks to some state govt’s misguided & populist directives, private schools won’t be able to collect fees and surely can’t pay salaries”.
- Vishnu is bang on target. The private school system in India has grown exponentially over the last 25 years or so, plugging the huge gap between the less than acceptable learning outcomes of public sector schools and the norms of the national education policies/NCF. Editors like Dilip Thakore have done exceptional work in highlighting the role of the private sector in improving the scholastic educational standards in the country. Yet, there are myths, perpetuated by vested interests and people with narrowly partisan agendas whose ability to be social climbers into commando comic TV shows has had a deleterious impact on the understanding of the average parent about private schools.
- Please consider the following:
- Land costs
- National, State, Board norms and regulations
- Infrastructural costs
- Limited and less than desirable fee structures
- The mandate of 7th pay commission salaries for teachers
- There is this mistaken belief, unencumbered by facts and reality, that private schools charge astronomical fees and indulge in profiteering. The disinformation against private schools is often worse than the COVID-19 infodemic. Yes, there are a few black sheep as is the case in every field. The reality today is deeply distressing.
- These facts may enlighten you better:
- 74 per cent have collected less than 25 per cent fees of the due amounts in March 2020
- Only 22 per cent of schools have the ability to pay salaries post-May 2020.
- Budget schools, the majority of private schools, do not have cash reserves.
- Reserve funds, mandated by the authorities for a rainy day, are unavailable for schools today.
The recent Delhi High Court ruling is like a glass of water in a super parched desert. Millions of teachers across India are working very, very hard to make online learning workable. They are battling technical skill, connectivity and understanding issues in order to make our children learn. The socio-emotional toll on the teacher is a silent pandemic by itself. The stress level among teachers has hit the roof and beyond. This requires immediate solutions and they are workable.
- States to withdraw the misguided orders of fee nonpayment
- State-level coordination committees to be formed with all the stakeholders represented
- Schools to reach out to the parents and explain the reality on the ground
- Parents to put across their points of view
- A mutually-agreed payment schedule to be made
- Avoid social media campaigns to stigmatize teachers
- Optimise online/remote learning
- CBSE, CISCE, IB and various State Boards to come out with balanced advisories for parents and schools
- HRD Ministry to coordinate the process
- The rest of the world is paid for the new normal, WFH and accepted. But teachers are questioned for going beyond the call of duty. What a contradiction!
Author Col A Sekhar is an Educational Consultant