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In The Uncertainty Over School Fees During COVID Lockdown, Teachers and Staff of Private Schools Made Scapegoats Again

Amidst the lockdown to fight COVID-19 pandemic, teachers and non-teaching staff of private schools of Manipur are not any less badly hit than the daily wage earners.

Many of the private school teachers and non-teaching staff have not been given their due monthly salaries – some for March and April and some for April till date in the backdrop of COVID-19 lockdown which came into effect since March 21 in Manipur.

School authorities mostly founders and owners are reluctant to pay out the salaries of their employees as they may not be able to charge tuition fees from the students during the COVID-19 lockdown.

The reason behind their reluctance is that many students’ organisations of Manipur like All Manipur Students’ Union (AMSU), Kangleipak Students’ Association (KSA), Students’ Union of Kangleipak (SUK), Manipur Students’ Federation (MSF), Democratic Students’ Alliance of Manipur (DESAM), AIMS etc. have appealed to the authorities of private schools in Manipur to waive school fees of their students so as not to burden their parents during the lockdown.

In like manner, Education Minister of Manipur, Thokchom Radheshyam also had appealed to private schools of Manipur not to charge fees from students during the lockdown period.

However, addressing media persons at his office on April 8, the Education Minister also urged private school authorities to provide salary to teachers during the period.

It may be mentioned that the All Manipur Students’ Union (AMSU) in a statement on April 28 had appealed to all school authorities in the state to waive school fees for the lockdown period from the students.

The AMSU also drew the attention of the state government to look into the matter while claiming that some school authorities have been trying to collect fees even for the lockdown period.  It further charged that some schools have been reportedly taking advantages of their online classes or digital tutorials to collect school fees during the lockdown.

However, the AMSU appealed to the school authorities to pay the salaries of the teachers and non-teaching staff from the school management funds and other such funds the schools should have. They also further appealed to the state government to take up measures to solve the problems faced by the school authorities during the lockdown.

Unfortunately, the joint meeting held on May 11 chaired by Education Minister of Manipur and attended by Commissioner Education (S), Director of Education (S), both Additional Directors of Education (S) Valley & Hills; representatives of the Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas and Kendriya Vidyalayas in Manipur; Sainik School, Imphal; Manipur Public School, Koirengei; Catholic Schools in Manipur; All Manipur Government Aided School Employees  Coordinating Committee; All Manipur Recognised Private Schools Welfare Association; CBSE Affiliated Schools in Manipur; and United Association of Recognised Schools, Manipur could not come out with a concrete decision regarding school fees, salaries of the teaching and administrative staff of private schools.

Mounting appeals, pressures and orders from different bodies and authorities to waive school fees from students during the COVID-19 lockdown, the private school founders and owners are taking advantage not to pay salaries of their employees even though these students bodies or authorities have ask them not to do.

It may be mentioned that the Chairperson of Manipur Commission for Protection of Child Rights (MCPCR) Sumatibala Ningthoujam also on May 4 in a notification ordered that the private-run schools in the state may exempt the monthly school fees of students during the COVID-19 lockdown period.

The notification also instructed vehicle owners plying school buses and vans commuting students not to charge any transportation fees from parents and guardians during this period.

In another development, the Union Minister for Human Resource Development, Ramesh Pokhriyal on April 17 urged private schools to reconsider their decision to hike annual fees amid the nationwide lockdown to combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a series of tweets, Pokhriyal said, “It has been brought to my notice by many parents from all across the country that even in this time of crisis many schools are increasing their annual fee.”

“A lot of schools are also asking the parents to deposit the school fee for three months together.”

The Union Minister said, adding that he hoped all schools would provide timely salaries to their teachers and employees. “I also hope education departments of all states will work together towards the best interests of parents and schools,” he said.

Pokhriyal praised some states for taking positive steps “to address school fee-related issues during lockdown” and hoped that other states will also consider his request.

The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) also advised states and Union Territories on April 17 to examine the matter of school fees and payment of salaries to teachers “sensitively and holistically”.

In a letter to schools CBSE Secretary Anurag Tripathi said, “Keeping in view the present situation of the countrywide lockdown, and difficulties being faced by all stakeholders in the school education system due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, it is requested that the state governments may examine the issue of lump sum payment of school fees and teacher’s salaries sensitively and holistically considering the interest of all stakeholders concerned.”

Despite these developments, the fate of teachers and non-teaching staff of private schools in Manipur are uncertain about their monthly salaries during the COVID-19 lockdown.

One private school teacher who doesn’t want to be named said to FPSJ Review, “there were many instances where we were not paid our salaries by school authorities saying that they could not take school fees due to the pressures of the students’ unions.”

Private school teachers are also parents. We have our children. Though we are private schools, this is not informal private tuitions, he further expressed.

By contrast, a teacher of a CBSE affiliated private school in Imphal said that he is getting his salary so far, and has received his April salary despite COVID-19 lockdown.

When FPSJ Review asked, one Head Master of a private school affiliated with Board of Secondary Education (BOSEM) said, schools should be able to pay salaries of the teachers and non-teaching staff in such emergency situations from other fees collected at the time of admission.

When schools were shut down for months for agitations on different issues in 2004 Monoroma killing, 2009 July 23 B.T. Road incident of Rabina and Sanjit Killing, 2015 Inner Line Permit Movement, salaries of private school teachers were compromised while the school owners, government salaried parents, other organised sector salaried parents and business class parents gained.

Meanwhile one parent of a private school asked, why they should be made to pay fees if schools are not teaching their students on account of COVID-19 lockdown.

But unlike banking and other commercial services, education is considered the world over as a right, and the states have a moral responsibility to insure them against these crises. The question then is whether school education is being reduced to the same level as services like banking?  Is school education in Manipur a public good or a tradable commodity?

There are other disturbing questions. Is it possible for school education to be both – a public good and a tradable commodity – at the same time? Or can it be switched from one to the other depending on circumstances? Can the motive of public good be achieved by levying cost-based or reasonable fees?

In other words, need all fee-levying courses be considered as trading education as a commodity? Or on the other hand, does education as a public good necessarily have to be non-fee levying?

Will then private school teachers be always made the victims in emergency situations or other situations where school classes are affected such as during boycotts and shutdowns?

Will school education not be a public good which parents and teachers need to co-operate and work together as a team to groom the children?

Will private school teachers remain at the mercy of school owners and founders as their tradable resources only instead of being stakeholders?

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