Closure of schools has been no exception in the lockdown routine to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Accordingly, all the schools in Manipur have been closed since March 21 to fight the pandemic.
However, school teachers have been delivering classes either online or through other internet based social media, providing study materials to the students and assessing the assignments submitted by the students. These are done according to the wishes of the parents and guardians besides government guidelines to avoid physical contact.
In the continuing fight against COVID-19, the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India has issued so far five unlock guidelines. In the Unlock 4 Guidelines, State governments have been authorised to partially reopen schools from September 21 especially for classes 9 to 12 with 50 percent attendance of teachers and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare of Government of India has also issued SOPs for the partial opening of the schools while online classes should remain the preferred mode of teaching-learning. Many states in India have followed the guidelines and partially opened the schools for the said classes for consultation between teachers and students.
However, the story in case of Manipur remains different from the rest of the country not only with the teaching-learning process but also of the welfare of the private school teachers and staff.
With the fear of the surging COVID-19 positive cases, the State Government of Manipur has not followed the guidelines and SOPs to partially open the schools from September 21. And online and other internet based classes continue to be the regular mode of teaching-learning process for the schools of Manipur without the opportunity to understand the lessons deeper with interactions in person.
The most unfortunate part of the story of the private schools in Manipur during emergency like abnormal situations of months-long bandhs or agitations and COVID-19 Lockdown is the non-payment of salaries of the teachers and staff.
Most of the private school teachers in Manipur have not got their salaries for many months due to the closure of schools to fight the pandemic.
However, private school teachers being humble and committed to their profession of teaching the students, they continue to teach the students through available means either online or other internet based media without bothering about their salaries. We all know that genuine and committed teachers never think of their salaries while teaching their students.
Consequently, a pertinent question crops up here. Shall the teachers not be paid their salaries if the schools are closed and students do not attend physically even though the teachers deliver classes by other means?
School authorities, mostly founders and owners, are reluctant to pay salaries of their employees as they may not be able to charge tuition fees from the students during the COVID-19 lockdown. Many parents think that they need not pay fees if the students don’t attend school classes even though their children enjoy online classes.
One of the reasons behind their reluctance is due to one-sided appeal of many student 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. to the authorities of private schools in Manipur to waive school fees of the students to not burden the parents during the lockdown. However, interestingly majority of the parents and guardians of private schools are government employees and rich persons who have regular incomes in spite of COVID-19 Lockdown.
Moreover, the commissioner of the education department of Manipur Government issued an order on June 20, setting a bar for all the schools including private and aided schools in the state on collection of tuition fee and payment of salary to teachers. As per the order issued on June 20 by the education department (schools), all private schools with an enrolment of students below 200 will have to waive students’ tuition fees and pay 50% of teaching and non-teaching staff’s salaries, while schools having students enrolment of above 700 are to waive tuition fee and pay 100% teaching and non-teaching staff salaries of their schools.
Most of the school authorities taking advantage of this have not paid salaries to the teachers and staff arguing that without school fees from students where will the money for salaries come.
Notably, with the issue of Union Ministry of Home Affairs Unlock 5 guidelines, schools have to open after October 15 for the students whose parents consent to send their children to school while online classes should remain the preferred mode of teaching-learning process.
According to Unlock 5.0 Guidelines for Schools and Colleges, States/ UT governments are vested with the authority to decide on re-opening of schools and coaching institutions after October 15, 2020, in a graded manner. The government has permitted online or distance learning. It has also asked students to prefer online learning. Students who are interested to attend schools physically rather than online classes are permitted to do so. However, students can attend school or college only with the written consent of parents. Attendance must not be enforced in schools and colleges. It should depend entirely on parental consent. States and Union Territories (UTs) should prepare their own Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for reopening of schools/educational institutes. The SOPs prepared by States/UTs should be based on the SOP issued by Department of Schools Education and Literacy (DOSEL), Ministry of Education, Government of India. Schools, which are allowed to reopen, have to follow all the guidelines (SOP) issued by the Education Departments of States/UTs.
Now, the private school teachers of Manipur will be double-burdened in delivering classes both online and in school classrooms.
In the meantime, media reports say that the United Association of Recognised Schools of Manipur (UARSOM) and Hill District Private School Association Manipur (HIDIPSAM) on September 22 resolved to re-open private schools from October, which happens now to coincide with the Unlock 5 Guidelines. It was also decided that private schools will collect 50 percent tuition fee from students from April against the education department’s order barring private schools and aided schools in the state from collecting tuition fees, while asking private schools to pay salaries to teachers.
Reports earlier this month said, the association drew the attention of the state that teachers who are engaged in the online teaching-learning process are not able to make their ends meet as private schools are barred from collecting tuition fees to pay the salary of the teachers. Various students’ bodies based in hill districts and associations also had demanded the state authorities to resolve long-standing tuition fee-salary impasse before reopening of schools.
The UARSOM and HIDIPSAM said that the parents and teachers will be taken into account as well as the pandemic situation will also be taken into consideration before the final decision.
However, the two private school bodies are not exclusively teachers; they are in reality mostly represented by school authorities.
Even if the Government and private school authorities decided to reopen schools after October 15, they have failed to decide and pay the salaries of the private school teachers and staff for more than five months.
However, private school teachers of Manipur, as have always been at the receiving end without asserting their rights for fear of being fired by the school authority who are taking advantage of the humble teachers, who have a double burden of delivering classes both online and in school classrooms without certainty of their salaries because both the options have to be made available to the students and parents according to the Unlock 5 Guidelines. Private school teachers of Manipur are always victims of the emergency like abnormal situations of Manipur.
Senior Editor: Imphal Review of Arts and Politics