On Tuesday, Atul Vohra, a parent from Sector 52, addressed a letter to the Prime Minister asking permission to “sell his kidney for paying school fees”. In the letter, Vohra stated that he lost his job due to the lockdown and struggles to support his family of five members, unable to pay “his house rent, monthly EMIs, insurance premiums, medical expenses and basic utility bill”. Though not all parents have taken such a drastic recourse to protest against school fees, parents have been regularly protesting outside private schools against the hiked fees that the schools are charging, even amid the lockdown.
Can private schools demand fees now?
An order from the UT Department of Education issued on May 18 allowed all private schools to collect fees for the month of April and May, by May 31 and collect monthly fees regularly from June onwards. The order also allowed for case by case exceptions, where parents can appeal to school authorities if they are truly unable to pay school fees. However, the order only allowed for schools to collect tuition fees and also does not allow for schools to strike off a child’s name from enrollment under any circumstance.
Many parents are against this order, stating that their financial burdens post the Covid-19 lockdown are such that they can hardly sustain their lives the way they could before the lockdown. “Many of us have lost our jobs or have had salary cuts. Other have had businesses from which they have received no income in the past three months. My husband himself had a 25 per cent salary cut which made it almost impossible to pay our monthly bills, let alone pay the fees in entirety,” said Kashmir Kaur, whose daughter studies in class 11 at a private school in the city.
Can private schools hike annual fees?
According to the Punjab Regulation of Fee of Unaided Educational Institutes Act, which also applies to Chandigarh, schools can hike their fees by maximum of eight per cent each year. “Because of that they hike the fees eight per cent at least of course every year. At least this year they could have desisted doing that!” said a parent who is involved in a wholesale fruits and vegetables trade, and has suffered irreconcilable losses since the lockdown. The parent has three children all studying in the same school. “Imagine paying for all three when you have little to no income in the past two months,” said the parent.
Apart from regulating fee hikes, the Act does not allow for schools to demand fees through separate brackets, allowing schools only to charge tuition fees. However, since 2017, many schools hiked their tuition fees, incorporating all charges within the tuition fee bracket to circumvent the regulations on school fees mandated by the Act. “They have medical fees, computer fees and what not. All of which have been added to the tuition bracket since 2017,” said Ved Sharma, another parent whose child studies in a private school in the UT.
“If they are truly sincere, and are just charging the tuition fees and need parents to pay the hiked fee amount to pay their own bills and salaries, then why don’t they show us their account balance sheet as they have been mandated to,” added Sharma. An order from the DEO office asked all private unaided schools to upload their balance sheet of accounts by May 20. However, according to DEO Alka Mehta, most schools have failed to do so as of yet.
What challenges are parents facing post lockdown?
The most obvious challenge is of course financial, with parents unable to pay all their bills and dues to job losses, salary cuts and other extraneous circumstances. “I used to earn between 40 to 50 thousand a month from my business. After the lockdown, with zero income, I have used up most of my savings. A person from my income bracket does not have enough savings to depend on in such a crisis,” said Raj Sharma, who used to run a prashad shop outside Mansa Devi temple before the lockdown.
Apart from the financial restraints, parents are also protesting against the demand to pay fees for digital education. “A digital education basically translates to the schools sending some videos or files over internet which in the end we only have to teach our children. How can they expect us to pay so much for the work that we are doing for our children?” said the parent who runs a vegetable business.
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