IN Kashmir, running a school is considered one of the best businesses, something that is risk-proof, come hell or high water. No matter, how long there has been a shutdown or a lockdown, and how much as a consequence economy has been affected, private schools will charge their full fees. It also doesn't matter how many people have lost their livelihoods and how many businesses have been wound up. In 2016, private schools claimed their full fees during the six month long shutdown and also during the many preceding unrests, and they are displaying the same behaviour in the middle of a pandemic.
To be fair to them, Private Schools Association of J&K recently announced fee waiver to the students whose families have been hit financially due to the COVID-19 lockdown. This is first time that the Association has done so and it should be welcomed. The waiver, however, will be offered to the families whose income during the lockdown has either reduced to zero or has been drastically hit. The Association hasn't made it clear how much loss of income will it consider enough for the student to get fee waiver or a concession. While on its face it seems a good step, it isn't. Truth is other than government employees, the incomes of all others have been badly hit. It is a reality that the Valley has been under a lockdown for the past twelve months that has hit the businesses hard, leaving lakhs of people unemployed. And there is nothing that can compensate their losses.
It is nobody's case that private schools shouldn't get their fees. They depend on the fees to run their affairs and pay their staff. But it is also true that other than a brief period of a fortnight or so, the schools have been shut. And in this period they have saved on all the expenditures other than the salary of their staff, which some reports have pointed out has often been delayed or reduced. The teachers have delivered online classes and which too haven't been up to the mark considering the lingering curbs on the internet and the lack of the training of their staff to deliver online lessons. So, the schools can't charge a full tuition fees, let alone transportation fees for a service they have largely been unable to offer over the past year. Or resort to blackmail to extract it like some elite schools are doing. They are holding online exams and not allowing some students to appear unless their parents pay up.
True, it is not the fault of the schools for not being able to teach, but similarly it is not the fault of the hundreds of other businesses who have suffered. And if they have taken their losses on the chin, so should private schools. In Tamil Nadu, the state government has asked the private schools to just charge 70 percent of the tuition fees. It is time the local administration passes a similar order here.
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