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Lockdown Lessons

Lockdown Lessons

There is hardly any aspect of individual and social life that is not disturbed by the pandemic Covid 19. If the health care system in many countries is at the point of collapse because of the overflow of the infected people, the economy is crashing leading to the loss of livelihood of millions of people. Education is another badly affected sector. Millions of students are afraid of losing one year of their education. According to a recent study carried out by Save Our Education, as many as 9.7 million children in India will see their education getting adversely affected by the novel Coronavirus. Worldwide around 1.6 billion young people are not able to attend schools and colleges, as per the estimate of UNESCO.

The spread of Coronavirus and the consequent closing down of educational institutions indefinitely have confounded the already confused situation. There is no clarity regarding online classes. Many government schools are not in a position to provide online classes. Even if the schools provide online classes, if majority of the students do not have access to internet what is the use of online classes?

An editorial in Patrika, Hindi newspaper on 23rd July has brought to light the accessibility of internet connectivity. According to the editorial titled ‘Online Class’, only 38% of the people or 50 crore people have access to internet in India. This includes mobile connectivity also. Only 23% of the population have computer in the urban areas and only 4% in the rural areas. The editorial called for a policy from the part of the government that will ensure equal opportunity to all, including the poorest of the poor during the pandemic Covid 19.

Even when online classes were started by many private schools mainly in the urban areas, there was confusion regarding the number of hours the children have sit before the screen. Some state governments banned online classes for the primary and KG students, but later due to the pressure from the private school management permission was given. Finally, the Ministry of Human Resource Development issued guidelines on online classes on 15th July, 2020. The guideline named ‘ Pragyata ’, recommends that the duration for online classes for pre-primary students should not be for more than 30 minutes and for classes 1 to 8, the ministry has recommended two online sessions of up to 45 minutes each while for classes to 9 to 12, four sessions of 30-45 minutes duration have been recommended.

Another area of utter confusion is collection of fee by the unaided private schools. First of all, the State governments have not given clear cut guidelines for fee collection. Some state governments issued guidelines stating that only tuition fee could be collected by the private schools till the schools are reopened. Some State governments kept silence and when the schools asked for fee, parents’ associations went to the court for relief from paying fee on the ground that fee cannot be collected when the schools are closed. Instead of getting clarity, the issue became more confused as different High Courts delivered different verdicts on the same issue. While the Punjab and Haryana High Courts have given the verdict that the private schools are entitled to collect tuition fee, the Uttarakhand and Gujarat High Courts restricted the private schools from collecting fee.

Parents’ associations of 9 states approached the Supreme Court seeking a waiver of private school fees. A bench headed by  Chief Justice SA Bobde refused to interfere on the issue saying that problems of each state are different and the matter should have been raised before respective High Courts.

The Madras High Court on 17th July allowed the unaided private educational institutions in Tamil Nadu to collect 75% of the tuition fee paid in the previous academic year, for 2020-21. While 40% of the tuition fee can be collected as advance on or before August 31st the balance can be paid within two months starting from the date of reopening the institutions, the court said.

The issue is still undecided. The government wants the management of private schools pay salary to the teachers and other staff. At the same time, it doesn’t want to take a decision in favour of collecting at least the tuition fee because of vote bank politics. Parents of the children in private schools are a significant vote bank and the government doesn’t want to displease them. This uncertainty will finally do harm to the students. Without collecting fee the private school management will not be able to pay salaries to the teaching and the non-teaching staff for a prolonged period. 

The confused situation is being used by the Ministry of Human Resource Development to further the cause of Hindutva Rashtra. It has been reported that chapters on federalism, citizenship, nationalism, secularism, Human Rights, Legal Aid and Local Self Government and the like are being dropped from the syllabus of the CBSE Board under the pretext of reducing the Syllabus in the context of Covid 19. These portions are vital for the preservation and promotion of secular democracy. Therefore they are impediments to the establishment of Hindutva Rashtra. There is no guarantee that these portions will be restored to the syllabus in the coming years, although the HRD minister has given the clarification that the deletion of these items are valid only for the current academic year.

It seems that the unaided private schools have not come to a common platform and arrived at common policy regarding fee collection and provision of online classes to the students. As the State governments and the Central government are guided by vote bank politics, they will not act unless there is enough pressure is applied on them by the private schools. The unaided private schools have to come together and arrive at a policy, taking into account the need for paying salary to the teaching and non-teaching staff as well as the difficulties faced by the parents due to Covid 19. Then they have to present their request before the parents, the government and the judiciary. Since the Supreme Court has left the issue to be decided by the States, it is ideal that the common approach by the private unaided schools is adopted at the State level.

Besides being part of a common approach, each private school has to enter into dialogue with the parents on the issues of fee collection and online classes. In Madhya Pradesh parents have publically protested in some places against the management for collecting fees. They said that the online classes are useless. During the normal time the parents do not get a chance to observe the classes taken by the teachers. But during the lockdown the parents can see and assess the quality of the classes provided online.

The crisis faced by the non-aided private schools is an opportunity for the school management to reflect on education as a mission. If education is understood as a mission rather than a service, it requires a partnership approach in which the management, especially the principal, teachers, students and parents are involved. The teachers are to be made partners by adopting participatory planning, monitoring and evaluation of the educational activities. In that case in any crisis the teachers will stand with the management. It seems that in many schools the teachers have not taken a firm stand in favour of the management during the present crisis. If they are on the side of the management they would have made public statement on this issue.

Parents are also to be made partners in the process of education. Organizing parents’ seminar every year to make the parents aware of their role in the education of their children is found to be very effective in building relationship with the parents. Universal Solidarity Movement, (USM) Indore has been conducting seminar for parents of various schools in India for the last two decades. Many principals have given the feedback that the seminar helps in smoothening and strengthening the relationship between the parents and the school management. Secondly, the mechanism of Parent Teacher Association (PTA) is to be strengthened by taking feedback from the parents on a regular basis and asking the cooperation of the parents in solving the problems faced by the management. The suggestions of the parents that are feasible are to be implemented while convincing explanation is to be given to the parents why some suggestions cannot be implemented.

The crisis caused by the pandemic also has brought to light the need for building and maintaining good public relations with the various stakeholders of the schools. Building relations takes a long time and the relationship is built between the individuals and not with the institution. It cannot be transferred, but it is to be built brick by brick. The principals are also to be trained in leadership and management, which include public relation, before they are appointed. A post graduation and B Ed course alone do not equip a person with the leadership and management skills.

 The crisis caused by the pandemic Covid 19 provides an opportunity for the management of the private schools, especially for the dioceses and religious congregations, to transform education from a service to a mission by making the students, teachers and parents as partners in the process of education.

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(Published on 03rd August 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 32)