For the third time, in the last 18 months, Meha Saxena, studying at a premier private school in Jaipur was removed from her class WhatsApp group by the admin, who also happens to be the class teacher. The reason: her parents were unable to pay her school fees on time.
Her father, who was a private employee lost his job and her mother is a housemaker. Since the pandemic broke in India, Meha’s family has been in distress due to loss of income, costs of Covid treatment of her grandmother and other expenses. Now she has been pulled out of the private school altogether, forcing her to register in a local government school.
Meha is not alone. Hundreds of students across the state have been barred by private schools from attending classes due to non-payment of fees. The parent’s inability to pay dues in time has resulted in either shifting children to government schools, opting for open education, or taking a gap year instead.
“I miss my school as well as my friends. I never wanted to leave Jaipur and go back to the village. But my parents had no other option. I have been enrolled in an English medium government school in Sikar but I am yet to start the classes”, Sanskriti Kumar, 9th class student who just got enrolled in Mahatma Gandhi State Government School in Sikar said. Sanskriti had studied in a top private school in Jaipur but the adverse situation of her family forced her to go back to the village.
“My daughter is a bright student and wanted to become a doctor. Unfortunately, I lost my job last year and since then I have been struggling to pay her fees. Her school was demanding the full fees. I wrote to them about my condition but it made no impact on them. All I was concerned about was the future of my daughter. Our family moved back to our ancestral place in Sikar district and we were lucky enough to get her enrolled in the government school here”, said Sanskriti’s father Vaishnu Kumar, a carpenter by profession who used to work with a local entrepreneur before Covid but became jobless after he shut his unit. Vaishnu had no other option but to vacate and move back to his hometown to save on expenses.
Since the pandemic broke, owing to the job losses, thousands of parents have been unable to pay full fees of their wards.
In Rajasthan, a massive protest was held by the parents association in November 2020, after more than 70 percent of students studying in private schools were barred from attending the classes due to non-payment of fees. A parent group also knocked on the doors of and primary education minister and the Rajasthan high court. The matter finally reached the Supreme court.
On May 3, 2021, the Supreme Court passed a ruling ordering schools in Rajasthan to charge about 15 per cent less for academic year 2020-21 than the fee for 2019-20. The court also directed parents to deposit fees in a maximum of six instalments until August 5, 2021.
“The school authorities have removed students from online classes and groups due to non-payment of full fees. None of the schools is adhering to the guidelines reducing the total fees as suggested by the Supreme Court order. The State government and the education department have not ensured compliance of the order and chools are charging full fees from the parents forcing students to dropout”, said Arvind Agarwal, president of Sanyukt Abhibhavak Sangh, a parents’ association.
One fallout of the trend of parents forced to shift their children out of private schools has resulted in a rush of applications for admission at Rajasthan’s Mahatma Gandhi State Government Schools, which impart education in English. This year around 60,000 applications were received by the Rajasthan Secondary Education department, almost three times the available 18,093 seats.
These 200 English medium schools of Rajasthan currently have more than 73,000 students enrolled and with the new admissions, the number is likely to reach above 91,000.
“The schools will gradually be increased to standard XII offering students’ options of affordable quality education in all streams of arts, science and commerce. The government schools have been doing very well even during the pandemic, which is why there is so much demand”, Sourabh Swami, Director Education, Rajasthan said.
One of the challenges however faced by the parents is to get a transfer certificate from the private schools before they shift their children to government schools.
“Even getting a transfer certificate is a task as schools are unwilling to cooperate with those parents interested to shift their wards to other schools. They are demanding to even pay fees for the first quarter of this session and then give them a transfer certificate. Moreover, schools are making threats to remove the names of children, stop the examination and spoil the future”, Abhishek Jain Bittu, spokesperson of Sanyukt Abhibhavak Sangh said.
Even after managing a seat in the Mahatma Gandhi English Medium or Government Hindi medium schools, many are unable to take up the admission in absence of the transfer certificate. This is forcing some the parents to enroll their wards in an open school.
“I lost my job last year and was unable to pay the hefty fees of my two children. But somehow, I managed to clear their dues for the session of 2020-2021. For the last month, I am requesting the school authorities to give them a transfer certificate. But they are insisting that I pay the fees for the first quarter”, said Suresh Gurjar, who works with the handicrafts industry in Udaipur.
Suresh has managed to enroll his elder daughter in a government English medium school and his son in a government Hindi medium school but is apprehensive of their future. “The government schools are demanding the transfer certificates in absence of which their admission will be cancelled. If the school doesn’t give them one I will be left with no choice but to enroll them in an open school”, Gurjar added.
According to private school managements around 85 percent of parents haven’t cleared the fees of their wards for the session 2020-2021.
“There are about 50430 private schools in Rajasthan, in which more than 1.06 crore students are enrolled. As per the Supreme Court guidelines, parents should pay the fees as we have to clear the salaries of 12 lakh teaching and non-teaching employees”, Anil Sharma, state president of School Shiksha Parivaar Rajasthan, a union of private schools told Covid Response Watch.
According to Sharma only 2000 private schools in Rajasthan are getting regular fees. “Whether it’s about the examination or the transfer certificates, the facilities will be provided to a student on the successful payment of the fees. We have been trying to explain this to their parents”, he added.
Owing to the pandemic, the switch to online mode of education, Covid-19 restrictions and now change of schools and even education boards for class 10th and 12th students there has been an unprecedented amount of traumatic stress on children, especially from the low-income public and private schools.
“In this distressful time, children need emotional support and a friendly atmosphere at home, in the schools and peer groups. In the ongoing ‘fee war’ between parents and schools, it is the children who are facing the worst. The mental health of students should be the priority”, Vijay Goel, a child rights activist argued.
Tabeenah Anjum is a journalist based in Rajasthan, reporting on politics, gender, human rights, and issues impacting marginalized communities. She tweets @tabeenahanjum