As lakhs of people have been forced out of their jobs due to COVID, teachers of private schools say the burden of educating cannot be on them, if they are not paid for their work
Srinagar: Manzoor anxiously scans the message box of his phone looking for the SMS announcing the credit of salary in his account. A father of a 7-year-old boy and a 2-year-old girl, over six months of no-salary has been hard for him.
A post-graduate in Urdu from the University of Kashmir, Manzoor works as a teacher in a private school in Mallabagh area of Srinagar. Like most of his colleagues, he has been without pay.
Continuous closure of schools, and the subsequent no-salary policy from the administration of many schools, has brought the staff working in the private education sector, to their knees.
“Apart from teaching at the school, I used to take home-tuitions in the neighbourhood, but the continuous closure of schools and the Pandemic has snatched the means of my livelihood,” laments Manzoor.
Since the school stopped paying him from March, and the private home-tuitions have also become an unwelcome affair for the obvious fear of Corona, people like Manzoor have been hit very hard.
The condition of Showkat is not very different. A middle-aged man from New Theed Harwan area of Srinagar, he works as a driver for a local school in Braine Nishat in Srinagar.
COVID and the subsequent Government response to tackle the pandemic has left him wageless for months altogether.
“It is for the sixth month now, that I have not earned a single penny. There is a continuous closure of schools. Having a family to feed, thoughts of slow starvation turns my nights restless,” deplores Showkat.
A teacher of history, Shaista, having done her post-graduation from Indra Gandhi National Open University, working in one of the private-run schools at Rajbagh Srinagar, is facing the same issue. “There are about 60 teachers and other non-teaching staff in our school. The school has not paid a single penny to me or any of my colleagues for almost six months now. Nothing hs been paid since the reopening of schools after the winter vacation, even though they collected dues in the earlier weeks of March,” complains Shaista.
“Despite being without wages for such a long period, amidst the turbulent times, we have not shied away from the moral and professional obligation of imparting education using virtual applications like Zoom, Social Media, and other virtual platforms, according to the schedule prepared by our school,” Shaista says.
“Both, parents who are reluctant to pay the fee, and the school administration who are not ready to pay their staff, are responsible for our misery,” Shaista says.
No Class-No Fee
Amidst the closure of schools and other educational institutions, parents across the realm started a ‘No School-No Fee’ campaign.
“Schools are building pressure on us to submit the full fee including the transport charges,” alleges a parent. “The government order stated that the schools can only charge tuition fees for the period of closure due to COVID and should not pressurize the parents to pay their dues if the latter is not in a condition to pay,” says the parent.
“School management is blowing the situation out of proportion. Almost seventy percent of parents, who are government employees or businesspersons, have already cleared the dues of their wards. But unfortunately, many schools are not ready to trickle the revenues down to their staff,” says Mohsin Ghoni, Chairman of Parents Association of Privately Administered Schools.
“They must understand that it is a crisis, and as a moral, professional, and social responsibility, well-off schools should come forward to help their staff and people in these turbulent times,” Mohsin says, adding, “I am pleased to say that budget schools have displayed tremendous generosity as compared to these rich schools,” Mohsin says.
‘Parents must pay fee’
In the pandemic, many private schools in the valley have continued with the academic activities switching to the virtual or online medium of education.
“Society is going through unprecedented hardships, but the irony is that the parents who are well-off, having a regular source of income, like government employees, are reluctant to pay the dues of their wards,” says K. Mahajan, an academician, and an owner of a prominent school in Nishat area of Srinagar.
“Schools are already offering a concession to needy and destitute parents on a case-to-case basis, but the people who are earning should come forward to help the schools to pay salaries to the staff by clearing the dues of their wards,” Mahajan says.
“Having transport loans, overdrafts and staff liabilities at hand, the schools too have been brought to the knees,” says Mahajan.
“Despite the non- payment of dues, the schools have not stopped the e-education of the students and have already completed the Term-1 examinations. We are ensuring maximum participation of students in the e-learning process on different virtual platforms. My school switched to the virtual model of education from March 22 within a few days of a the closure of schools in the valley,” he adds.
Mahajan says that despite tremendous hardships, he has ensured the disbursement of ‘some salary’ among the teachers and non-teaching staff.
“On the eve of Eid-ul-Fitr alone, I had to approach the bank for an overdraft to disburse the salaries among the staff,” he says.
Amidst the parents’ reluctance to pay the dues of their wards, helplessness of budget schools, and the apathy of the administration, coupled with the catastrophe of the Pandemic, thousands of children are staring at a bleak future, as Manzoor and his likes are striving hard to keep their stoves burning in their kitchen.
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