A massive protest by private school managements in Bengaluru on Tuesday, demanding a rollback of the 30 per cent school (tuition) fee reduction for the current academic year, has exposed the growing rift between the parents and the schools in a pandemic year.
A protest march supported by 11 school associations from the city railway station to Freedom Park opposed the government order directing the schools to charge only 70 per cent of the tuition fee for this year and no other fee.
Primary and secondary education minister S. Suresh Kumar, who met the protesting school managements and teachers said that the government had arrived at the 30 per cent fee reduction formula only after holding wide consultation with all the stakeholders.
"I would have been happy if the school managements and the parents would have worked out a solution themselves. But the government was forced to intervene when both parties failed to arrive at a consensus. We will soon hold a meeting and arrive at a solution that is beneficial to both sides," assured the minister.
While, the private schools are opposed to the fee reduction stating it would only deprive the teachers of salary as the government has not extended any support or exempted the schools from taxes. We are paying teachers's salaries, interest on loans, insurance, and other service charges, said the school managements.
The parents, on the other hand, contended that the schools are demanding the full fee though only online classes are being held and no other facilities are being availed by the students. The parents also allege that the pandemic has lead to job loss and salary cuts and a rollback of the fee cut would distress the parents. The school managements are making an excuse of the teachers' salaries. But the fact is they have hiked the fee every year, sold overpriced books, uniforms and extracurricular activities. The laptop, internet (data) and printout costs have been borne by us, say the parents, who have united under the banner "Voice of Parents". The parents also point out the schools have not been able to cover the entire syllabus either in online or offline classes too this year.
Meanwhile, the teachers, say they have worked doubly hard during the pandemic and a salary cut is not justified. Both the private schools and the parents however seem to agree that the government has failed in its duty to provide quality and affordable education.
It may be recalled that the Karnataka government on January 29, had announced compulsory 30% reduction in the tuition fee across all private school managements for the current academic year (2020-21).
The decision followed several protests by parents' associations against the fee structure in private schools. The parents had been staging protests demanding the state government to intervene and reduce the school fees. They also expressed their inability to bear the burden of a hefty school fee as many people have suffered job loss and salary cuts and the schools have been conducting only online classes.
Suresh Kumar had said that all the private schools irrespective of which board they followed, would be allowed to charge only 70 per cent of the tuition fee collected last year (2019-2020) for the current academic year. The schools cannot collect any other fee but the reduced tuition fee. He also noted that many private schools had agreed for a 25 to 30 per cent reduction in fee.
The minister had asked the schools to make provision for payment of the tuition fee in three instalments. If any parents had already paid the full amount of the fees this year, the excess amount paid could be adjusted for the next academic year.
The department also set up district and state level committees to resolve any disputes over excess school fee.
The tug-of-war between the parents and the private school managements reached a peak after many schools threatened to discontinue the online classes for students who fail to pay the fee. The parents had threatened to stage a protest demanding the state government's intervention.
Even as the private schools had expressed their displeasure over the government regulating the fee, the minister had stated the government had only exercised its powers under the RTE Act and also the Epidemic Diseases Management Act to fix the fee structure for this academic year.