Srinagar: The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over and health experts have asked the public to brace for a second spike in the number of infections. The pandemic has affected all facets of life across the world, yet the education sector in Kashmir is one with its own consistent struggles.
While turmoil and uncertainty have been a constant feature for students. Following the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s limited-autonomy on 5 August 2019, Kashmir has reeled under two successive lockdowns, spanning almost a year, and students have spent much of it at home.
The frequent lockdowns have also taken a toll on the spending capacity of the parents of students in Kashmir. A double whammy for the students and the parents, especially those in private schools who are paying comparatively exorbitant amounts in tuition fees (as compared to the fees charged by government run schools). Many have not been able to send their children to school even for a single day in the last more than 400 days.
A member of the Parents Association of Private School and a parent himself, Arshid Hussain Mugloo told The Kashmir Walla: “Our demands are legitimate and what we are asking has been nothing out of the ordinary. Our children have not been to school even for a single day in the last year yet we have to incur such burdens. Especially with the finances in shambles, it is difficult for us to make two ends meet let alone pay the complete fees of our children.”
Having to pay the school fees amid the economic instability thrown up by the pandemic has crushed many, particularly those in the informal job sector, but school managements argue that they are also under compulsions.
Baseema Aijaz, administrator of the privately-run SRM Welkin School in Sopore area of north Kashmir’s Baramulla district, said that schools had not stopped functioning despite the pandemic. “The administration section of the school has always been active and so have the teachers,” she said. “While a normal day might run from 9 am to 3 pm, the online classes don’t follow such a routine. We have tried our best to put up students at their convenience as we know that not everyone has access to the internet or computers all the time, but we are doing the best we can.”
Ghulam Nabi War, president of the Private School Association Jammu and Kashmir, said that “as of now schools are following the guidelines of the government, all the schools are charging hundred percent of the tuition fee and only fifty percent of the bus fee”.
Higher educational institutions of the valley such as the Kashmir University have successfully been able to put a stop-gap to this issue for now by asking the students to only pay half of their yearly fees for the time being with the other half to be paid on a future date.
In the pandemic when everyone is battling economic stability is a difficult task but the schools claim that to stay afloat and pay off their staff the only means for that is by the fees they collect. If they forego the fees they will have to close their schools down. Emphasizing this, Aijaz said: “As institutions, we function only when our fees have been paid. We are identifying the needy section of the society but the ones who are capable of paying should come forward and pay up so that it takes the heat off of the ones who cannot.”
While the arguments and compulsions of both the school authorities as well as the parents may each have merit, a common ground is yet to be arrived at. Meanwhile, to regulate fees in private schools of the valley, the government constituted a regulatory body — School Fee Fixation Committee (SFFC) — empowered with statutory powers to enforce these regulations and put a check on “illegal profiteering” by private schools.