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Comercialisation of education under stress? 80% parents can't pay 'inflated' fees

By Our Representative
Addressing a webinar organized by the Right to Education (RTE) Forum, an all-India network of child rights groups, senior advocate of the Delhi High Court and social jurist Ashok Aggarwal, even as demanding that the schools should not be opened this year and every child should be automatically promoted in the next class, has revealed that 80% of parents of children studying in private schools are “not in favour of opening schools”.
Accusing private school operators of “pressurizing the government to open schools”, Aggarwal said that said that online education is proving to be a be a “tough challenge for children, parents and teachers, adding, it cannot be “a substitute of regular schooling.”
Pointing out that during this unprecedented crisis of Covid-19, “majority of parents are facing tough financial situation as they have either lost their jobs or have received salary cuts”, wondering how would they deposit big amounts of school fees, he said, according to his assessment, “So far 80 percent of the parents have not paid the fees.”
He added, “Around 40 percent of parents have withdrawn their children from online education because they have no means of earning; 85% of the small private schools have removed their teachers; 15% of the big private schools have earned so much that they can pay their teachers throughout the year.”
In his address, Prabir Basu, convener of West Bengal RTE Forum, said, "So far 7 lakh migrant labourers have returned to the state and about 5 lakh more are expected to return. Along with coronavirus, the state is also suffering from cyclone. Around 14,000 schools have been converted into quarantine centres.”
Basu  noted, “All educational institutions have been closed till June 30. In such a situation, there is a lot of confusion about the future in the minds of children and their parents as well. Digital education is not the solution not only because of the huge digital divide existing in the country creating a further marginalisation, but also because of the negative impact on students because of exposure to screen time, hindering children’s cognitive and socio-emotional development."
Along with coronavirus, West Bengal is also suffering from cyclone. Around 14,000 schools have been converted into quarantine centres
Anil Pradhan, convenor, Odisha RTE Forum, said, “Teachers in Odisha have adopted innovative ways to reach out to children and keep them engaged in education. These can be explored as alternatives to online education The Odisha chief minister had to appeal to private schools to waive off fees for three months due to Covid-19. This is because of the pressure of the Parents’ Associations.” However, he regretted, “No private schools waived off fees. The Parents’ Association has filed a PIL in the High Court in this regard.”
According to Pradhan, “Too much focus on digital learning would impact tribals and other marginalized communities pushing them out of this mainstream education. Government must take responsibility to ensure inclusive education for all.”
Earlier, welcoming the participants, RTE Forum national convener Ambarish Rai said that children have been the worst the sufferers of lockdown, regretting, though, the government is not looking towards them. “The government is being pressured by some private companies to impart digital education”, he said, adding, “Due to digital education, more than 70% of children will be deprived of education.”
Pointing out that the parents do not have digital system nor enough resources and money for it, Rai said, “The question is how to ensure the education of these children. The government has left the people to their own circumstances. Meanwhile, political parties have started election campaign. They do not have time to think about deprived sections of society.
Panelists at the webinar agreed that private schools shouldn't charge fees for at least three months –April, May andJune, while maintaining the right to wage of teachers. More than 200 participants joined the webinar from 20 states along with educationists, academia, social activists and representatives of civil society organizations.

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