Time to be grateful to private schools

    17-Jun-2020
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KV Zingkhai
In the near absence of a decent government run educational institution in the State for this many years, the private run schools have come a long way in providing quality education in the State. It will not be an exaggeration to state that the private schools have come to be the backbone of the educational edifice in the State when it comes to literacy. Here are few thoughts lest the contributions made by these privately run educational institutions recede to oblivion in the eyes of the government and the society.
State Responsibility:
By virtue of the Article 21A of the Constitution of India, inserted by the 86th Constitutional Amendment Act, 2002, Right to Education has become a Fundamental Right, and not just a Constitutional Right. It is the duty of the State to “provide Free and Compulsory Education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years”. The honorable Supreme Court of India in Environmental and Consumer Protect Foundation v Delhi Administration (2012), have ruled that the compliance of Article 21A, necessitates that schools have qualified teachers and basic infrastructure. In The State of Tamil Nadu v K. Shyam Sunder (2011) the same Apex court has ruled that the right of a child should not be restricted only to free and compulsory education, but should be extended to have quality education without discrimination. This is a huge responsibility that the State has and every single child in the society is entitled to this. The education policy of the country provides for the existence of both government and private run educational institutions in the endeavor to realize the Right to Education. The caveat accorded to the Private institutions should not lead the government to entrust the whole of its duty upon these private institutions, while shedding its responsibilities by keeping the state run government educational institutions as namesake monuments.
State of the Government Schools:
With no intention to sound pessimistic, it is a painful reality to come to terms that the condition and state of the government schools in the State are at their pathetic best. Ideally, the State sponsored government educational institutions (which are many in number) should be the best, making the presence of the private schools redundant. In principle they have the most qualified teachers, possibility of having the best infrastructure, possibility of the best support system; indeed the best of everything. But actually, opposite has been the case. Plain statement without description, that the government schools not only in the remote locations but even in the urban settings are perhaps at the bottom of the ladder, has become almost an understatement. This is not to say that the government schools have done nothing, but rather to emphasize that the government schools have seriously fallen short of expectations.
The private Schools:
When the government was not living up to the demands and needs of the citizens, the private schools had to step in. Today, private educational institutions, from the elementary stage to the level of higher education have played a big role in ushering in literacy and quality education to the people of the State. It is the State that has to be immensely grateful for the presence of these private educational institutions to make up for its failed responsibility. This is no time for the State to hold the private schools to ransom merely on issue of fees collection in pandemic times. The basis for such a claim are:
1. Most of the Private run educational institutions exist with zero financial support from the State. They are Unaided Private Schools. Some of them exist as Minority Rights certified schools. They run and have a right to run the institutions with minimum interference from the State especially in matters of administration. With no aid from the State but filling in the gap of the State, they exist faithfully providing not just literacy but quality education. They produce value enhanced educated citizens taking no direct credit at all for such contribution. The fruits are there to speak even when the tree itself has been consigned to oblivion.
2. The private run educational institutions have reached the remotest corners of the State. Since the State is found absent from where it ought to be, the private schools have become present. Various mission schools and individual run private schools have filled the educational geography of Manipur. Thanks for instance to the Catholic Mission schools. From Thanlon in the south to Chingjaroi in the north; from Phaitol (near Jiribam) in the west to Kamjong in the east; from Mao to Moreh, they have uncomplainingly reached the length and breadth of Manipur, endeavoring to impart as much quality education as possible. The Imphal city and the District headquarters have not been abandoned in the quest for the peripheries.
3. The money has been poured where it is needed most – among the underprivileged populace. It is as it were, that these private schools have invested where the State investment have hugely failed. While much of this enterprise is often viewed as profit oriented, for a fact, the sincere effort of these private players to bring education in hard conditions cannot be ruled out. Where schools exist in the government records and cattle shelters stand at the actual ground, where qualified teachers draw decent remuneration employing proxies and the real teachers in the private schools draw a pittance for what they call salary, where State apathy has left the promising education hungry children to chance, the private schools have come to rescue. Indeed the education scenario of the State is a mosaic of private schools with government schools serving as brown pigments.
4. When the foundations are shaky and lacking in strength, the edifice surely must fall. In well over 90% of cases, the credit for laying the elementary educational foundations in the remotest corners of the State must go to the private schools run by zealous and visionary humble private school entrepreneurs. The children from these schools when they are of age, come to the more central locations to compete with the rest; and they have proved themselves capable. Certainly the smalltime elementary private schools in the remotest hamlets deserve more recognition than they receive. But as it is, it may never come by, but they will not give up.
Government Face-saver:
The nationwide lockdown to control the spread of the Pandemic COVID19, have brought the educational institutions such as Schools, colleges, universities, hostels, etc. to a virtual closure. Even in the metropolitan settings, the number of institutions providing online learning facilities is minuscule for reasons that are obvious – not everyone has access to these facilities. In States like ours (Manipur) schools providing online classes are almost nil, with few probably attempting to send digital notes and assignments via WhatsApp and other social networking platforms. However the students in remote corners of the State have not been able to avail these benefits.
In such a scenario where the schools are unable to provide their services to the students, but the teachers and auxiliary staff who depend on the schools for their survival have to be paid, the question of whether the parents should pay the schools fees have come as a tricky ball, both to the government and the private school administrators. The State government intoning the tune of “No service no payment of fees” to appease the parents community (best hoped that it is not for political mileage), the paid school staff chanting the chorus of “give us our daily bread”, and the private school administrators sulking their desperation with a cry of “without fees how can we pay”, indeed the whole drama has unfolded into a limbo of suspension where the State is sitting and watching, the paid staffs are ranting and the administrators are on hypertension.
These are indeed hard times. Everyone in such times must bear the burden equally and fairly. There is no uniform brush with which the institutions must be painted. Not everyone is exorbitant in their fees, not all are doling out educational favor at a loss. So the schools must pay indeed. The parent community should be rest assured and demand that fair justice to learning is done for their wards once the schools reopen (and pray, soon!).
The teachers may have to be content with almost full. The administrators must gear up with a robust plan to ensure that the year is not lost.
What of the State Government? Given that it has done pretty little to contribute to the survival of these private institutions, acknowledging that the private schools have stood in lieu of the State in its failed responsibility, it is time for a face saver. A grant would be a welcome thing to the schools. If that cannot happen, the least it can do is to listen to all stakeholders and facilitate in arriving at a compromise formula where no one is made to solely bear the burden of this unplanned situation. And that would be a THANK YOU note from the state to the private schools!
The writer can be reached at [email protected]