Bhanu P Lohumi
The managements of private schools and parents of wards are at loggerheads since the beginning of the current academic session.
Reason: Exorbitant hike in fee and other annual charges by privately managed schools on one pretext or another and public protests by parents, seeking intervention of the government to rein in these institutions.
The brewing resentment among parents has turned into anger and parents’ associations are spearheading protests in major town including Shimla, Solan, Kullu and other places, forcing the government to intervene.
The state Education Department had repeatedly asked privately managed educational institutions, including those which are not getting any financial assistance from the government, to abide by the provisions of the Himachal Pradesh Private Educational Institutions (Regulation) Act, 1997, and Right to Education Act, 2009.
All private schools are covered under the Right to Information (RTI), 2005. The Director Higher Education has declared all District Education Officers of their respective districts as Public Information Officers (PIOs) for furnishing relevant information and the Additional Director/Joint Director (administration) as first appellate authority under the Act.
However, private school managements are justifying the hike by saying that schools were unaided and there was a direct connection between the increase in fee with the increase in salaries of teachers and inflation. The agitations are politicised by CITU and there is rare presence of parents in agitations, they said.
Convener of Chhatra Abhibhavak Sangh Virender Mehra alleged that some private schools have hiked the fee of Class XI by 20 to 40 per cent and parents were up in arms against the school administration. The Sangh has launched an agitation for reduction in fee structure and refund of excess fee charged, so that education remains affordable.
As per the Right to Education (RTE) Act, it is mandatory that all schools constitute Parent Teachers’ Associations (PTA) through elections, but most of the schools have either not constituted the PTA or nominated their favourites in PTA. Moreover, schools have identified shops and made buying of uniforms and books from these shops mandatory, he said, accusing schools of getting huge commissions (ranging between Rs 10 to Rs 18 lakh) from shopkeepers patronised by them.
Another issue is over-charging over and above the maximum retail price (MRP) in functions including fête and carnivals organised by schools. For example items like coke, with price tag of Rs 25 is sold for Rs 50 per bottle, but there is no check on such illegal practices, Mehra said.
“Schools that have not hiked fee enormously are charging money under the garb of admission fee and other charges, without issuing any receipt,” said parents Ashima and Narendra. There are recurring expenses every month on school tours, picnics, arts and crafts exhibition, fancy dress competition, puppet shows etc and parents are forced to spend money on these activities, imposed on students in the name of all-round development, they said.
“Providing quality education to your kids has become a challenge, as private schools are increasing fee and other charges every year and putting additional burden on parents. The sad part is that there is no tab on it,” said Anjana, a mother of Class V student.
Action by Education Department
The government had issued detailed instructions directing private school managements to fix the fee and other charges in a rational manner and refrain from exploiting students. Private schools were told in the beginning of the session that no admission fee would be charged from students already on rolls, but the instructions were not followed.
A notification issued by the government on March 19 barred private schools from selling books, stationery, uniform and shoes without permission from competent authority and also not compelling students to purchase books, exercise books, uniforms and shoes from shops specified by the school managements.
Taking a note of reports that private schools were extorting money from students in the name of school tours and trips, the government instructed schools that educational tour programmes should be made in consultation with parents and the respective Sub-divisional Magistrate should be informed about the programme. Further, the participation in these tour programmes should be voluntary and not compulsory.
Inspection by Education Department
“Teams have been constituted for the inspection and schools which have increased their fee enormously against the prescribed norms or set up their own book and cloth shops and are compelling parents to buy stationery and dress from their shops would face action,” said Director Higher Education, Amarjeet Kumar Sharma.
A large number of complaints of enormous increase in fee structure, making it mandatory to buy books and dresses from particular shops, charging hefty amount in the name of tours and functions and lack of basic facilities such as proper toilets and drinking facility have been received and the department is verifying the facts, he said.
“School records of the last three years are being scanned to figure out the hike in fee structure and defaulters have been asked to refund the fee. Schools have been asked to ply their own school buses (either buy or hire) and communication in this regard was made earlier as well, but the response was poor and now, the Education Department has asked the HRTC to ensure that the buses hired by the schools are not overloaded,” sources said.
Kullu DC takes lead in resolving the issue
Meanwhile, Kullu Deputy Commissioner Yunus Khan has taken a lead in resolving the issue and told private schools that since these are registered under the Societies Registration Act or the Indian Trust Act, these can’t be the means of obtaining huge business profits. He made it clear that special audit of institutions fleecing parents would be done and strict action taken against them if any irregularities were found. The DC exhorted schools to take an initiative to cut fee and unnecessary funds. Earlier, taking a stiff stand on the complaints from various quarters and setting a precedent for erring schools running without any registration and not adhering to norms and guidelines prescribed by teh regulatory authorities, he had earlier ordered the closure of a private playschool after it was found that it was being run in a single floor of a commercial building and lacked play area, basic amenities and there was no proper ventilation. The school authorities were told to refund the fee. In another case, he ordered the shifting of classes IX and X of LMS, a private school in Kullu to its Kalehali complex, after he conducted an inspection and found flaws about the health and safety of children.
What school authorities have to say
‘Ours an unaided school, functions on fee only’
Ours is an unaided school, which functions only on fee. Ten per cent increase in fee will be reflected in the increase of salaries of teachers and maintenance of school infrastructure. As far as prescribing selective shops for buying uniforms and books is concerned, the move is aimed at uniformity in school uniforms, so that the dress of students looks similar, no matter from which background the student is from. Auckland is a boarding school affiliated to the ICSE and ICS Board. Providing dress and books to boarders is our responsibility. Moreover, unlike NCERT, the academic council decides the books in which maximum syllabus is covered. — Sunita John, Principal of Auckland House School, Shimla
‘Teachers have to be paid salaries’
The fee of Class XI is hiked by 10 per cent because we maintain 1:10 teacher-student ratio in the said class. There are 15 teachers against a strength of 140 students, who have to be paid salaries. To provide best facilities to students, we hire police playground for four months. As a result, our students perform well in national-level sports activities. In the absence of an auditorium in the school, special arrangements are made elsewhere for annual function for five days, which costs around Rs 1 lakh and all these expenses are taken care of from the fee itself, which is paid by students. — Rajender Singh, Vice-Principal of Chapslee Garden School