Srinagar: Private schools in Kashmir are in a soup as more than Rs 211 crores of tuition fee remains unpaid since August 2019.
The figure is based on preliminary estimates of the official data analysed by The Kashmir Monitor.
Two major developments have rattled the education sector in Kashmir: first the seven-month-long closure after Article 370 abrogation in August last year, and then the COVID-19 pandemic since late March this year.
These 10 months have literally wiped off an entire academic calendar. These days schools struggle to impart digital education using a weak 2G internet connection which, rather than educating, frustrates students and parents equally.
As schools are closed indefinitely, parents too have been hesitant to pay the tuition fees especially since the COVID-19 lockdown began in March.
As per the official figures of Directorate of School Education Kashmir, there are 2,710 private schools (both aided and unaided) in the valley with a student enrolment of around 6.5 lakh.
At least 45,000 teachers, as per the data given by Private Schools Association Jammu and Kashmir (PSAJK), are employed by these schools.
While there is no upper bar to the monthly tuition fees charged from each student, PSAJK places the average amount at Rs 500 per student.
The figure, however, is much lesser as most private schools charge between Rs 1000 to Rs 2000 a month, while as the ‘elite’ category schools (including the missionary schools and schools that have multiple branches across India) charge as high as Rs 4000 as tuition fees.
However, to err on the side of caution, The Kashmir Monitor has used Rs 500 as the basic figure to calculate the unpaid dues.
As per PSAJK, the parents of “at least 50 percent of the students” enrolled in private schools have not cleared their fees right from August 2019 till February 2020.
For the next three months – March till May 2020 – 99 percent of the parents, according to PSAJK president G N Var, have not cleared the fees.
“Some schools have 60 percent pending dues, some 70 percent. On an average, at least 50 percent parents have not paid the fees from August till March. During COVID-19 lockdown, almost 100 percent haven’t paid the fee,” he said.
For the seven months from August 2019 till February 2020, the accrued tuition fee (calculated taking Rs 500 per student per month as the base figure) is Rs 227.50 crore.
As 50 percent of parents, according to PSAJK, haven’t paid the fee during this period, the pending dues stand at Rs 113.75 crore.
From March till May this year, less than one percent of the parents have paid the fee which puts the outstanding balance for these months at Rs 97.5 crore.
The total liability, as per these limited estimates, thus stands at 211.25 crore.
Interestingly, while small business owners, dailywagers, and private establishment employees do have reasons justifying non-payment of dues due to the economic impact of the curfew and lockdowns, those who had an uninterrupted source of income during this period too have not paid up the pending dues.
The Kashmir Monitor spoke to 12 government employees, of which 10 hadn’t paid the fees of their kids since March.
Asked why they haven’t paid the fee when they received their salaries on time, seven of these parents said they are “waiting if government announces any exemption or discount.”
Three said they “wouldn’t pay for a service their children couldn’t get.”
The non-payment of fees has badly impacted teachers’ salaries who already receive peanuts in lieu of their services.
While a newly recruited government teacher gets Rs 30,000 each month, a private school teacher is employed at a salary as low as Rs 5000 a month.
“I have been teaching for 10 years in a school. I had started with Rs 2500 a month. After one decade, my salary is Rs 18,000,” said an English teacher at a private school in uptown Srinagar.
Var agreed that most schools have not been able to pay the salaries regularly since August.
“Salaries are not being paid regularly right from August 2019. There is no regular inflow of funds. Unaided schools have taken huge bank loans, from where will we manage the salaries if parents don’t pay the dues,” he said.
In the midst of all this, the reopening of schools remains a big challenge for the authorise, which on Monday asked all government schools to procure masks, sanitizers, gloves, and soaps as a preparation measure.
The government intends to open the schools by mid-June.