April 12, 2021

COVID-19: Re-closing schools will depredate private school teachers


Prasun Goswami

I had taken an Uber-moto ride in Guwahati last year during the second stage of unlock (around the month of October). As per my habit, I was conversing with the rider and came to know that the rider was working as a private school teacher in a low-fee private school in Guwahati. The prolonged closure of the schools owing to COVID-19 had made him and his family starve without salary. The school had exhausted its corpus fund and failed to pay salary to the teachers, even after the prime Chowkider appeared on the TV screens and casually ‘requested’ the employers to pay the salaries to employees. Distressed with his financial instabilities the teacher had opted for a packaging job in Nestle India Limited in Guwahati, but could not continue the job as he felt his dignity hurt by the insensitive behaviour of his manager and finally resorted to riding under the franchise of Uber-moto and was earning eight to nine thousand a month out of which he was paying a rent of five thousand.

Another private school teacher, Mahima was making the ends meet by additionally throwing private tuitions had to pack her luggage and leave the city of Guwahati to move back to her hometown during the lockdown. She was neither paid her salary nor could get the tuition fees even after continuing the classes in an online mode. She used to take care of her parents’ medical costs but the lockdown had forced this unpaid private school teacher into utter financial distress.

During the initial months of complete lockdown, a wealthy missionary school in Shillong had harassed and forced a teacher to leave the campus when he had asked for his salary. The school leadership had denied paying the salary to the teacher, humiliated him, and tried to forcefully throw him out amidst the lockdown.

A Kolkata-based organisation that provides private teachers mostly to the missionary schools in and around Assam had denied salary to its employees saying that they did not work during the tenure of lockdown.

A low-fee private school in the Barpeta district had decided to reduce the salary of the teachers to 50% owing to the lockdown. The teachers of the schools were bound to sell vegetables during the tenure to meet their expenses.

The last lockdown had created havoc in the lives of the private school teachers of the low-fee private schools. This is one of the most exploited sections of the working class in Indian society. They have been rendering their services over decades while being underpaid and overworked. The last lockdown had stripped them of their basic dignity. While a fraction of the teachers were receiving a reduced pay during the lockdown, others had to either lose their jobs or had to starve while being unpaid. Many big shots in this sector like the missionary school I have mentioned at Shillong or the Kolkata-based organisation did play nasty and deprived their staff of proper pay during the times of crisis, other low-fee private schools exhausted their corpus and hence failed to pay their staff. Out of the many had to close down their operations permanently.

Post the lockdown, as the schools re-opened the private players revised the pay of the teachers to be almost 50% or even lesser than their previous pay scales. A well-known and reputed school in Guwahati serving the children of the elite is paying a mere amount of twelve to fifteen thousand to its trained Post Graduate teachers. A well-established missionary school at Lakhimpur District of Assam has recruited post-graduate teachers under the pay scale of eight thousand a month post the lockdown.

Ideally in a socialist state like India, education from the pre-primary to the University level should be free and public-funded without the existence of any privately funded institution, but since the ideal situation is far away from reality, the issue of exploitation of the private school teachers deserves a discussion.

The concept of the private schools in India emerged as a trial to replicate the education model of England during the Industrial Revolution where the quality of education received by the children was determined by their class. While the elite was allowed to study and discuss literature, science, and arts in schools exclusively meant for them, the children from the poorer section were trained with basic literacy and numeracy to churn out the labour out of them in industry.

Private schools emerged in India as inspiration from this model. Various religious bodies have also initiated their chains of private schools wherewith an objective to radicalize the generations with their oppressive schools of thought. Be it the missionary schools nurturing a voiceless housewife out of a girl or a school affiliated to RSS or any other such radical Hindu body, nurturing Islamophobes out of children, these private schools have played an important role in it. Private schools have further deepened the class-based distinctions in our society. While a child from an elite background is visualized to have access to good quality education, laboratories, playgrounds, and libraries, it seems a sheer apathy is displayed by the Indian State towards a poor child attending a public school. Well!! the attitude that appears as a sheer apathy of the Government is a nasty plan of the Indian State to maintain the hegemony of the upper class in the society. The government visualizes the poorer children attending the public schools as the future generation workers who will be voicelessly working for the elites busy in amassing wealth. So, this is an overview of the system of the elite private schools in our country.

After the neo-liberalization of the Indian economy in the early 1990s, few from the poorest sections of the society could amass some wealth and could afford to spend some money for their children’s education. To cater to this section, a large number of low-fee private schools bloomed up. These schools were started without a backup of huge corpus funds and were solely dependent on the nominal fees collected from the students for their staff payment.

Sanganer Open Prison in Rajasthan is the largest open-air camp for accommodating the prisoners, most of them lifers. The prison complex houses a government school and an Anganwadi meant for the children of the prisoners staying in the prison. But the prisoners prefer to admit their children in the nearby low-fee schools instead of the in-house government schools.

In a riverside flood-prone area of Dhubri district, where most of the villagers are engaged in daily wage jobs, three low-fee private schools have bloomed up in a radius of eight kilometers.

Over the years the low-fee private schools have become an important component of our society and employ a considerable fraction of teachers. Funded by the low-fee groups, these schools have been paying their teachers a merge amount instead of the labour they have been putting. The lockdown was a farce for these low-fee groups as a result of which the fees were mostly unpaid in these low-fee schools and further, a crisis broke down lose on the teachers there.

This starving group of teachers has received the least attention from the media, public, and other economists. While it was very casually stated by the ministers that the salaries must be paid and house rent not charged, this group had to face the adverse of these both, heckled by their landlords while being unpaid.

There is another group, the contractual government college teachers, who had to face the farce of the lockdown. The contractual teachers are paid a very minimum amount and are employed by the head of colleges. Their salary is paid from the admission fees collected by the college.

The last lockdown had put a halt to this collection of admission fees. In Assam, the students were exempted from paying the admission fees of the colleges and Universities. This had convulsed the contractual teachers into a trench of uncertainty, utter financial distress, and instability. Many of the teachers were laid off and others had to manage with a much-reduced salary.

Post the lockdown, as the schools and other institutes have gradually started operation, these two classes of teachers are trying to wrap up the damages caused to them by the lockdown but then the current trend of the second wave in Assam and the health minister announcing that the educational institutions may have to stop operation, the teachers look forward to an even more grave an acutely financially distressing year.

This problem needs to be addressed. Owing to the economic blow that the working class is receiving due to the night curfews and the lockdowns re-imposed in various states, it is unlikely that after being re-closed, these set of people will be able to pay fees of these low-fee schools. This is going to bring one more year of financial distress for the private school teachers.

In Telangana, the Chief Minister has announced twenty-five kilos of rice rupees two thousand of aid to every private school teacher. Though the move is appreciated and can be replicated in other states, one question that arises is how morale it is to make a dignified hard-working teacher stand in a line of aid distribution during this hour of crisis? This question is extended to other strata of workers too, to whom the government is planning to provide relief aids. I find this is very unjust and undignified to make the citizens stand in a line of relief distribution in a socialist state.


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