Govt. schools help parents battle COVID crunch

Focus on learning: Students at a government school in Adarsh Nagar in north Delhi. SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA  

The COVID-19 pandemic has effected an exodus of a different kind. Several children studying in private schools in the National Capital Region have moved to government schools as their parents, reeling under financial difficulties brought about by consecutive lockdowns, have not been able to afford the school fees.

Given their precarious financial position, parents say free education will help ease the burden of school fees at a time when education has moved online and private school education has become a luxury they can no longer afford.

Vijay Verma, a photographer living on rent in Indirapuram, said at the start of the pandemic, getting through the month on his salary was impossible despite cutting down on expenditure. With two personal loans and a home loan to pay off, he decided to shift his son, who had just completed Class X from a private school, to a government school in Moti Bagh. His son, an avid football player, he said, did not protest as the government school had a reputation of encouraging football players.

“For over a year now, my son has not attended football practice as schools have been closed. What has made it worse is that we have now shifted to Greater Noida and to attend school, my son has to leave home at 6 a.m. to make it to the first class at 8 a.m. His school is approximately 40 km away. This is impacting his studies but we cannot afford to stay closer to his school,” Mr. Verma said.

At Happy Model Senior Secondary School — a budget school in Gurugram’s Sheetla Colony, which mostly caters to lower middle class families such as migrant workers, autorickshaw drivers, vegetable vendors and rickshaw pullers — almost one-fourth of the students, mostly in the primary wing, have withdrawn.

The school’s director, Gaurav Arora, attributed the trend to a host of factors, the most compelling being the inability of the parents to pay the dues due to loss of livelihood or salary cuts. Mr. Arora said the school had a strength of around 750, but 200-odd students had left over the past one year.

“The sudden lockdown pushed many families to hand-to-mouth existence due to loss of livelihood and cut in salaries and they decided to shift their children to government schools to avoid paying hefty fees for online classes. Also, there were families who withdrew their children to keep them at home for the fear of the pandemic or they could not afford smartphones for online classes. Besides, many migrants who left for their homes during the lockdown are yet to return,” said Mr. Arora. The school management offered several concessions to the parents, such as 20-50% discount in fees, flexibility to pay the dues in instalments and also waived the annual charges to discourage them from withdrawing their kids.

More girls exiting

At the school that charges a monthly fee ranging from ₹1,500 to ₹3,500 for different classes, Mr. Arora said the majority of students who left were girls. “I saw this trend in our school. Also, my wife, a teacher at a government school, told me how girls from good private schools took admission in her school,” he said.

Confirming the trend of growing admissions in government schools, Geeta Arya, Principal, Government Senior Secondary School (Boys), said the student strength in her school had gone up to 1,183 from 977 a year ago. “We still have five days to go before the admission process for the present session ends. We are expecting to touch the 1,200-mark this time.”

Ashwini Kumar, School Cadre Lecturer, Fine Arts, said: “Compared to private schools, the charges in government schools are almost nil and this is the main reason for the exodus.”

In some cases, financial burden has forced students to stay out of schools as well. Manju Kumari, who works as a domestic help in Greater Noida, said she was forced to pull out her two daughters, studying in Class IX and Class II, and son, a Class 1 student, from a private school during the lockdown and she has not been able to send them back to school yet. “I have still not cleared the dues at the school, so I cannot secure admission in another one. As of now, they are not studying but as the pandemic situation gets better, I hope to start earning again and get them admitted to a government school nearby,” said Ms. Kumari. She added that even for a government school, she needs to pay admission fee that she cannot afford yet.

Some parents who have opted to make the shift from private to government schools feel that in junior classes, in the online education mode, there is not much difference in the quality of the two. Yogesh Dutta, a resident of Jahangirpuri who used to set up stalls at weekly markets, said that due to the closure of markets, he was forced to take his son out of a private school.

“My son is in Class III. Learning through the mobile phone in private school is similar to that in a government school. My son sits with the phone and listens to the teacher at home. Why should I pay money for a private school when schools are shut?” he said.

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Printable version | Oct 17, 2021 3:44:02 PM |

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