66% of private schools using WhatsApp: survey
‘80% of teachers unpaid since March’
The popular image of private school education in the time of COVID-19 is the affluent child using a laptop for Zoom classes. In actual fact, over two-thirds of private schools assessed in a preliminary survey by the Central Square Foundation (CSF) are using WhatsApp, probably on a shared phone, as the main mode for teaching and learning during the pandemic. More than 80% of teachers in these schools have not been paid after March, it found.
The preliminary survey of about 90 stakeholders to assess the impact of COVID-19 on the private school system was part of a wider report on the status of the sector by CSF and Omidyar Network, released through a webinar on Wednesday.
“Almost half of all students are enrolled in private schools in India today. Most of these are not elite schools; 70% of students pay less than ₹1,000 per month and 45% pay less than ₹500 per month. About three-fourth of children in urban India go to private schools,” said CSF founder and chairman Ashish Dhawan.
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Given that many low income parents wait until March-April, at the time of the year-end examination, to pay annual fees for the previous year, the lockdown meant that more than half of the school owners surveyed have uncollected fees ranging from ₹4 lakh to ₹4.8 crore due from the previous year. “Out of about 3,900 budget schools that I have been tracking, 58% say they have not received one paisa in fees since the lockdown,” said Kulbhushan Sharma, president of the National Independent Schools Association, which has 70,000 private schools as its members.
“We understand that families are in crisis because of the lockdown. But when governments and courts give orders that no fees can be collected because of that, what do they expect us to do? If there are no fees, how will we pay salaries? There are 3 crore teachers and other staff dependent on private schools. Should they starve?” asked Mr. Sharma, who was present at the launch of the report.
He urged the Centre and State governments to give parents of school-going children direct benefit transfers (DBT) in order to pay fees. “In a ₹20 lakh crore stimulus package, why is there no expenditure for school education? Is quality of education really a priority or not? If private schools go bankrupt, where will those students go to school after COVID?” he asked.
Releasing the report, NITI Aayog Chief Executive Amitabh Kant said States must ensure that the reimbursements for students of Economically Weaker Sections must be paid promptly to private schools.
He also focussed on longer term policy changes needed to support the sector, agreeing with the CSF recommendation for a shift in focus from regulation of inputs such as fees, salaries, land and infrastructure to monitoring of learning outcomes instead. An accreditation system for private schools would also bring transparency and accountability to the sector, he said, adding that NITI Aayog is preparing a working paper on a model regulatory framework for States to follow.