Visakhapatnam: It’s as if private schools haven’t heard of the Covid-19 pandemic, the total lockdown and the horrendous economic consequences. At a time when parents are facing severe financial difficulties, private schools here are insisting that they pay the fees for the new academic year right away, besides charging the usual makups on books, shoes, uniforms, etc.
Some schools have even hiked their fee because they are “using digital learning apps”.
Various NGOs and child welfare organisations are up in arms, and are lobbying the government to take immediate action to ensure that at least students from the poor and weaker sections are not hustled into paying up right away.
This at a time when the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has issued instructions to all regional joint directors of school education and DEOs in the state to direct schools not to increase any fees during the academic year 2020-21. School managements arre supposed to charge only the tuition fee on a monthly basis.
The state government too has issued orders to schools to collect only a monthly fee after reopening of schools. But many schools are acting unilaterally and demanding the parents to pay the annual fee in entirety. And the district administrations have not initiated action on such schools for seting aside the government orders.
Child Rights Protection Forum (CRPF) state president Dr Gondu Sitaram said all the private unaided schools have been told not to enhance the fee this academic year. Any deviation of these instructions would result in cancellation of the school’s recognition, besides initiation of appropriate action against the management, he added.
The case of Timpany School
Yielding to protests by parents and NGOs, Vizag’s Timpany School has decided not to hike the fee this academic year. However, it is yet to announce a switch to monthly fee payments. After a lot of hue and cry, parents were asked not to pay the fee until further notice.
When the Timpany School management increased its annual fee by 25 per cent last year, it was stiffly resisted by parents. At that time, the DEO and other education officials intervened in the matter and asked the school to raise the fee by 11 per cent consecutively over the next three years. Following through on that decision, the Timpany management collected 11 per cent extra on the existing fee this year. However, NGOs are insisting that the 11 per cent hike be set aside this year in view of the unanticipated Covid-19 situation.
Bala Vikas Foundation secretary Narava Prakash Rao wrote a letter to AP School Education Regulatory and Monitoring Commission chairperson Justice R Kantha Rao complaining against Timpany for not following the rules of the state government and the terms of the Right to Education (RTE) Act.
On receiving several complaints against the Timpany School by NGOs and parents, Andhra Pradesh State Child Rights Commission (APSCPCR) members visited the school recently and they spoke to its director. They directed the school management to address the allegations levied by parents and settle the issue in an amicable manner.
APSCPCR member Dr Kesali Appa Rao instructed the school director to refund the hiked fee already collected from parents. He also advised the school not to sell books, uniforms and other materials on the school premises. "No child shall be put under pressure for fee payment or extra classes. The RTE Act shall be strictly implemented by allotting free seats to the poor," he said.
Timpany School director Annie Cherian said the 11 per cent hike on term fee has been on hold. "We will discuss with the management on the monthly payment of fees as directed by the state government and inform the parents accordingly," she said.
After receiving the message from the school management, parents celebrated by cutting a cake on the school premises. "Private schools should not hike the fee at this critical time and Timpany School would stand as role model for them in following the instructions of the state government," a parent S Hemanth said.