Saturday, October 24, 2020

Bonded labourers

With all educational institutions in Nagaland closed for over 5 months now due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the issue of private schools charging tuition has been a recurring issue. While the parents complain of fleecing by private schools, the former justifies the stand under the garb of paying wages/salaries to teachers working in these private educational institutions. The claim is made without revealing the amount paid to these teachers. If reports are to be believed, most private schools are paying their teachers “half salary” citing shutdown of schools due to the pandemic. No private school has so far put the salary budget of teachers in public domain to justify their charging of tuition fees from students. On the other hand, the All Nagaland Private Schools’ Association (ANPSA) has sought the State Government’s intervention to tide over the crisis posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. “The Government should consider helping low income parents, whose wards are studying in private schools, besides, rolling out loans to the private schools,” the association had said. According to the ANPSA, private school teachers and staff need as much help as the needy students in the current situation. If not, schools may have to shutdown, it had warned. According to ANPSA, fee concessions would save parents a few hundred rupees but it would cost dear on the teachers and other staff as it would compel salary cut. It claimed that private school fees in Nagaland are relatively low, adding, “The question today is not just about waiving of fees but more about whether teachers and school staff should get their salaries or not.” The fact of the matter is that private school teachers are abysmally low-paid but the amount charged from parents is linked with the salary of teachers, resulting in schools earning a good profit out of it. But rarely any attention is paid to the plight of teachers working in private schools. After demanding the fee from parents, the management of the schools justify profiteering in the name of annual hike in the teachers’ salaries, but the teachers themselves, who often work harder than the government-run schoolteachers, rue that they are paid abysmally low salaries; annual increments and other incentives remain a distant dream for them. In fact, without any job security, the teachers hired by private schools are usually paid less that the government pays daily-wagers in the education department. In some cases it has come to fore that the teachers are often hired in March and fired in November to maximize profits of the private schools. This is done to deny the salary of teachers during winter vacation. The management in some of the schools does it tactfully either by changing the nature of job or by creating mental pressure to force the teachers to quit. If we go by the version of the private school teachers, majority of them are paid Rs 5000 to Rs 8000 per month. Only few schools pay above Rs 10000 to a private school teacher monthly. Indeed today majority of private school teachers are exploited by the school management. However, the management puts the blame on parents for not paying dues on time due to which they find it hard to enhance the monthly salary or pay incentives to the teachers. On the other hand, the teachers complain of absence of pay-scale standards in private schools on the basis of which teachers could be paid an annual hike in their salary. The way private school teachers are treated by the management indicates that the schools have an impression that they are not accountable to anyone for this and unfortunately this exploitation has gone unnoticed over the years, and most probably will continue in future as well. Nearly every year, the privately-owned schools legally or illegally increase tuition fee of students without seeking permission from competent authority but that hike does not reflect in the teachers’ salary. The irony is that over the years the State School Education Department has not formulated any mechanism to regulate salaries of teachers and staff employed by private schools. Clearly it is time the Government regulate salaries of private school teachers based on the details of the fee charged by the schools. The standards of the private school teachers should be improved, who otherwise are treated as bonded labourers.