School education takes a hit, no solution in sight- The New Indian Express

Express News Service

BENGALURU:  Primary and secondary schools, indirectly hit by the lockdown and economic slowdown, present multiple problems that are now being considered, ahead of reopening schools. Karnataka has 78,436 schools with 4,69,250 teachers, and as per the education department’s data, out of 1.05 crore students, 80 lakh students have enrolled in schools.

The economic impact of the pandemic and lockdown on the education sector is unprecedented. Job cuts, failing businesses due to slump in demand, salary cuts among the employed and staggered salaries have led to a crunch in family incomes, lack of support for children’s education, to schools struggling to sustain themselves, socioeconomic fallout and psychological impact on children. Abdul Razzak, a wedding tailor in Kumara Park West, has four children.

His oldest daughter completed her graduation, while his second daughter is looking for admission to college. “She wants to pursue a course in a college near Anand Rao Circle, but the fee is `30,000. I have another daughter in sixth grade and a son in fifth grade who have to go back to school. Since weddings were cancelled during the pandemic, business was shut for two months, and supporting their education is difficult,” he told TNIE.

Businessmen, bankers, media professionals and even teachers this paper spoke to, revealed that various sectors taking a hit impacted their incomes directly or indirectly, making it difficult to support children’s education. Especially so with online classes replacing physical ones, and the issue of whether normal fees needs to be continued as long as schools do not reopen for physical attendance, and the fee structure itself. There have been several reports of friction between parents and school managements over the fee structure under the “new normal”.

While schools have been accusing some parents of taking advantage of the Covid situation, there are several parents with financial constraints, especially those from economically weaker sections, who have been struggling to pay school fees. This, in turn, has impacted schools and their sustenance. According to D Shashi Kumar, principal of Blossoms School and general secretary of Associated Managements of Primary and Secondary Schools in Karnataka (KAM S), over 18,000 schools are facing financial constraints and finding it difficult to pay salaries to teachers, and over 10,000 nursery schools are in limbo due to lack of admissions, as parents are wary of sending little children to school, and do not mind waiting till the pandemic abates.

“Every unaided school in the state is struggling,” says MA Khan, principal of KK English School, Varthur, who had to take a loan of Rs 10 lakh two months ago, and is hoping for approval for a loan of Rs 20 lakh to sustain his school’s functioning. This is apparently the situation of several private unaided schools in the state. A study by Dream A Dream Foundation on 853 schools across the state found that 97 per cent of them require support in digital learning solutions and training sessions for teachers to hold online classes. Besides, 89 per cent of the schools were found to be in need of financial support.

“We have asked parents to pay whatever they can. Even if it’s `5,000, because we have to pay teachers as well. Some donors have come forward to voluntarily adopt some schoolchildren and pay their fees. We are looking for more donors.

Currently, only 28 per cent of parents have paid fees. In our vicinity, 15 preschools have already shut down since they were running in rented buildings,” Khan explained. Teachers and counsellors also point to the psychological impact of online classes, especially on children in lower primary classes, wherein their cognitive skills may get affected due to lack of physical exercise and over-dependence on online sessions. “We have cancelled nursery classes for this year because it is not possible to hold online classes for small children. Their admission fees have been refunded as well,” said Gayathri Devi, principal of Little Flower Public School.

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