In the wake of spread of COVID-19 pandemic, India is heading towards a new paradigm in conducting business, running offices, organising social distancing and managing supplies to needy and poor. The current lockdown is crippling Indian economy, making the state and industry coffers empty and also keeping the doors of learning institutions closed till further orders.
The educational institutions, especially private schools and colleges are, however, working overtime to adopt technology to bring online learning modules to the homes of their students. Most schools are conducting online classes, providing assignments, clearing doubts and assuring parents that students will not suffer academic loss. Schools are also continuing to pay staff salaries and raise school fee from parents albeit with various relaxations and with no late fee penalties. However, many parents are facing severe financial hardship which is further compounded by fee hikes announced by various schools. Thus, the Union Human Resource Minister, Mr. Ramesh Pokhriyal urged the private schools to reconsider their decision regarding the increase in the school fee during the academic session 20-21 and ease the fees burden by collecting it on a monthly basis during the lockdown period and directed the state education departments to come-up with a solution that works in the best interest of both the schools and the parents.
Followed by the above request, the Central Board of Secondary Education (“CBSE”) issued a notification dated April 17, 2020 regarding payment of fees by parents in private unaided schools during lockdown period (“CBSE Notification”). The CBSE Notification empowered the state education departments to examine the issue of lumpsum payment of school fees and teachers’ salaries and authorised the state education departments of all states and union territories to decide the manner in which the fees can be collected during the lockdown period.
Pursuant to the CBSE Notification, various state education departments have issued circulars/orders notifying private schools the manner in which they are entitled to charge fees from parents. Some of the circulars/orders issued by the state education departments are discussed herein below:
Haryana Education Department: The Directorate of Secondary Education, Government of Haryana issued the notification dated April 23, 2020 regarding collection of school fees during COVID-19 situation. The said notification directs the private schools to charge tuition fees on a per month basis from the students and other charges including building and maintenance funds, admission fees, computer fees and any other such funds and fees should not be charged from the parents.
The schools were further directed not to increase the monthly tuition fee and not to include any hidden charges in the monthly tuition fees. The schools were directed not to charge transportation fee from the parents during the lockdown period and no changes will be made in the school uniforms, text-books, work-books, practice books and practical files. Non-payment of fee should not lead to striking off the name of any student from the school or to deny any student from receiving online education.
Any school found violating the above directions would be liable to penal action under rule 158 of Haryana Education Rules, 2003.
Madhya Pradesh Education Department: The Madhya Pradesh education department has also issued its notification dated April 24, 2020 directing the schools to provide extension of time to parents to pay school fees if they were unable to pay during the last quarter of the academic session 2019-2020 till June 30, 2020 without any late fee charges. The private schools were further directed not to increase the school fees for the academic session 2020-21 and strike off the name of the students from its register due to the inability of parents to pay the school fees. Further, the school will not be allowed to charge additional fee for providing online classes to the students at home.
West Bengal Education Department: The West Bengal education department has also issued the notification dated April 10, 2020 advising the private schools in West Bengal not to increase the annual fee during the current academic year considering the current lockdown situation and to consider the matter of non-payment of school fees by the parents, if any, sympathetically.
Delhi Education Department: The Directorate of Education, Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi vide its notification dated April 18, 2020 also directed all private unaided schools to only charge tuition fees on a monthly basis from the parents during the lockdown period. No other charges can be levied during the lockdown period as the expenses with respect to co-curricular activities, sport activities, transportation and other development related activities are almost nil due to the prevailing lockdown. The private unaided schools have also been directed to ensure that all students are provided access to the online classes and education materials regardless of the inability of the students to pay the school fees due to financial crisis. Non-compliance of the aforesaid order by the Director of Education will invite penal actions under the Delhi School Education Act and Rules, 1973.
Others: The Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh education departments have also issued orders directing private schools not to hike school fees during the current pandemic. The Karnataka state education department has also issued a notification dated April 24, 2020 imposing restriction on increasing school fees.
Considering the unprecedented situation where most schools were unprepared for this eventuality but quickly geared up to provide continuous learning engagement through online education to their students and the continuing expenditure towards staff salaries, infrastructure, service providers on the one hand and the economic hardships faced by parents on the other hand, the need of the hour is balancing of interests by the government of both the educational institutions and the parents. This is to ensure continuity of education to students as well as survival of educational institutions across India.
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