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School Crisis

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Private schools are one of the pillars of Uttarakhand’s economy. They contribute in direct and indirect ways, through employment generation and boosting tourism – parents dropping off children and picking them up a number of times, every year. The children of the state, particularly in cities like Dehradun, Mussoorie and Nainital, receive relatively high quality education thereby improving not just their employability but also their social behaviour. They also set the standard that government schools are forced to match.

The expansion of these quality schools took place because of the brand image that attracted students from all over the country and, indeed, the world. As the demand increased, it led to new ones being established at a healthy pace. Even the poor in the state aspire to send their children to these schools – creating an existential crisis for those run by government – because having studied in Doon, for instance, provides considerable boasting rights. All this happened because of market principles – the success of the schools encouraged ‘edupreneurs’ to open new ones. Those that could not achieve the desired standard fell behind, or even closed.

Unfortunately for the ‘industry’, government has become increasingly intrusive over the past few years – seeking to determine the quantum of fees, in particular, under pressure from parents who desire more for less by diktat. This is despite knowing full well that the impact would be felt by the school staff, which would be first in the line of fire when it came to cutting costs. Immediate fallout is on the quality of teachers because of whom the schools get their high reputation in the first place. This creates a negative spin to the detriment of the sector. It would be better if schools were allowed to compete among themselves – the better and cheaper edging out the lazy and greedy ones. Government regulations should focus on ensuring that those employed are treated fairly in terms of salaries, provident fund, medical benefits, etc.

The Corona Pandemic has dealt an unexpected blow to the schools that have been already financially stressed because of this government populism. The staff needs to be paid, but the demand is for waiver of school fees during the period of closure. It must be noted that schools were among the first to be shut down. It is time now that, having intervened in the business in the first place, the government step up and accept its responsibilities by evolving a package of concessions and assistance that would help the schools resume functioning. The present situation should also serve as a warning to the promoters of schools that the education sector might be a profitable one if done right, but it is also a social responsibility. Merely piling up private fortunes is not the only objective.