Stop This Blame Game

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by Khursheed Wani

The functioning of private educational institutions is in sharp focus. On September 15, authorities suspended the re-registration of a branch of a leading group of schools, RP School Malabagh, over complaints of a group of parents on fee hike. The fiasco brought to the fore that another leading school, Green Valley Educational Institute, Elahibagh, has faced the same axe a few months ago.

The action evoked unprecedented reaction from the public for and against the private schools. Using social media bandwagons, some people announced their judgments, dubbed private schools owners looters and cheats. A dominant majority, however, questioned the government action as selective and discriminatory. They argued that if private schools were targeted to be reined in, the action should have started from the schools with exorbitant fee tariffs. The RP School, statistically, remains at the bottom of the list of Srinagar’s ‘expensive’ schools.

Four days later, Justice Hakim Imtiyaz Hussain, former High Court judge, who heads the Fee Fixation Committee (FFC) that regulates the fee structure of private schools, put the suspension order in abeyance. Pending submission of relevant documents, the two schools were asked to run their affairs including the conduct of examinations, till their cases on fixation of fee were settled.

The RP fiasco was actually a PR disaster. A group of parents had some grievances with the management on the affairs of the school, which were not heeded. They knocked the doors of the administration to teach the management a lesson. The school was caught on a wrong foot over fee structure mismatch. The fee levied on students was found awaiting approval from the FFC.

Interestingly, the school management was given a deadline to get the fee structure regularized, which was not in its competence because such decisions are taken in a high-level meeting chaired by Secretary Education. No such meeting took place in more than nine months as Secretary’s chair remained too volatile for any officer to settle in.

After failing to meet the deadline, the directorate suspended the school’s recognition, but on technical grounds, perhaps, this became the reason for the FFC to put the order in abeyance.

It requires a dispassionate and deeper analysis to gauge the working of private schools before jumping to conclusions. Whether these schools are sucking the blood of people or contributing towards the betterment of society and safeguarding the future of a generation is a relevant debate. The private schools have overtaken the bulk of student share from the government-run schools for obvious reasons. The government has perpetually failed to utilize the best human resource available in its schools, and on the contrary, the private schools have done better using less-trained or underpaid teachers. The story is not different on infrastructure and co-curricular activities. If the authorities are not able to raise the bar at government schools, their effort should not be to lower the bar in the private sector to strike a balance.

Morning Assembly at RP School, Malabagh Srinagar.

The furore against the private schools is essentially a sad commentary on government functioning. On the face of it, the government has set up a system to keep the schools in private and public sector under check. However, this system is not dynamic, disciplined and robust. There is a checklist for setting up a school and multi-layered scrutiny to upgrade it. Most of the government-run schools fail on the basic pre-requisites. Only a limited number of private schools can boast of fulfilling the requirements. The ground fact, however, remains that these schools are functional with tens of thousands of students on their rolls.

The fee collection and utilization is one of the major issues between parents and the school managements. A recent survey has established that investment on education figures at No 6 in the list of people’s priorities in Kashmir. Also, the age group making the bulk of parents of school-going children has studied in government schools. It is generally unfathomable for them to pay an amount (say, admission fee) which is much higher than the entire capital he has invested on his entire education up to the University level.

There is no denying the fact that schools require optimum accountability. The FFC was a genuine effort in this direction. Sadly, this institution was not allowed to be strengthened and broad based. This is the reason that despite being functional for half a decade, most of the schools have not attested their fee structure through the FFC system. The FFC is understaffed and the meetings to finalize the fee structure are rarely held.

It is easy to pull a calculator and make assumed calculations on the income and expenditure of schools to prove that the owners are profiteering. In reality, this can be proven by qualified chartered accounts at FFC, who scrutinize the accounts and out the school managements on notice for unsubstantiated claims, if any. The focus must be over bringing validity and robustness in the system rather than disparaging the entire gamut of schools.

Education is a positive and developmental activity that requires encouragement with accountability. People in Jammu and Ladakh regions of our state have understood it better.

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