Preparatory Schools: Whose baby is this?

Over the years the Valley has witnessed a mushroom growth of the preparatory schools which have come up almost in all districts. The proprietors have invested huge money to set up the education facility for the toddlers but no government department is directly controlling the functioning of these pre-schools. Even the school education department is yet to formulate any guidelines for these play schools.

With no regulation from the competent authorities, no protocols are maintained for establishment of the school for toddlers. Any vacant building including the residential houses and other concrete structures are converted into a play school. Though some of the proprietors have setup specially designed buildings to run the pre-school facility for the kids but majority of the play schools are operating in two to three rooms of residential houses.

These play schools in Valley function without any regulation from the school education department which has given them a free hand to the management of these schools – from admission fee to tuition fee to the content of learning.

Outside J&K, the respective governments have set up certain guidelines which need to be implemented to ensure these preparatory schools remain functional.

The preparatory schools have to keep one teacher and one caregiver for every 20 children and should provide sanitized toilets with soap, running water with towels for easy access to both normal and disabled children. CCTV surveillance should be installed for the rest room as well as play area.

Besides other mandatory guidelines, the management of the preparatory school has to examine every child medically once a quarter by doctors registered with the medical council and the schools have to maintain records pertaining to the enrolment as well as attendance along with the fees paid.

In other states, the management of preparatory schools is barred to charge the capitation fee and their accounts are annually audited. Contrary to this, the parents are charged donation cum admission fee, which in certain cases even goes beyond Rs. 20000,  by the preparatory schools. It is followed by charging a monthly tuition fee. On an average each kid is charged an amount of Rs 1500 to Rs 2500 per month by the pre-school.

Ironically, nobody knows whether the accounts of these preparatory schools face any audit or not.

In other states, the preparatory schools are derecognized for any violation in the guidelines, but in Kashmir the government has not framed any such guidelines for these preparatory schools.

With no check from the school education department, the establishment of preparatory schools in Valley is seen as an easy way to make money. Unfortunately, the government has failed to check the exorbitant fee and donation charged by them.

Over the years, the overcharging by these pre-schools has gone unnoticed as the parents could not approach any competent authority regulating functioning of these play schools.

This year the issue came to fore after the parents were asked to clear the dues for the lockdown period. I was surprised to know that the preparatory schools have asked the parents to clear the monthly tuition fee citing that they conducted online classes of the kids. And what has been taught to these toddlers in online classes, nobody knows! But the schools claim that they have worked hard to keep students engaged with online classes by sending rhymes to the WhatsApp number of the parents.

One fails to understand the justification given by these preparatory schools to charge the fee from parents.

The parents are forced to clear the dues when they are yet to come out of the pressure mounted on them by private schools to clear the dues for lockdown period. The preparatory schools have come up with the similar excuses as that of the private schools; that they have to pay salary to the teachers. The private schools have a genuine reason as the teachers in the schools regularly attended the online classes of students. But one fails to understand the logic behind the claims made by the play schools.

Ironically, the play schools claim that have conducted the online classes for the toddlers and shared some rhymes on the whatsApp numbers of the parents.

The demand from the schools has annoyed parents but there is no one to act against the schools as no government department directly regulate their functioning.

Most of these schools start admissions in March and the toddlers remain enrolled for few months before admitted to kindergarten class of the schools where the admission process starts in September-October month. But this year, the educational institutions remained closed from the second week of March due to the ongoing lockdown imposed to avoid spread of coronavirus.

The kids have hardly attended any classes in these schools but the parents complain that these preparatory schools charge the monthly fee and no authority has regulated their operations. ( One can justify asking fee from those parents who are government employees and suffered no financial loss during the period of lockdown. But those who work in private sector, or own a business have suffered financial losses during this period.)

May be the problem is that the department remains focused on school education and the issues related to these preparatory schools go unnoticed. These institutions are not even associated with the Private Schools Association of Jammu and Kashmir where the parents could register their complaints.

The school education department recently issued an order to the private schools to charge only tuition fee from parents during the lockdown period but the preparatory schools don’t come under the ambit of that order. Not only this, the play schools don’t come under the ambit of any order issued by the school education department.

The officials in the school education department also admit that they don’t have control over functioning of play schools nor have they framed any regulation for these schools. But may be in future it may come with a regulation for these schools which may bring transparency in the functioning of these pre-schools.

Now having said that, one cannot ignore the plight of the teachers working in these pre-schools. They should be paid for the lockdown period like other employees working in the private sector. The government has already taken up an initiative to provide one time financial assistance to the teachers of private schools under State Disaster Relief Fund (SDRF) who were affected during the lockdown period. The teachers in pre-schools can be given financial assistance on the same analogy which will provide them relief amid the ongoing pandemic. There is a need to provide genuine relief to the teachers in pre-schools but the money charged by the institutions should undergo a proper audit as well.