The plight of private school teachers

Three decades have passed but the violent upsurge in the Kashmir Valley, beginning 1987 continues. It has disrupted the normal life and engulfed us into the never ending  turmoil. Uncertainty gripped us and future looked bleak. There was dread and despair. The unrest not only disrupted our economy but also pushed the education sector into dark abyss. This sector was worst hit. We couldn’t envisage what lies ahead. The unabated violence exacerbated the future prospects of our children. It snuffed out our hopes. Our routine was paralyzed by curfews and crackdowns. The fear of death and detention kept us on tenterhooks.

After Pandit migration, outsiders and many locals were of the opinion that we could never stand on our feet. Pandits were dominating government sector including teaching profession. With their departure, education sector suffered a hit. There were so many apprehensions and challenges. In those testing times, teaching was not an easy task. Students were obstinate. Teachers had to be very careful with their head and hands. Any error or matter of concern could sometimes land them into trouble. With the passage of time, private school teachers held the reigns. They played pivotal role in imparting qualitaty education. Their hard work was paid off when the students from Valley excelled and topped in different Medical and Engineering Entrance Exams which was a distant dream before. They not only prepared them for competitions but also for the real life challenges.

They confronted the challenges and delivered beyond our expectations. It is only and only because of their tireless efforts, that today Kashmiri Doctors, Directors, Professors, Poets, Engineers,  Executives, Economists, Writers, Bankers, Business leaders, are leaving an indelible mark of excellence across the globe. It was a herculean task, which our teachers performed with utmost devotion. They took us out of darkness. They journeyed us through the ebbs and flows of life. These teachers have shown us a path and reignited our hopes to dream big for our children. All these years, these teachers are toiling so hard for us. Now, is it not our duty to address their concerns?

Every time, any untoward incident happens, the fee charged by the  private schools becomes the talk of the town. We need to understand the plight of private school teachers before drawing any conclusions. Ever since the schools were closed following the lockdown, a strange awkwardness is
being created for the teachers. The whole hue and cry over the school fees ( to be paid or not) has led to an uncomfortable feeling among the teachers. Its deeply worries that their worth  is being made to look directly proportional to the school fee being paid. They couldn’t ease up and allay their distress. Fighting on unfamiliar grounds was never acknowledged. The stake holders not for a moment sympathized with them. There are only tinsel promises. There has been always blatant exploitation. Social media is abuzz with updates of parents stigmatizing teachers at the slightest fumble.

We had witnessed many tragic summers in last one decade. As and when the situation returns to normal, the private school entrepreneurs come up with a litany of grievances and leave no opportunity to force parents to pay full despite schools remaining shut. Ironically many of them refused to pay. Those who protested, were fired.

Way Forward :
The Private Schools Association has an important role to play to deal with the prevailing circumstances. Those schools which are exploiting the teachers, should be taken to task. Two months back, when I learnt that in one of the renowned private schools of the Valley, the teachers were deprived of their monthly salaries, were still made to deliver online lessons, I discussed the issue with Mr. GN Var (President Private Schools Association) who resolved it, then and there. I must say he is truly leading from the front and addressing every grave concern. This should be the approach to handle the situation.

The decision shouldn’t be in isolation. There has to be proper rationalization so that neither parents nor private school teachers have to suffer. Sometimes being kind is better than being right. We have to look at the core aspects and then decide the future course of action based on computation and compassion. There are around 2640 private schools operating in Kashmir out of which 96% comprise economical schools and 4 % are expensive (elite) Schools. In the former, what teachers earn pittance and in the later case, they are profit making enterprises where teachers are being paid sloghtly decent perks. It’s not difficult to gauge whether the economical or elite class schools are on the break even point or not. It is a proven fact how much money in the form of annual admission donations augment to the regular income of elite schools.

If we dig deep, we will be surprised to find that almost 60% of the economy class schools are struggling hard to survive because they are not financially stable. Mostly, the students from lower middle class families are enrolled in these schools. In view of the economic crunch, it’s difficult for many parents (who have lost their livelihood) as well for schools to sustain, repay the debts and other utility bills.Unfortunately in these unusual and unprecedented times, the axe has fallen on them. Only govt relief package can save them, as they are on the verge of closure. Our concern should be the welfare of the private school teachers who are running these enterprises with their sweat and blood, otherwise it’s going to hurt the future of our kids. We should support the mid rung schools to whatever extent we can and in case of elite schools the entire burden shouldn’t fall on parents. There has to be a justified fee cut.

We have been in lockdown from last 10 months. Every business sector is already in shambles. It is the money of government employees which is being circulated back forth. Their 4% DA raise, annual increment, travel allowance had already been slashed down. Given the current situation, there are chances for the financial emergency as well. There are around 7.5 Lakh students in Kashmir and everyone is not supported by the government employee.

Without proper profiling, it will be sheer injustice, if parents are being asked to pay the whole amount for days of closure. Kashmiris are known for stocking rations for exigencies but, is it not also necessary for us to make a provision for the” Education Budget” for our children as well. Storage of food items meets the needs of our stomach but education satiates the needs of our soul. If we can spend on Jio recharges, is it not our obligation to pay willingly, so that the teaching and non teaching staff don’t suffer. The other option of admitting our children into the govt schools will be only feasible, if the whole education set up is revamped and rebranded on the same pattern that Mr. Kejriwal followed.

There will be always cries and chaos, if any stakeholder is sidelined. Take parents and poor teachers on board for collective decision making and formulating the plans and policies. There has to be a Win-Win situation for both the parties, only then we can come out of this grim situation. Together, we can manage to survive and face the challenging times with grace.

(Riyaz Ahmad is a Poet, Mentor and Management Consultant. He uses Kazmi as his pen name)