Who cares for underpaid private school teachers?

Over the past few weeks, the privately owned schools in Jammu and Kashmir are in the news for charging high tuition fee. This was not the first time that the nitizens and parents started complaining about the private schools but it has become a routine in J&K over the past few years.

This time the issue came to limelight given the situation across the globe on basis of which the parents were expecting some relaxation in paying the school fee of their children.

But, the parents were taken by a surprise after the government allowed the private schools to charge only tuition fee from parents for the lockdown period. The move was justified by the government saying that the private schools have to pay salary to the teachers who were regularly taking online classes during the COVID-19 lockdown period.

While the parents complain of fleecing by private schools, the former justifies the stand under the garb of paying wages to the teachers working in these private educational institutions. The claim is made without revealing the amount paid to these teachers. Despite persistent demand from parents, no private school has so far put the salary budget of teachers in public domain to justify their demand.

The fact of the matter is that the teachers are abysmally low-paid and the amount charged from parents is not only linked with the salary of teachers but schools earn a good profit out of it. But rarely any attention is paid to the plight of teachers working in schools.

After demanding the fee from parents, the management of the schools justify profiteering in the name of annual hike in the teachers’ salaries, but the teachers themselves, who often work harder than the government-run schoolteachers, rue that they are paid abysmally low salaries; annual increments other incentives remain a distant dream for them.

As per the official figures there are around 7010 private schools – 2710 in Kashmir and 4300 in Jammu division. Out of this 1542 are primary level, 2135 middle, 1338 high schools and 444 higher secondary schools in Kashmir Valley. The total student population in private schools is over 7.5 lakh. These schools employ around 40000 teachers and 25000 other non-teaching staff including drivers and helpers.

Without any job security the teachers hired by private schools are usually paid less that the government pays daily-wagers in the education department.

In some cases it has come to fore that the teachers are often hired in March and fired in October to maximise profits of the private schools. This is done to deny the salary of teachers for winter months.

The management in some of the schools does it tactfully either by changing the nature of job or by creating mental pressure to force the teachers to quit.

If we go by the version of the private school teachers, majority of them are paid Rs 7000 to Rs 8000 per month. Only few schools which comprises not more than two percent of the total private schools pay above Rs 20000 or Rs 30000 to a private school teacher per month.

Having seen the private sector very closely for last more than seven years, I have seen how majority of the private school teachers are exploited by the school management. However, the management puts the blame on parents for not paying dues on time due to which they find it hard to enhance the monthly salary or pay incentives to the teachers.

On the other hand, the teachers complain of absent pay-scale standards for the private schools on the basis of which teachers could be paid an annual hike in their salary. The way private school teachers are treated by the management indicates that the schools have an impression that they are not accountable to anyone for this and this exploitation has gone unnoticed over the years, and most probably will continue in future as well.

Nearly every year, the privately-owned schools legally or illegally increase tuition fee of students by around eight to ten percent without seeking permission from competent authority but that hike does not reflect in the teachers’ salary.

The irony is that over the years the department has not formulated any mechanism to regulate salaries of teachers and staff employed by private schools.

Recently, the issue of fee charged by the private schools and the salary paid to the teachers was discussed in a meeting chaired by J&K Lieutenant Governor, G C Murmu to review the functioning of the education department. In the meeting G C Murmu desired to explore the possibility to provide one-time assistance to the needy private school teachers based on the details of the fee charged by such schools as provided by these institutions.

The decision might raise expectations of thousands of under paid school teachers but all eyes are on government to see that whether the genuine lot of private school teachers are benefitted out of it. Hope this first of its kind step, if implemented on ground, will benefit the deserving lot and not the institutions which have been already benefited by the government through several means. Let the standards of the private school teachers are raise who otherwise are treated as bonded laborers.