A Conversation called Private Schools

Unfortunately our discussion about these schools is always hung on the cross of fee fixation – Crucifixation!
Justice (Retd) Sunil Hali
Justice (Retd) Sunil HaliSpecial arrangement

Justice (Retd) Sunil Hali is the new chairperson of the Committee for Fixation & Regulation of Fee of Private Schools. The Committee was headless for quite some time now, and with this appointment the different stakeholders will again gear up for an engagement with the Committee.

Less about policy, least about education, the Committee will again be sucked into complaints by parents about the 'exploitation' by private school owners.

Thanks to the legacy bequeathed by the man who occupied the Chair till some weeks ago, this Committee has turned into a nightmare for private schools. And a favourite hang-out for some parents who have set out on a mission to bulldoze one or the other private school.

In this contest between the 'angry parents' and the 'exploitative private schools', the education of our children in the private schools is getting a thorough beating. It's here that Justice (Retd) Sunil Hali would be tested for his wisdom and the capacity to rise above the prevailing perception about the private schools.

Mr Hali would be doing a great service to the future of our children if he cuts across the haze created over these years, and stands upright in a world of straightforward facts. It is time for him, and also for others who are a part of this Committee, to begin a meaningful engagement with all stakeholders, and not be driven by any emotional, or angry outbursts, by anyone in this space.

Mr Hali can begin this engagement by an act of disengagement – refusing his mind to be held hostage by the social media posts. Social media here has its own significance but it has turned into a neurotic, non-sensical, and frenzied medium that comes in the way of serious and meaningful conversation on any matter of significance.

Social media gives you the luxury of pronouncing a judgment even in the absence of bare minimum knowledge about the matter at hand. You play with the respect of people and image of institutions, and you derive a pleasure out of it – thanks to social media! 

What inflicts a social trauma is when officials in the positions of decision making respond to social media so swiftly, as if it's a revelation straight from the heavens. 

One would expect that the new incumbent gives himself time to build a fresh understanding about private schools, and is not guided solely by the inputs piled up in his office.

The understanding on what constitutes a private school at a place like J&K, requires a nuanced perspective. How a private school is actually run, also requires walking beyond the confines of the Committee's office.

Who gets exploited, and how, in a private school, requires meeting the people associated with these schools, rather than limiting to a few complaints by some parents. 

How the majority of private schools are struggling to survive, and their owners and managers are inflicting a perpetual pain on themselves, the new incumbent needs to unearth the actual suffering in this space.

How the teachers and other staff in almost all the private schools are wasting their lives, is known to us all, but none does anything about it.

How the drivers and other staff associated with school transport were made to beg for bare sustenance when the government passed an order that no, or heavily slashed, transport fee should be charged for the months schools remained closed in the aftermath of 5 August 2019 and the covid pandemic.

Some one needs to speak about those poor fellows, and fix the culpability. How the education of our children hugely suffers because in the name of regulations and reprimands private schools are kept on tenterhooks, as if a terrorist-designate is hounded by US Seals.

But before identifying this long list of hard questions, our understanding of private schools needs a revision. A private school is not a contrarian construct to a government school.

A place where there is no cardinal clash between the state-mind and the societal-mind, a government school and a private school constitute a complementarity.

But for a place where society hosts too many variations and state, by its very nature, cannot accommodate all the shades existent in a society, private schools not only share a relation of complementarity with the government schools, but also uphold the democratic principle of difference. If we look at our private schools from this perspective, they are sacred human spaces that must flourish.

In case a society is robbed of such spaces, it amounts to withering away of societal mind. The attempts to homogenise things, and apply a uniform curriculum is not such a nice idea. We can have broader framework that governs the things, but too much of narrowing down comes at the cost of societal mind and human spirit. This should be the starting point to approach any community driven initiative, like a private school.

Close to this foundational precept is an inquiry into how private schooling grew at a place like J&K. How it contributed to the social, moral and economic uplift of the people here.

But in absence of a workable financial model how our community run schools turned into a ruinous void, and left behind a legacy of devastated lives in the shape of the people, teachers and others, working in hundreds of such schools across J&K. How a superficial understanding of the ideas like Charitable Trust and Non-Profit consumes our educational institutions, and  pushes the staff working there to penury. Someone needs to dig deep and find answers.

Up ahead, we also need to appreciate the establishment of  private schools in the recent decades. These were established by entrepreneurial individuals or groups of such individuals. It is here that we can trace the birth of the Fee Fixation Committee.

It is a congenital deformity of sorts.  At a time when government schools made no serious contribution to education, and the community based schools failed to keep pace with times, these schools attracted parents and offered some decent choice.

Rather than looking into how the community based private schools failed in the absence of a viable financial model, we are driven by a strange enthusiasm to see all the private schools wither away. Who doesn't want an end to exploitation, but we need an honest, upright, and informed conversation on where this monster of exploitation resides.

I hope, Justice (Retd) Sunil Hali allows space for such a conversation. I hope, private schools prepare for such a conversation with a willingness to put in transparent and humane systems in their institutions. There is much that is wanting in our private schools.

Those who run these schools need to open up their minds and upgrade the skills needed to run a school. The parents who send their children to private schools are also a participant in this conversation. Just a request to them; services always come at a cost. Better the services, more the cost.

Let an honest conversation begin on education in our private schools, throwing away this sword of Fee Fixation for a while. Let's first grapple with the ABC of private schooling, before jumping straight to the F of Fee and Fixation!

Welcome, Justice (Retd) Sunil Hali to the Committee.

Mehmood ur Rashid is Opinion Editor, Greater Kashmir.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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