Srinagar: Every year private schools in Kashmir turn into “business houses”, forcing parents to buy textbooks and school uniforms for students at exorbitant rates.
Sometimes the bookstalls are erected within the school premises or the books are kept available at specific bookshops, in violation of set norms of the competent authorities.
These complaints pour in every year after the commencement of the new academic year.
As per the norms, the textbooks and the school uniforms should be kept available in the open market so that the parents could bargain the price with the shopkeeper.
However, the schools resort to illegal profiteering and keep the textbooks and uniforms available at specific shops.
The aggrieved parents complained that the School Education Department which was supposed to regulate the functioning of these schools had failed to act against these erring schools accused of fleecing parents under the garb of providing education.
“A parent has to pay Rs 2500 to Rs 3000 to buy books for a kindergarten student from within the campus or these specified shops while the cost of the same book set in the open market is not more than Rs 1500,” said Sajad Ahmad, a parent from Srinagar.
“The schools prescribe textbooks of private publishers which are sold at exorbitant rates through a nexus between the booksellers, publishers, and the institution,” he said.
These days there is again a public outcry against these private schools for indulging in illegal practice with the arrival of the new academic session.
“Unfortunately, this public outcry will not reach the competent authorities and will die its death till the next season,” he said.
As per the rules, the schools cannot change the textbooks for at least three years but the majority of these schools change textbooks every year and also prescribe unnecessary additional books to students only to mint money.
“When the textbooks remain unchanged for three years, the senior and junior students share their books every year which eases the burden on parents,” said Muhammad Waseem, a parent from Baramulla.
The parents said that the textbooks are changed every year to ensure that they cannot be reused by siblings or other students of the same school, forcing parents to stand in queues outside business outlets to make their venture a success.
“These private schools have established an independent empire with no checks and balances from the government. The department is equally an accomplice in this money minting business by the schools as it has over the years failed to address this menace,” said an official of the Education department.
A reputed private school in Baramulla this year changed the textbooks for the students which left the parents high and dry.
“The school has changed the textbooks for no reason, taking the reuse of books by students out of the equation. This pettiness is purportedly driven by commission from the publishers,” said Iftikhar Ahmad, a parent.
The Fee Fixation and Regulation Committee (FFRC) for private schools have kept its role limited to regulation of fee structure only.
However, as per a public notice issued by the committee last year, it was clearly stated that the committee has been constituted with a mandate to regulate the fee structure of private schools and prevent profiteering and commercialisation of the education sector.
Through the same notice, the SFFC had asked private schools to refrain from forcing parents to purchase school uniforms from particular outlets linked or promoted by these schools which put an unnecessary financial burden on the parents.
“The panel cannot take action against any institutions but it recommends to the government. However, the recommendations are not implemented on the ground,” the official said.
Principal Secretary School Education Department, Bishwajit Kumar Singh told Greater Kashmir that the schools would not be allowed to change the textbooks unless there is any change in the syllabus by CBSE or J&K Board of School Education.
“The textbooks should be kept available in the open market instead of installing sale counters in school premises or keeping them available at specific book shops,” he said.
However, a parent said that the private schools affiliated with the J&K Board of School Education do not follow the board syllabus prescribed for lower classes.
“They have their curriculum for lower classes because of which they prescribe textbooks of private publishers,” he said.