“We are not biased towards anybody.”

Chairman Fee Fixation Committee Justice (Retd.) Sunil Hali speaks about a range of issues related to private schools in J&K
“We are not biased towards anybody.”

Arshad Dijoo: What is the benchmark for determining the minimum salary of private school teachers and aren't they the backbone of private educational system ?

Justice Sunil Hali (JSH): The fee fixation committee understands that there is dichotomy in determining the minimum salary of private school teachers. We have observed that certain low budget schools actually pay very less to the teaching staff. While in big schools the salary stands around 20-25 thousand rupees.

In this case we purely go by the statements submitted by the various school managements. There may be misrepresentation of facts but at present we aren't in a position to cross check each claim.

We do visit schools for inspections. But only a few such visits occur for lack of manpower.

AD: What are the provisions for development and modernisation of schools here when the world is moving towards artificial intelligence and machine learning?

JSH: Yes we need the latest infrastructural facilities but it mostly is a one time investment in private schools. If we obtain 100 computers it's not necessary that every month we need more such expenses.

Actually education is not infrastructure only. We need to focus on quality teaching-learning process. Buildings and hardware are good but thrust needs to be on actual soft skill development and academics.

Yes, buildings, and other infrastructure, is necessary but still I believe it's the quality teaching that matters.

AD: Why is it believed that mostly private schools go for profiteering only. There are community schools and they reinvest their profit in the school development only. Why are these schools not allowed to raise fee as per their requirements?

JSH: We receive school statements depicting the income-expenditure part. But these statements continue to be only their side of the story. We lack manpower as of now to cross check the claims made. We accept them at face value.

And it's not the only side of the story. When on inspections we find a school needs to raise the fee structure we have given orders for the same. It's not that as fee fixation committee we are biased towards one side. We definitely support the claims of such schools who need our support.

But having said that with regard to big educational institutions as per Supreme Court directions there can't be more than 10-15 percent profits made. We have to toe the line. Here mostly the moneyed class has opened educational institutions but we can not allow random profiteering.

Let me add that there is necessity of private educational institutions otherwise government alone cannot cater to all. And our role is to keep a strict vigil.

AD: Parents pay to private educational institutions despite government offering free education and free midday meals, books and uniforms. Therefore it depicts that parents want quality education for their wards which they don't want to compromise on.

JSH: We cannot expect parents to pay through nose. There can be differences between infrastructural facilities at particular schools. But again there are Apex Court observations in this regard.

Quality education never tantamount to huge school buildings only. We must concentrate more on teaching-learning processes.

Certain schools have student enrollment in thousands yet our aim should be to reach out to each student in the classroom. Otherwise it's waste of exercise. Unfortunately parents do not come forward with complaints.

Also many big schools are still asking for admission fees and all that despite clear directions. We have been very tough on them once we receive complaints.

We are a regulatory body and seek cooperation of both parents and school owners. We are here to regulate and help grow the educational set up. We are not biased towards anybody.

AD: By too much regulation don't you think we are compromising the quality of education and limiting the options for parents?

JSH: No, we haven't over-regulated. In fact we are still awaiting manpower so that we inspect more and more schools and ensure our directions are followed in letter and spirit. Deterrence is a must for erring institutions. And for deserving institutions we are on their side.

Here I would like to request aggrieved parents to approach us directly in case they have issues. We are here to help. We have already played a role in many such cases where excess fee was returned including the admission fee in some other cases.

We equally support budget schools so that they sustain. We allow them fee hikes. In addition all schools go for yearly incremental revisions. It is sorry state of affairs that parents do not approach us in case any exorbitant fee is charged by the school.

AD: What's the procedure for fixing fee ?

JSH: As I said there are Supreme Court directions that the profits shouldn't exceed 10-15 percent. No commercialisation and profiteering. Rules and regulations set out the parameters for determination and regulating fees.We check the income-expenditure statements. Whatever is permitted shall be allowed. Further we await  stricter implementation of our directions in near future.

(Arshad Dijoo is a freelance journalist. He can be reached at arshdijoo@gmail.com)

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