Teachers in private schools fight to survive

Teachers in private schools fight to survive

With a large number of private school teachers forced to take up other jobs due to the pandemic, the future of students across Karnataka is at stake

Over 3.5 lakh teachers from private schools, most of them unaided, are struggling to bring food to the table after having lost their jobs in the wake of the pandemic. In their search of a livelihood, they have turned to selling vegetables and working in the fields while some have become daily-wage labourers, insurance and bank agents.

Nijalingappa, a social science teacher at a private school in Bengaluru, has taken to sheep-rearing after shifting to his village in Chitradurga. "The crisis was so bad that I was unable to pay my rent in Bengaluru. I had no option but to take up sheep-rearing," he said.

Renukesh, a 48-year-old Kannada teacher, has relocated to his village in Magadi taluk as his school hadn't paid him since March.

"I had been working for 21 years at a private school in Bengaluru. As there was no salary, I had to come back to the village. Now I am working as a farm labourer," he said. He also does daily-wage work for others.

Murthy, a 29-year-old Maths teacher, has no qualms about accepting any opportunity that presents itself. "I am accepting whatever jobs I am offered. I have no ego issues. I just have to survive until schools resume and witness enough admissions," he said.

At her home in Gokak, Savitha Sogali, a single mother of three, conducts tuition classes. A pre-primary teacher at a private unaided school, she hasn’t had a regular income for months. “The last few months have been a struggle,” she said.

Also Read | 'Best way forward is to open schools with all precautions'

Harshvardhan Desai, another teacher, started working as an insurance agent when he did not get his salary for months together. “I need to run my family,” he said.

Over the past few months, many private unaided school teachers have found themselves in dire straits. A study by the Central Square Foundation and Omidyar Network says that at least 80% of teachers in private unaided schools have not received their salaries from March this year. Nowhere to go, some have even turned to manual labour and Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act programmes to earn money to sustain their families. 

In September, Karnataka Education Minister S Suresh Kumar, acknowledging the crisis, said that, “the state government is trying its best to help them in whichever way possible.” 

Teachers and management representatives, led by the Karnataka Associated Management of English Medium Schools (KAMS), have been protesting and asking the state government to take steps to address their demands. 

Rapid growth 

The country has 4.5 lakh private schools, according to 2018 data from the Unified District Information System for Education (UDISE). 

"The condition of private, unaided schools is the same across the nation," Shashikumar, general secretary of KAMS, said. "Some schools are paying 75% of the salary, some 50% and some just an honorarium of Rs 3,000 to their teachers. The ayahs, attenders, housekeeping staff, drivers, cleaners have lost their jobs,” he added.

Unaided private schools have been mushrooming rapidly across the country. In 1993, they constituted just 9.2% of all schools and by 2019, this share had risen to 33.87%.  In Karnataka, more than 40% students are enrolled in private unaided institutions today.

Also Read | Coming year might see a shortage of teachers in private schools

Most of them are low-fee private schools cashing in on the aspirations of the lower-income families who prefer to send their children to an affordable private English-medium school than to a government school. As a result, nearly 46% of students enrolled here pay less than Rs 500 a month as school fees, and 70% pay less than Rs 1,000.

Parijatha’s (name changed) son is a II PU college student in Bengaluru. She said she worked for 10 hours a day as a domestic help to pay fees of her son when he was enrolled in a low-fee private school. 

“I wanted him to be able to speak English, and have a good education,” she explained and this meant opting for a private school over a government school.

New problems and old ones

According to the 2014 NSSO survey, 73% of parents believe that sending their children to private schools will provide them access to better quality education. 

But is that really the case?

To begin with, the lack of a standardised system of testing has made it impossible for parents to see how effective a school’s teaching is. The independent tests are conducted only for Class 10 and 12.

Since 60% of private unaided schools do not have students continuing up to Class 10, it is a challenge for parents to judge a school’s effectiveness based on these scores. 

As learning outcomes remain invisible, and there is no way to measure the competency of teachers, parents are likely to choose schools that have visible amenities like computers, labs and library facilities, as opposed to those that actively invest in training teachers or procuring teaching aids. 

So schools often spend more on infrastructure than teachers’ training.

The result of this is clearly visible in the Annual Survey of Education Reports (ASER) conducted in 2018. The report found that more than 60% of Class 5 children in rural private schools cannot do three-digit division and more than 30% of children cannot read a Class 2 level paragraph in Class 5.

Another challenge confronting private schools is finding competent teachers.

Also Read | 'Private school teachers are always overstretched and stressed'

Persistent issues 

Shivanand Hombal, an educator who runs Dhwani, an educational resource centre in Dharwad, explained that budget schools are always looking to cut costs and if teachers ask for a raise, even after working for years in the same school, they are dropped since operational costs have to be kept low. “Teachers are scared to go for their summer vacations because once they take a break, schools drop them,” he said.

Nisha (name changed) has changed three schools in five years. The working atmosphere, salary, and her desire to get better training and mentoring are the reasons behind her decision. This March, just before the pandemic hit, she quit her previous school because she was asked to guide children in an extracurricular activity in which she had no experience.

"The school didn't provide any support to learn the necessary skills. I also had personal problems and the family required my time. I tried to reason out but the school leadership just asked me to quit if I was not open to taking up additional responsibilities," she says.

No training offered 

Teachers in government schools receive at least 40 days of training to gain insight to get a hold of these problems and to develop their subject knowledge. Low-fee private schools, on the other hand, get no such support.

They are left to fend for themselves even through the syllabus upheavals and the management rarely invests in upgrading teaching skills since they have a staff that is constantly in flux.  

With the shift to digital education due to the pandemic and an intimidating amount of syllabus to cover in a short amount of time, their problems are only mounting. 

The pandemic has posed the challenge of adapting to online teaching. With no support from the school, Shravana and her colleagues had to take help from their family to train themselves to take classes online and make videos.

Way forward 

The pandemic has only magnified problems that were already present in the private schooling sector, particularly among low-fee private schools.

The new year, some think will bring respite as the Karnataka government plans to reopen schools and colleges by January 1, 2021.

However, Tarak (name changed) worries that his burden will only increase when the school reopens as the staff strength at his school has reduced by 50%. 

Bringing children back to the normal learning mode is another challenge as many of them would have lost their motivation, and their parents are not in a position to engage them academically.

Regarding the urgency of a solution, V Anbu Kumar, Commissioner for Public Instruction, said, “We agree that many of the teachers are in trouble. That’s why we have advised the private managements that whatever fees they collect for the first-term or admission fee, it should be paid for the salary of the teachers.”

“As of now, we are not involved in management issues. But we advise the management of all schools to ensure that they are paying the teachers,” he said.

(With inputs from Rashmi Belur)

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