Yahoo spoke to Mumbai-based mom of kindergartener, Vipasha Singh. On one hand, she is anxious about her son’s screen time, and on the other, she knows the need of formalised education for her son, even if it is online. However, seeing her son’s growing fees is forcing her to question the school system. This is her story.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot of things.
One of the good things according to me was the acceptance of technology in schools in its true sense. However, that hasn’t changed the thought process of the so called “educationists” who, over the years, have turned this noble profession into a money minting business. Like they say, ‘shaadi ka business ho ya school, dhande main mandi nahi aati.’
A lot changed in the last four months when the pandemic struck and schools were forced to close doors. The initial month went by quietly as many of us were expecting the situation to get contained and were hoping against hope. Soon, as a mother I realised, lockdown or not, I am not comfortable sending my son to school till a vaccination solution is out.
And thus, popped the question, what’s to be done about school?
My son studies in a reputed school of Navi Mumbai, one that had carved a niche and was an obvious choice for me, simply because of the credibility the brand has. They are synonymous with quality education and top-notch infrastructure. And thus, when we all realised that this lockdown and no school is the new normal, our hopes were pretty high from the school considering the image of the brand.
However, to my utter dismay they have been an absolute failure.
My ordeal began in the month of April, when almost after a month of lockdown and no official information/communication from school, I started enquiring about the way ahead. I got a standardised response that I must wait for the school to release an official communication. I enquired about the process of fee payment for the new academic year, since the last date was 15th April. I was told that last date of fee payment has been extended until further notice, and once the school reopens, PDCs can be given at school desk.
Then, in first week of May, we received a communication that the school will start online classes from next week onwards. My son is in pre-primary and his schedule had a 30 minutes class for the first 15 days every day, at 5:30pm. Odd. But I thought to myself, it works, as being a working mother, I could manage my office till then and be with my son for 30 mins. However, a day prior to the onset of online classes, I got a message that the same are postponed until further notice.
Come mid-May, I received another message from school asking me to pay the first quarter fees, which for Sr. KG was a whopping Rs 58K. By then many state governments, including Maharashtra State Govt., had announced that schools cannot force parents to pay fees and they cannot charge the annual 10% hike.
I wanted to pay the fees. I wanted my son to get to meet his classmates and have some sense of formal education. Given the scenario, online classes had become a norm and I wanted the same for my kiddo as well. Yes, it increases screen time, but then who am I kidding, he was anyway becoming a YouTube baby. It totally depended on me on how to manage his screen time. And being in the EdTech space myself, I knew the expenses some schools were making to ensure a successful learning year for their students.
However, there were a few things I too wasn’t comfortable with. For example, paying the 10% hike; being charged for canteen; being charged for library; ‘miscellaneous’ costs, which were shown as — celebration of special days and events.
My son is not going to use any of these facilities, so why should I be asked to pay for it?
I further checked the school circular, which was very detailed, with an Annexure and an announcement for the online schedule. I was happy and relieved. I mentally decided that I will pay the first quarter fee. The circular also stated that the school will not charge me for canteen and transport (which was always an additional). This meant, I should also receive a revised fee structure/break-up because the one sent to us in December 2019 included snacks (which are mandatory for pre-primary children). So, I emailed the school asking for a revised fee break-up which excludes charges for snacks from the first instalment payment. I never got a reply. I wrote again, requesting a break-up and also seeking clarity on why the 10% hike is still applicable despite the govt. orders.
Again, no revert.
The last date of fee submission was nearing and I decided to pay the first instalment, with the hope that once I get clarity the same will be adjusted in the next quarter payment. I wrote to the school once again, this time informing them, that I had paid but was still awaiting a revised fee structure minus the canteen and seeking clarity on the fee hike. This time I got a call from a sweet-sounding lady who said to me and I quote, “Ma’am snacks have always been free of cost for children.” My jaw dropped. I have the school documents stating that my first payment of Rs 58k includes snacks. And now suddenly this is free? How? When?
I drilled her a little more and asked her to give me what she was saying in writing by replying to my emails, she said and again I quote, “Ma’am, we have been asked to say this only and we are asked not to respond emails. If anything changes, it will get adjusted.”
Life moved on. Online classes began and I was a happy mother. My son has a wonderful teacher who is putting in so much effort to connect with her children. And she is doing it brilliantly. I know how difficult it is for teachers. Because I work with teachers, I know how naked they feel with these online lectures. The feeling of being constantly judged is anyway not pleasant. But kudos to her efforts. It’s been over a month now and I am extremely happy. But I am happy with her. Only her.
For the entire month of June, I have written to the school each day asking for clarity and I have had no revert so far. Zilch. Nada. Absolute silence.
I have constantly been asking them to reply, even if it says, ‘please wait for an official communication to come’. The feeling of going unacknowledged, unanswered, ignored is never a good feeling.
I have reached a level where I am angry, I feel betrayed, I feel cheated. Because despite having paid, I don’t have any answers.
1. My son is not going to school. The 3.5 hours of school is now cramped in 1 hr 20 mins.
2. He hasn’t received his books, so whatever his teacher is teaching, so wonderfully is all in vain. Because with a 4-year-old you need worksheets for reinforcement. I have none from the school.
3. I have still paid for snacks which comes from the school canteen and I should have been exempted from paying that as per the school circular.
4. There are no special days or events which will be celebrated this year, but I have paid for all those.
5. My son is not using the school library, but I have paid for the same.
It seems unfair. Just because the school has adopted a no-communication policy, I am feeling so desperate that I have decided not to pay the school any further till I get a revert. I have even written to them stating the same. I know the outcome could be, non-payment of salaries to teachers and eventually shutting down the online classes and worst case my son getting expelled from school for non-payment of fees. All of which would just be wrong. But sometimes to get yourself heard you need to create some big noise.
Will it be heard? Only time will tell.