Budget private schools fear closure, pay teachers in rations as funds dry up amid pandemic

Representational image | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint

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New Delhi: Chaudhary Nathu Singh has been running Gandhi Memorial School, a budget private institute located at Dwarkapuri, Delhi, for 30 years, but this year has posed challenges he has never encountered before.

The school shutdown imposed in light of the Covid-19 lockdown has left the school’s finances in a shambles, he told ThePrint. “We have no funds left, since February our balance sheet reads zero,” he said. “We are a small private school with a fee of about Rs 800-1,000 a month. Parents say they have no funds to pay the fee.”

While Singh claims he has “somehow managed” to raise money to pay his school’s teachers, the authorities at many other budget private schools — left reeling by the pandemic and the lockdown — say they haven’t been able to do so.

The term private schools usually evokes an image of fancy institutions that charge high fees on the promise of holistic education for children. But the vast majority of private schools in India — by some estimates, nearly 80 per cent — are small-scale budget facilities that charge low fees but are seen by many parents as better alternatives to government schools.  

According to the think-tank Centre for Civil Society (CCS), budget private schools “are a growing segment of private schools that cater to economically backward communities and are often run by individuals from their homes”. 

“There are different ways to benchmark fee levels in private schools to identify budget schools. Some of the commonly used benchmarks include minimum daily wage, per-pupil expenditure in government schools or state per-capita GDP,” the CCS added in a 2018 report.

A report titled “State of the Sector — Private Schools in India“, released last month by the education-sector think-tank Central Square Foundation (CSF), said more than 70 per cent of Indian private school students pay less than Rs 1,000/month in fees, while 45 per cent pay less than Rs 500/month.

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