The teaching fraternity in the private schools across Tamil Nadu are struggling for survival. With the COVID-19 pandemic really taking its toll on the community over the past year, their exploitation continues even as private schools mushroom in the state.
Successive governments in the state have not paid attention to the plight of these teachers, who continue to remain underpaid and over-exploited. The pandemic has worsened the situation, with school managements pushing them to the brink.
The number of private unaided schools – matriculation, CBSE and ICSE – which number around 15,000 in the state remain unorganised, leaving them at the mercy of their managements. .
The private school management associations had even approached court, seeking permission to collect fees from the students even during the pandemic. However, teachers working in the schools are suffering from wage cuts and job losses. They now seek government intervention to save them from the clutches of the managements.
‘MANAGEMENT DICTATING TERMS’
The recent decade has seen a number of private schools coming up in Tamil Nadu, leading to students leaving government schools, with the recent, pandemic-hit year an exception. With neo-liberal policies coming to the fore, governments in the state and Centre have concentrated more on reducing spending on several crucial sectors, including education.
“The pandemic has escalated our troubles and strengthened the hand of the managements,” said Rajesh, secretary of Kanyakumari district Private and Matriculation Schools Teachers’ Association.
“Many private schools paid much lesser salaries to teachers ever since the lockdown was imposed. Only about 20% of the schools in the state are paying the teachers between 50% and 80% of what they were paid earlier," he said.
Managements which have the power to ‘hire and fire’ them without any accountability to the education department or the state government, have been exploiting them, they say.
“We are not even able to question the management over the under-payment and non-payment of salaries since there is no state-level association to represent us. If we question the management, we lose our jobs. It is as simple as that,” Rajesh added.
After having faclitiated online teaching, teachers are now tasked with collecting fees from the parents. “We are also facing the ire of parents who are already suffering given the pandemic,” a teacher working in a reputed CBSE school in Chennai said.
“We are supposed to call at least 15 parents everyday and ensure that around 15 pay a part of the fees every month,” she added. “A parent once told me that she would pay the fees if her husband returns home alive following COVID-19."
The teachers are also entrusted with ensuring that no students leave school for financial reasons. “The pandemic has forced the parents to shift their children from private schools to government and aided schools. The teachers are being threatened; more than 70% of male teachers have left their jobs and are doing menial work to save their families," Rajesh added.
The schools are also forcing parents to purchase books and even uniforms at high costs, even though only online classes are in progress now.
A single mother from Kanyakumari whose daughter studies in a private school said that she had received "12 books for Class 7. While the total MRP amounted to around Rs 1,100, I have paid Rs 3,000 for the material," she said.
Despite all this though, the teachers remain unpaid with schools collecting all possible fees, except the transportation fee.
‘85% FEE COLLECTION BY SCHOOLS’
The Federation for Association of Private Schools in Tamil Nadu approached the High Court of Madras seeking permission to collect fees from the students during the pandemic period.
The court ruled in their favour, granting permission to collect 85% of the fee for the 2021-22 academic year from those parents who have not suffered from economic losses due to the pandemic, and 75% of the amount from other parents on request.
Another teacher from Madurai, who wished anonymity, said: “Despite the collection of fees from the parents, the teachers have been left to suffer. The management federation claimed that the reason for collecting fees was to pay teachers, but they are now shying away from doing so".
'CONSIDER US UNORGANISED WORKERS'
Years of suffering has forced the teachers to demand that the government considers them as unorganised workers.
"There are no social welfare schemes for us, no minimum salary and job security. Given all this, the government must declare us unorganised workers, form a welfare board and extend financial support during such extraordinary situations," Rajesh said.
Job security and a minimum salary for unaided school teachers are long pending demands.
"The appointments and termination of teachers from private schools should be monitored by the district education department. The government should also fix a minimum salary for teachers in these schools to prevent them from being exploited", said Sivasree Ramesh, joint secretary of Tamil Nadu Aided School Teachers Federation.