Parenting in this pandemic has seen all sorts of emotions emerge. Online learning and teaching is a beast unleashed on teachers and students alike. Whatsapp school groups have really been buzzing on arguments over many technological hiccups with zoom classes, the added pressure on parents to occupy their kids, and the demand to continue to pay hefty school fees. “If teachers are charging the full tuition fee, then please be around to teach during school hours and keep the children occupied,” said a parent who was cross with the new work from home scenario and the unforeseen amount of hands-on parenting he had to do. There are also mothers like Kolkate-based Radhika Ralhan, who are juggling to keep up with school needs and stay at home (and work) with a life disrupted by the coronavirus, and are pushing schools to slash fees arguing that online classes are often a poor substitute. Madhuri Banga, based in Gurgaon along with the rest of her school group was upset that teachers found it “perfectly alright to teach 30 children in a 25 minute zoom class and are justifying that as ‘teaching.'” She got a lot of people on her side for the argument but it didn’t cut with the teachers or school management. Teachers on the other hand are reminding school management and parents that they too have a new learning curve and ‘just as many domestic commitments as any other parent.’ Are parents expecting way too much from teachers? “We are like any other employees, and we should get our fees too. In many other sectors people aren’t even attempting the efforts to go online like teachers have,” says Tanushree Bhandari who teaches class five in Mumbai.
So where are people on this debate? Let’s see the two sides and a detailed look at the arguments coming up.
- Classroom spaces are conducive to interaction, give students an opportunity to engage and promote learning say parents who are seeking discounts or complete fee relief during the lockdown or until schools open.
- To think that two or three zoom classes a day can replace the otherwise 8 hours a day study cum play sessions at school is plain unfair say parents. “And therefore to pay the entire tuition fee for an hour a day via zoom is making them upset and raise questions. “Think about it, if you are paying 20000 rupees a month for your child’s tuition fee, that should amount to approx 1000 rupees per day of school. By suggesting that you will be charging 500 rupees per 30 minute zoom class, schools are giving parents a real headache about such calculations and spends for ‘continuing online education’,” asks Debrati Sinha, from Chandigarh. In the case of urban privately run schools, the fees may be much higher and such calculations may hit over a few thousand rupees per half hour.
- Parents whose incomes are dependent on the economy running smoothly are facing even more hardships. A restaurant owner, who is already strapped for money to pay employees is protesting the fees saying this situation is sudden and unprecedented and “schools ought to think of those who may suddenly find they don’t have enough cash to pay chunks of school fees.”
- “No matter what, there’s more than a case for schools to consider a discount,” says Shailaja Karthik. “There are no physical admin costs, there is no transport (some schools are dropping that from fees but many aren’t as they say they need to pay the bus staff), there is no daily cleaning, and many other costs associated with the presence of kids in schools. High time managements think about this and offer a discount in the period we are not accessing the school.”
- As holding online classes becomes a norm, some schools are forgetting (possibly in the urge to get work done to show for the demands of monthly fees) that most of their students don’t even have access to tablets, computers or even wifi. The chaos caused by the virus falls hardest on those with the fewest resources. In Delhi’s Malikpur, a young 9 year old boy is being forced to go to his neighbours to take online classes amidst the COVID19 lockdown. That’s not just counterproductive, it’s down right unsafe and entirely unnecessary for schools that have a large or a small population of people who can’t afford these.
- Why aren’t schools and management talking to the parents about how things are changing? asks Anuradha Sen, who is a parent and has worked in education before.
- For teachers and schools, parents demanding a cut in fees don’t recognise the kind of planning that goes into school set ups. While fees are monthly, they are often arrived at by averaging out costs over the whole year.
- Schools have to continue to pay staff and teachers. They don’t have the option of laying them off for a few months only. This must make the decision of the management tough.
- Teachers have enough on their plate too. Like parents, they are having to do work for student classes, put food on the table for their own family, doing their entire house work and get going in this pandemic.
- “Some parents are asking for summer breaks to be cancelled to make up for studies via zoom classes. And then those who feel teachers shouldn’t be paid for summer holidays either,” Aarti Rao, a teacher who is upset with parents for having such a view of teachers ‘who are selflessly there for their children.’
- Arshi Gupta who works with a Noida based school says, “Finding a balance between parents expectations and teachers capability to do this is very tough. I am also exhausted because of the many tasks I have to do, aside of giving assignments, teaching on screen, checking feedback, filing my teacher submissions, network issues and more. These are one set of challenges. Also I am like many others running my household. Finding a small break to put the lunch on the table is quite a struggle for us all too. On a typical school day, we have house help and that’s not our current reality.”
- Mamta who is a primary school teacher says they have to put in a ‘phenomenal amount of work’ in the absence of school resources, drawing and writing things for kids, sending Whatsapp messages to ensure parents have the information, collect assignments and check, stay in touch with parents on feedback on the new online methods. “We don’t have books with us so we had to first source the photographs of the books from students who have them or search online. We select material what we want to use and then prepare notes to be sent to children and parents. And then we record audio and video tutorials too.”
- “Parents are asking for all kinds of classes from subjects to co-curricular as well as life skills classes. They want innovativeness with the kids. Many of us are doing activity calendars. They feel it’s a gimmick but we have to research and prepare for this effort, and it doesn’t come easy,” says Beena Rao a consultant for education sector who works with teachers. “How can teachers not be paid fees? Not easy for teachers or a school to provide for online education overnight. And we have done it. Many of the schools are also paying for software etc. No one is appreciating that we are managing our homes. Our in-laws are there, our kids are there, husbands are there, we also have all this extra care to do suddenly. It’s not been easy for teachers or school management.”
- We spoke to a parent who has recently become a teacher for IB curriculum and she shared a balanced perspective. “I understand where parents are coming from but I also now know what it is to be a teacher. For a teacher who teaches in IB for instance, the curriculum is very hands on, collaborative. A lot of the inputs are from the class and you structure your discussion and methodology accordingly. We are working harder to prepare presentations, manage the classes, by asking kids how they feel. Not only are you a teacher, suddenly you are also counselling kids including online and social etiquette. You have almost become an IT person helping children to see what tech issue they are facing, look at your assignment this way or that way to understand the concept. Our work has been turned around on its head. I don’t understand the argument that teachers are teaching only four hours. It’s harder.”
With every passing day, and the lockdown, this debate will get intensify. Why is there such a trust gap between parents and teachers these days? It’s a question we all need to answer and in the light of unusual events, make extra effort to understand each other.
While education is like any other sector and taking a hit in the COVID 19 pandemic, parents and teachers both have a point. Union Minister for Human Resource Development Ramesh Pokhriyal has already urged private schools to reconsider annual fee hikes amid the nationwide lockdown to combat the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. In Delhi, Deputy Chief minister Manish Sisodia said at a press conference, “we have decided that no private school, whether on government or private land, will be allowed to hike fees without seeking permission from the government. Schools also cannot charge beyond the tuition fee and no school can charge three months’ tuition fee [at a time], the fee has to be collected monthly.” Maharashtra too has reports of parents writing to the education minister seeking fee relief.
Like many conversations between parents and teachers, this too is a tricky one. It’s not easy for teachers, it’s not easy for parents and children. Have a view? Please share with us [email protected] or join the debate on social media.
Some names have been altered to keep anonymity on request of parents and teachers