COVID-19 has affected all the spheres of our lives but it has impacted the education sector like no other.
According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy last year, over 122 million people lost their jobs in metropolitan cities and almost seven million people lost their jobs last month. This has resulted in the increased dropout rate of students from schools and colleges. Online classes are easy and fun but only for the students of metropolitan cities, for the students of rural areas, it’s the biggest misery.
It is always the proletariats who suffer on the verge of everything. Millions of people lost their jobs, which means they can’t afford the fees and digital gadgets to support their ward’s education. It has been a year since we have online classes but the fee charged by the institutions is still the same and no varsity provides digital aid to its students. We were slowly and gradually adopting the virtual means but COVID-19 accelerated the whole process.
Physical classes have been terminated since last year, which means students don’t have any access to neither the infrastructure nor any resources of the institution. They have to pay their internet bills for online classes, then how is it fair to charge the whole amount of fees? It will be a fair argument that the private unaided school authorities will be at a loss due to a reduction in the fee. But, when students are not even using the resources then doesn’t it seem that the private institutions are earning a profit during the pandemic.
The fee issue was first raised by a fourth-year law student, Kush Sharma, in Delhi High Court. But the bench rejected his plea for charging only tuition fees by the universities due to the pandemic. He even asked the varsities to provide gadgets and internet connections to those who can’t afford it, so that all the students can attend online classes in full efficiency. His plea also alleged that certain institutions took coercive steps, like calling and texting the parents of their students reminding them to deposit the fee, and threatening to strike off their ward’s name over non-payment.
People were earning enough just to sustain, let alone depositing the hefty amount of fees. But the bench headed by Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan had a difference in opinion. They rejected the plea by stating, “Such petition deserves to be dismissed with costs, but we are not doing it now… concessions are not a matter of right“. What was so wrong in his PIL that the judges passed such a harsh statement?
Various businesses and daily wage jobs have come to a standstill due to the pandemic, which also affected their kids’ education. It became an obligation for them to drop out and chip in to help their parents earn some extra income. What does it say about the welfare state, where the students can’t even complete their basic education?
According to a report by the National Herald, six million students have dropped out of school and another 1-1.5 million would add to this number. This is only because the parents have lost their jobs and can’t afford online education for their children. This imposes a bigger challenge for the policymakers of our country as to how they will ensure quality human resources in the tech-savvy future.
And not to forget about the deteriorating mental health of the students amidst this chaos, which is not addressed by anyone. Our state has been constantly failing us be it educationally, economically, religiously, or politically, in every aspect our government has failed us. Amidst this mayhem and distress, even our legislature failed us.
On February 8, 2021, the Supreme Court issued an interim order that stated that the parents will have to pay a 100% fee for the academic session 2020-2021 during the pandemic. Rajasthan High Court in October 2020 ruled that the schools affiliated with the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) will reduce 70% of the fee and the schools affiliated to the Rajasthan Board of Secondary Education will reduce the fee by 60%. Private and unaided schools were against this judgment and the SC sided with them.
On May 4, 2021, SC ruled that the state government cannot violate the autonomy of private unaided schools to fix and collect “just” and “permissible” school fees from parents, even during a pandemic. The court ordered the schools to reduce the fee by 15% in the lieu of unused resources, as it “would be a case of profiteering and commercialization by the school Management”. The court also asked the schools to not debar any student or harass anyone for depositing the fee.
But this action was taken only for the schools. UGC did not issue any guidelines the college students. The UGC Act, 1956, instilled responsibility in UGC, to maintain the standards of teaching, examination, and research. Section 12A of the Act provides explicit power to the UGC, to regulate and scale the fee to be charged by colleges and universities in the public interest. The inaction of UGC has failed to protect the students and their right to access education.
My classmates raised the fee issue in front of the authorities, but we got an answer with another question: “Did any other institute make a concession?” Many of my classmates, even when they managed the fee, withdrew their admission due to a lack of digital equipment and digital literacy. The authorities should be empathetic towards the students and try to understand the plight of their parents.
The virtual learning methods were adopted in haste without any preparation or in consultation with the authorities. The disadvantages of the method were not evident then, as the learning facilities are still inadequate for the majority of the students. Last year has been an enlightening experience on how the digital process should evolve and what measures the authorities need to take to provide maximum students. Interactive learning should be the focal point and methods should be evolved to incorporate it via virtual means.