Hyderabad, Oct 8 (IANS) With dozens of budget schools in Hyderabad either shutting down or on the verge of closure under the impact of Covid-19 pandemic, an uncertain future haunts hundreds of private school teachers.
Closure of small unaided schools, often referred to as budget schools, is the latest blow to the teachers, already reeling under unprecedented financial distress since March.
With no salaries or 40-50 per cent pay for the last six months, private school teachers are among the worst affected by Covid induced lockdown and its continuing impact.
Unable to pay rents for the buildings and bear other expenses, dozens of budget schools have shut down over the last few weeks. When the managements themselves are at crossroads, the plight of teachers drawing salaries ranging from Rs 4,000 to Rs 15,000 can be well imagined.
While teachers of aided schools and the major ones with multiple branches are somehow managing with 40-50 per cent salaries, their counterparts in budget schools are struggling for even a square meal.
Some teachers, IANS spoke to, broke down while narrating their woes and pleading for some help from the government. Most of them did not want their identity or that of their schools to be revealed for obvious reasons.
As the schools have not terminated their services, they hope to get back to work once things return to normal.
In a society where teaching is considered a noble profession and teachers are treated with respect, the pandemic has forced many to seek help from NGOS and philanthropists. Some have been forced to do petty works like selling fruits and vegetables to meet both ends.
With her meagre salary of Rs 15,000 at a private school, Tehseen Fatima (named changed on request), a widow, was running the house, looking after her two children and aged parents. The pandemic has shattered her life.
"I never sought help from anybody but for the first time I had no option but to go and stand in a queue for ration distributed by a philanthropist," she said in a voice choked with emotions.
She, like other teachers at her school, is getting a 40 per cent salary which is insufficient to meet the family's needs. She wants to offer her services online for some other institution but has no laptop. "If somebody arranges a used laptop it will be a big favour for us," said Tehseen.
Still feeling reluctant to speak about their problems, many are suffering in silence. "There is no support system from the government for people like us. There is no one where we can speak about our issues," lamented Narasing Nayak, a teacher at New St. Maria High School, Falaknuma.
Shabana, a Telugu teacher at a private school in the old city of Hyderabad, has not received salary since March. With 18 years of experience in teaching, she used to draw a Rs 10,000 salary before COVID broke out.
Living in a small rented house in Yakutpura whose roof leaks every time it rains, the family of six are facing a really tough time. Her husband, an electrician at a function hall, is also getting half salary for the last six months.
"We have no money to pay the monthly rent and for electricity, water and other day to day expenses. We are struggling a lot and there is no help from any quarter," said Shabana, 38.
When she approached the school management for salary, they advised her to look for some other job.
Schools, who are running online classes, are paying some percentage of salaries to teachers teaching online for Classes 7-10.
"Most of the schools are budget schools and teachers especially at primary and middle school teachers are the worst sufferers. They come from lower middle class backgrounds. Whatever little aid they got during lockdown has exhausted. We are now seeing the full impact of the distress," Asaid Dr Mazher Hussain, Executive Director of Confederation of Voluntary Associations (COVA), which extended helping hand to teachers during the lockdown.
He said by taking 2-3 measures the government could provide some relief to the distressed teachers. "It should include them in Below Poverty Line (BPL) and issue them ration cards so that they get subsidized ration through the Public Distribution System (PDS)." He suggested that they should also be covered under Rajiv Arogyasri, the government scheme for free healthcare services to BPL families.
Since the managements of budget schools are facing a huge crisis, he said the government should intervene to provide some relief to them by persuading owners of the school buildings to slash the rents.
Stating that this is a problem with multiple dimensions, Mazher cautioned that if it was not addressed it could have disastrous consequences for society. "The students at the budget schools are first generation learners. Since these schools charge a monthly fee ranging from Rs 300 to Rs 1,000 per month, parents from lower middle class had enrolled their children. If these children drop out and slip into child labour it will not be possible to bring them back to schools," he said.
With parents not paying the fee, the school managements are facing a tough time in paying rent, electricity bill and meeting maintenance expenses not to speak about salaries of the teachers.
Syed Aslam of MK High School in Bandlaguda area told IANS that they are paying 60-70 per cent salaries to teachers taking online classes for students of 6 to 10. "Only 30 per cent of the students are attending online classes as many don't have smart phones or Internet connection at home. As our school is located in a slum area, we can't force parents to pay the fee," he said.
The school paid part of the salary to all 18 teachers for 2-3 months but with no other source of income to meet the expenses, it had no option but to pay salaries only to those taking online classes. "There is still no clarity as to when the schools will reopen. We don't know whether exams will be conducted or this will be declared zero academic year. If this situation continues, we will have to shut down the school and look for some other work," said Aslam.