In Karnataka, pandemic drives teachers to take up farming
Spread over two-and-a-half acres, Shantiniketan Central School in Kadur taluk, Chikkamagaluru district, now resembles a farm.
The management of the school and teachers have used the premises to grow marigold flowers, ‘avarekayi’(a type of beans), brinjal, and chilli. It’s not the only school that has ‘adapted’ to the pandemic.
Many private schools in rural areas that closed their doors to students eight months ago owing to COVID-19 have converted open areas into farms and unused classrooms into spaces for workshops in an attempt to generate revenue. One school is even using its campus to dry fish.
The pandemic has been harsh on teachers, many of whom were forced to take up odd jobs because of salary cuts. But schools, too, have been struggling to stay afloat.
Several private school management members told The Hindu that they had no option but to convert their space as they had not been able to collect school fees.
“We were unable to get any revenue this year. Our school has 410 students, but no parent paid the annual fees for the 2020-2021 academic year,” said Dinesh Kumar G.D., chairman of Shantiniketan Central School.
The management was able to pay their salaries till July by dipping into the school corpus.
However, the initiative to grow produce to meet expenses was not as successful as they had hoped. Mr. Kumar said that the recent rains had washed away their produce.
“We did not profit from cultivating vegetables or growing flowers. Only ₹3,800 is left in the school’s bank balance,” he added.
Several budget private schools, particularly in rural areas, are unable to bear the recurring expenditure.
Lokesh Talikatte, State unit president, Recognised Unaided Private Schools’ Association, Karnataka, said that the government had not released any relief package for school managements or teachers who were in financial distress. “Some managements are now selling their schools and movable assets such as school buses,” he said.
Ranganath, a management member at Educare English Medium, Amadalli, Karwar, said that he had been using his school campus — spread over 1.2 acres — to dry fish. “So far, only 50 out of 389 students have paid a portion of the school fees. While their annual fee is ₹8,100, some of the parents have paid fees ranging from ₹200 to ₹5,000. If we force parents to pay up, they may pull their children out of our school and enrol them in government schools,” he said.
RTE Students and Parents’ Association chief secretary B.N. Yogananda said that the State should reimburse schools for students admitted under the RTE quota so that they could survive.
Fall in student strength
Another worrying trend for private schools is the growing popularity of government schools, especially among families who can no longer afford the fees.
Christopher Cheriyan, secretary of Emmanuel Mission School, Holalkere Rural in Chitradurga district, has converted a portion of his school into a workshop where he does some welding work to earn additional income.
“As many as 60 of the 180 students in the primary school have taken transfer certificates. Their parents have enrolled them in government schools as they themselves have lost their jobs or are making do with lower salaries,” he added.