Inflicting humiliation for not paying fees : How Correct?

Lata Jain

In a tragic incident, a 15-year-old boy committed suicide in Telangana’s Karimnagar district after he was allegedly punished in school for not paying the fees. The boy jumped in front of a train. He was a debt ridden farmer’s son.

The deceased reportedly left a shocking video, detailing the humiliation that led to him taking the drastic step.

It is being alleged that the boy was asked to stand outside the classroom along with other classmates for not paying the fees. He later went home and shot a video on his cousin’s cell phone, where he claimed that he had already paid Rs 5,000 to the school and his family could not afford to pay more. The school humiliated him which led him to take this drastic step.

Such psychological abuses are a “major flaw” in administering the affairs of schools, said Society for the Protection of the Rights of Child Mrs.Anuradha “How can one disregard the psychologically negative impact of directing students to leave their classrooms only because their parents have failed to pay the fee,” she said. “A punishment is a punishment, whether it is corporal or not. If our schools wish to convey their messages in this manner then this indeed is a very negative message.”

Unfortunately, the trend of humiliating students when parents are unable to pay school fees is not restricted to a few schools. A student of class 5th, having campuses in Hyderguda admitted that she wanted to take away her life after facing public humiliation when her parents failed to pay her school fees.

“After my name was called out in the assembly by the school’s vice principal, I wished that the earth would open up and swallow me,” she recalled. “All around I saw children snickering and making fun of us.”Students asked me weird and uncomfortable questions.

Even in her school, the principal would regularly call out the names of children whose parents failed to pay on time in front of the whole class.

Despite second jobs, no holidays and ‘gifts’ from Granny many families are simply unable to afford to keep their children in the private school system, says Raghuramiah a parent.

During Mrs.Geeta Kulkarnis long battle with breast cancer, she had one dying wish: for her young grandson to enjoy the benefits of a private education.

To that end, Mrs.Geeta left Rs.5 lakhs in her will to go towards grandson Mithuns school fees when she died two years ago, aged 68.

Today’s harsh economic climate has left thousands of middle-class parents struggling to pay for their children’s education, while schools are finding it expensive paying “fat “salaries to good teachers — which, in turn, has forced them to increase their fees.

Dr.Mamtha, advocate, social worker and founder of NGO NILA say parents will do anything to keep their children in private schools.

She explains: ‘One mother I represented sold the family home, moved to a not very nice area and took a second job in the evenings — all so that she could continue paying 80,000 a year to send her son to a private school.

Another moved from a big detached house to a flat, just so that she could keep her children in private schools.

But the added extras, such as trips and uniforms, expenses on projects, extra circular activities, cultural shows as well as keeping up with classmates who enjoy holidays every half-term and expensive birthday treats, can make it impossible for families to make ends meet.

‘We tell them: “Here are the figures, it simply cannot work unless you can earn more”,’ says Fr.Anthony a retired Principal of a convent school with 45 years of experience in the field of education. ‘But it can be hard for parents to accept that it’s just not affordable.

‘In some cases, a brother or grandparent steps in and pays towards the children’s education, in others the parents get into financial difficulties.’

One private school headmaster, who does not want to be named, says independent schools are having to be ‘quite assertive’ in retrieving unpaid fees ‘otherwise parents think the school is a soft touch’.

In the past, they would attempt to reclaim unpaid fees through constant reminders, but are increasingly turning to humiliate the child and send him back home or not allow the child to write the exams thus failing him.

‘Increased economic uncertainty is putting pressure on family finances and parents can fall quickly and unexpectedly into difficulties,’ says Mr.Murli Mohan, Financial consultant

Schools are left with terms’ worth of unpaid fees and are struggling to manage their own financial planning as a result.

While some parents can just about scrape together school fees for one child, it becomes doubly difficult when educating a second says Mr.Murli.

You don’t know what the impact of paying school fees is until you are writing the cheques each term,’ says Mrudula, whose husband Madhavan, 46, is an internal communications director at Ernst & Young. ‘It really does bite into your finances.

There have been times when we’ve thought, “How are we going to be able to afford this?”. There are very rich people who will not think twice about sending their brood to private schools, but it’s those in the middle, like us, for whom it’s a stretch.’

Understandably, there will be many who think that our family is relatively fortunate for being able to send even one child to private school says Mrudula.

Some children like to be small fish in big ponds and others the reverse and I felt my elder daughter would be better in a smaller nurturing environment. My younger daughter has different strengths and weaknesses.’ says Mrs.Fatima a doctor and a single parent.

‘A lot of parents can’t face the humiliation of admitting they don’t have the money, but I met and was completely honest with the school Principal ‘ says Suzanne. ‘She said installments would be fine, but if we couldn’t pay that would be a different issue. But I would not accept the child being humiliated.

But, as so many middle-class parents are discovering, income is even more vital to educate their children in private schools and the government schools are in a pathetic state. In these circumstances parents have less choice but to struggle and earn more to educate their children.

Can the government come to the rescue of these parents? Can educational institutions help such parents?

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