While parents have complained that private schools are forcing them to pay fees for online classes, several other factors are also at stake.

Andhra needs a clear education policy for online classes as COVID-19 cases riseImage for representation/PTI
news Education Tuesday, July 07, 2020 - 18:51

Andhra Pradesh Education Minister Adimulapu Suresh on Saturday directed private schools to refrain from conducting online classes before schools physically reopen. The directions came in the wake of complaints from parents about private schools forcing them to pay fees for access to online classes.

While the Minister has orally instructed schools to stop the practice and a few district level authorities have issued orders in this regard, the School Education Department is yet to formulate a state-wide policy.

The state government had previously announced plans to physically reopen all government and private schools on August 3, and a few Standard Operating Procedure guidelines were also proposed in this regard. While the reopening date has not been officially revised in light of increasing COVID-19 infections in the state, educators believe that the reopening could be postponed further, warranting a clear policy from the state government on remote learning for children while staying at home.

Private school fees and teacher salaries

The Education Minister has condemned private schools for collecting admission fees and holding online classes before the academic year has officially begun. Stating that the issue has been brought to the notice of the Andhra Pradesh School Education Regulatory and Monitoring Commission (APSERMC), he said that further instructions were awaited from the Chief Minister’s Office. Meanwhile, he said that online classes will not be allowed before the given date (August 3), and that fees can only be collected on a quarterly basis and in instalments separated by at least 45 days. 

Following the Minister’s directions, Krishna District Education Officer (DEO) MV Rajyalakshmi has issued orders disallowing all private schools from conducting online classes or collecting fees from parents from the academic year 2020-21. The DEO has also asked private school managements to refrain from laying off teaching and non-teaching staff, warning of serious consequences including revoking recognition for the school. 

According to Vijayawada Deputy DEO L Chandrakala, while a few complaints were received from private junior colleges about online classes being conducted, no complaints were received about private schools continuing the practice. 

However, nothing has changed since the orders were issued on Saturday, says Noor Mohammed, State Secretary of the Private Teachers, Lecturers and Professors (PTLP) Welfare Association of Andhra Pradesh. Online classes continue as also the pressure on teachers to bring in more students and to collect fees from parents, he says. “Teachers have been complaining for months about not getting their salaries, and the situation hasn’t changed. Those who still haven’t been laid off are stuck with uncertain pay, and are not even able to find alternate sources of income as they have to teach online classes,” he says.

Several private school teachers in the state have been complaining about school managements forcing them to bring in new admissions and to get students to pay fees, threatening to withhold their salaries until these targets are met.  

Remote learning and access 

In neighbouring Telangana, the High Court has taken objection to online classes, noting that not all parents can afford the devices required. While the conversation in Andhra Pradesh has centred around conditional access based on fee payment, educators note that the state policy would also have to take into consideration the conditions of socio-economically disadvantaged students. 

On Sunday, the School Education Department issued orders asking headmasters of all government schools to come up with an academic plan for bridge courses for students, and “hi tech, low tech and no tech strategies” for academic engagement of students.

GV Narayana Reddy of the Federation of AP Teachers Organisations says that government schools are working on ways to bridge the gap between teachers and students, while keeping in mind the socio-economic conditions of the students. “We are having conversations with school education departments as well as headmasters at the school level to work out ways to monitor students’ growth. It has been nearly three months since the students have met each other and the teachers, so there’s a widening gap which needs to be addressed,” he says. 

Narayana Reddy, who is also the secretary of the District Common Examination Board of Kadapa, says that while the state government has been using television and radio to broadcast lessons – and is also  attempting to make recorded material available for students to view at their convenience – the challenge is with guiding students and monitoring their progress. “We are trying to develop standard procedures for teachers to be able to effectively guide a few students daily over the phone, to track their learning and to help them,” he said. 

Even if schools do reopen soon, Narayana Reddy says that students may only be able to come to school a few days a week. “The rest of the time they will have to stay home and learn on their own,” he notes, adding that effective procedures for self-learning will be required in that case too.