Parvathi has been a high school Telugu teacher since 2009, working in private schools in and around Vijayawada. Yet, 12 years later, she earns Rs 14,000 a month, teaching at a budget private school. Income has been irregular throughout the pandemic and school closure period, and with her husband also being a private school teacher, the couple is now struggling to afford their sonâ€™s college fees. Parvathi, who has undergone Telugu Pandit Training, estimates she could be earning nearly five times her current salary, had she been in a Trained Graduate Teacher (TGT) post at a government school all these years. As a private teacher, due to the fallout of the pandemic and continued low turnout in her school, she has now suffered a further pay cut of nearly 20%. With the Andhra Pradesh government imposing a cap on fees in all private schools, ranging from Rs 10,000 to Rs 18,000 per annum, she wryly contemplates how long she can continue to be a teacher if schools further enforce pay cuts due to the lowered fees.
The Andhra Pradesh School Education Regulatory and Monitoring Commission (APSERMC), set up by the Jagan government to work towards studentsâ€™ interests by monitoring educational institutions, recently fixed a uniform fee structure for private schools and colleges for the next three academic years. While the decision, taken after consulting parents and visiting many schools, was to put an end to corporate schools exploiting parents with exorbitant fees, many mid-range and budget schools (or affordable private schools) say that the ceiling is too low and impractical.
The announcement has come at a bad time, teachers lament, on the heels of the longest period of school closure in the country, during which many teachers were laid off and forced to take up alternative jobs including daily wage work. While those continuing to teach are hanging on by a thread, teachers who had been laid off are reluctant to return, as the profession becomes increasingly precarious.
Fee ceiling bound to impact salaries
While there is no minimum remuneration mandated for private school teachers in the state, as per the Andhra Pradesh Educational Institutions (Establishment, Recognition, Administration and Control of Schools under Private Managements) Rules, about 50% of the fees collected by a school must be earmarked for paying salaries to teaching and non-teaching staff. Prasuna, a private school teacher from Vijayawada says, â€śOver the past 1.5 years, nearly half the teachers in most schools have been laid off, while the remaining teachers have barely received about half their usual salaries, with school managements blaming low fee collections. One of the effects of the pandemic has been that many students from budget schools have moved to government schools. With low student strength and low fees, budget school teachers like us are likely to face a further reduction in our salaries which are already meagre,â€ť adding that most budget school teachers are paid around Rs 10,000 to 15,000 in rural areas and Rs 20,000 to 25,000 in urban areas.
MV Ramachandra Reddy, president of Andhra Pradesh Private Unaided Schoolsâ€™ Managementsâ€™ Association (APPUSMA) and director of Saibaba School in Kadapa, also says that schools will be forced to cut down salaries, while also risking losing out on good teachers as a result. â€śThe Andhra Pradesh Educational Institutions Rules say that a governing body, comprising parents, teachers and school principal, can prescribe the school fees based on the schoolâ€™s context and infrastructure. We would prefer that the APSERMC oversee the governing bodyâ€™s decision, instead of fixing an absolute cap for all schools including corporate chains and budget schools under the same umbrella,â€ť he says.
A director of a private school in Vijayawada said on the condition of anonymity that with the fee amount prescribed by the government, considering the building lease amount in Vijayawada, his school would only be able to pay around Rs 10,000 in monthly salaries to teachers. This has been the salary range in rural areas, and could become the norm in urban areas too, he says. He adds that budget schools with low fees often tend to pay meagre salaries with no benefits like Provident Fund and insurance, and this practice could also become more common with the fee ceiling enforced.
The government has provided an opportunity for school managements who find the ceiling too low for their case and unsustainable, to appeal to charge higher fees. This involves a stringent, comprehensive procedure, requiring school managements to furnish extensive details of day to day operations including details of staff salaries and qualifications, audited accounts for the past three years including balance sheets, income and expenditure statements, receipts and payments account and bank reconciliation, as well as details of major heads of expenditure. Vijay Kumar, Spokesperson of the APPUSMA, says that it is difficult for many schools, including budget schools, to be able to furnish such extensive records. â€śMoreover, during the past two years, income and expenses have been abnormal due to the pandemic. So recent records may not reflect the present situation and needs of a school,â€ť he says. With stringent enforcement of norms coming on the heels of prolonged school closure, many schools may not be able to make changes to function by the book in time, and could be forced to shut down, budget school managements fear.
Sailaja, Guntur District President of the District Selection Committee (DSC) Private Teachers, Lecturers and Professors (PTLP) Welfare Association of Andhra Pradesh, has led several protests in the district through the school closure period demanding timely payment of salaries. â€śI have received suicide notes from dejected teachers unable to get by with no income, and have rushed to comfort them at odd hours. The past year and a half have been harsh on teachers,â€ť she says.
Many teacher couples who had been living in rented accommodation in Guntur town have left for their native villages, and are now reluctant to return to teaching, Sailaja says, owing to the low income and uncertainty. With the low turnout of students after reopening, either due to parentsâ€™ hesitation over COVID-19 or due to migration to nearby government schools, most schools have continued to function with half the number of teachers compared to 2019-2020, with those who were laid off continuing in other jobs. â€śOnly if one spouse has a more stable job, or if the family has some form of financial security, teaching remains a viable job. Otherwise, most teachers tend to dissuade younger people from choosing this profession,â€ť says Sailaja. The perception is now such that in spite of the same qualifications, only if one clears the DSC (District Selection Committee) exam and becomes a government teacher, the profession is considered viable and respectable, she says.
On the other hand, thousands of students have indeed moved to government schools as parents were unable to afford private school fees due to the financial crisis resulting from the pandemic. The government on its part has revamped infrastructure of many school buildings under the Nadu-Nedu scheme, and has implemented several measures like the Amma Vodi financial assistance scheme for mothers of school children, Jagananna Vidya Kanuka kits which include school uniforms, bags, books etc. and other steps to improve the government school education. It has even proposed to switch government schools to CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) syllabus from the coming academic year. However, government school teachersâ€™ associations have repeatedly pointed to a glaring shortage of teaching staff. Teachersâ€™ groups have been insisting that the government fill vacant teaching posts by notifying the DSC exam, and regularise contract or part-time teachers, to ensure quality of education and to handle the rising enrolments in government schools.
Regulated working conditions for teachers
When school managements failed to pay salaries to teachers during the pandemic, amid protests and complaints, education department officials carried out inspections in several schools. However, Sailaja alleges that in most cases, teachers were forced to falsely report that they had received their salaries, worried that they may lose their job if they went against the management.
Krishna District Education Officer Rajyalakshmi told TNM that a few complaints received over the past year over unpaid salaries were resolved, and officials ensured salaries were released. â€śNow that schools have reopened, no such issues have been reported.â€ť However, as mentioned earlier, there is no fixed minimum compensation that schools are required to pay teachers.
Ramana, who teaches high school English and Social Science in Ongole, says that while the governmentâ€™s move to empower parents against exorbitant fees is commendable, there is no such protection for teachers, as they fear to go against school managements. â€śThe education department must monitor private school teachersâ€™ working conditions too, and ensure that all teachers are included in the UDISE (Unified District Information System for Education) database so this can be done regularly,â€ť he says.
Several teachers said that private schools only include some of their teachers in the UDISE, one reason being that many budget schools continue to employ teachers without a BEd (Bachelor of Education) degree as mandated by the Right to Education (RTE) Act. But even for qualified teachers, with arbitrary layoffs and changing employers, there is no proper method for registering or tracking private teachers, and ensuring they are compensated fairly, Sailaja says.
â€śIn most schools, annual pay hikes are minimal or non-existent. Your experience doesnâ€™t really matter, because they can always replace you with inexperienced teachers to avoid paying more. So we have to accept whatever they offer,â€ť she says, adding, â€śWe need to have proper identification and registration of private teachers, so proper working conditions can be enforced,â€ť she adds.