Godwin English School, a private institute in Siddhartha Nagar slum in central Bengaluru, which has been defunct and shut for the last two years has been denying dozens of students their transfer certificate (TC). As a result, the students have not been able to shift to another school and have lost over two years of classes. The school had classes from kindergarten to Class 10, and TNM could independently confirm that the TCs of at least 25 students have been withheld by Godwin school.
Although the school authorities are no longer at the school, they continue to make phone calls to parents demanding money to issue TCs. Ironically though, when TNM made multiple attempts to reach out to authorities of Godwin English School using the numbers which the parents were receiving phone calls from, all of the calls went unanswered. The number is believed to be that of the person who functioned as the school principal.
A deeper investigation by TNM showed that the school authorities have enjoyed immunity despite several complaints to the Minority Welfare Department, Social Welfare Association, and the Block Education Officers (BEO) from the Department of Public Instruction by NGOs Action Aid and Slum Mahila Sanghatane. It also emerged that the department has not taken action in many similar cases as well.
On July 4, TNM visited the NGO Slum Mahila Sanghatane, a collective which works towards the welfare of women and children living in slums and operates in two wards of Bengaluru. We found that there are 537 students whose TCs were being withheld by different private schools under Slum Mahila Sanghatane alone. Education activists say that this is a city-wide phenomenon affecting hundreds but has gone unreported and unpunished because the victims belong to the most vulnerable sections of the society. According to Gurumurthy Kasinathan, member of the National Coalition on the Educational Emergency, a lot of parents from marginalised backgrounds suffered wage and job losses due to the pandemic-induced economic crisis, due to which there has been an exodus of children from private schools as the fees became unaffordable. However, many of these studentsâ€™ education is now in jeopardy because the private schools are unwilling to issue TCs that will allow the students to continue their studies at another school.
Demands for money, unverified credentials
The authorities of Godwin English School are denying several students their transfer certificates by demanding that they pay, in full, an extra amount of Rs 8,000-10,000 in addition to any pending fees, where applicable. The school was closed in March 2020. Parents of at least 25 students are distraught as they are unable to pay the extra fee the school is demanding and the school refuses to give a transfer certificate unless they do so. In the process, these children, some of them who were admitted to the school through Right To Education (RTE), have lost over two years years of schooling.
Most of the families in Siddhartha Nagar belong to the Scheduled Caste, Muslim and Christian communities, who work daily wage jobs. Many are migrants from neighbouring states such as Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. The money they earn is not always a stable amount and the situation is made worse by the uncertain work conditions brought about by the pandemic.
Those who could afford to pay the Godwin school authorities have received their TCs and enrolled their children in different schools. â€śThe school did not even assign our children a Student Achievement Track System (SATS) number. Due to this, the new schools asked us to enroll them again from Class 1. We had to somehow find their SATS number to get them enrolled in their right class,â€ť a local resident of Siddhartha Nagar said. SATS is a unique number that is assigned to every student up to Class 10. The number helps in keeping a track of all students enrolled in government and government-aided schools.
At the abandoned building of the Godwin English School in Siddhartha Nagar, this reporter found a board which said that the school is run by Sri Dharmasthala Manjunathaswamy Educational Society. But efforts to trace the people who have registered the society were futile.
Studentsâ€™ education suffers
Padmavati, the mother of a student who studied in Class 5 of Godwin school, who hasn't been going to school since March 2020, said, â€śThe school authorities are demanding a sum of Rs 10,000. We are not educated and depend on our daily earnings to run our household. We are not in the financial position to pay Rs 10,000 for a TC.â€ť Padmavati has a book binding business and earns roughly Rs 400 daily when the business is good. Her husband is a construction worker.
On the other hand, Muniratna reveals that the school is demanding a sum of Rs 3,000 for issuing a TC for RTE quota students, like her daughter. According to officials, this is against the law. They said since Godwin admitted children under the Right to Education Act, the school cannot shut down unless all such students admitted under RTE with them have completed Class 8. Muniratna, who is partially blind, is actively looking for domestic worker jobs in order to support her family.
After a lot of hardship and knocks on the doors of many schools, both Muniratna and Padmavatiâ€™s daughters have gotten a conditionally admitted at Sharada Samaja School, a government-aided institution, as late as July. The admission is conditional because the children will be allowed to attend classes unofficially, an official enrollment will be done only after a TC is submitted to the school. TCs are no longer only a hard copy document â€” when a child seeks a transfer certificate, it is the previous schoolâ€™s responsibility to send the document digitally to the concerned school.
Both Padmavati and Muniratna have no pending dues at the Godwin English School, however, the TCs are being denied to their children because they cannot pay the additional money that the school is asking simply to issue the certificate. Other parents who still have pending dues (academic fees) with the school, in addition to the amount being demanded to issue a TC, are struggling since the school is not accepting payments in instalments.
Govt authorities cite ignorance, pass the buck
The General Secretary of Karnataka Associated Managements of Schools, D Shashi Kumar, defended the schoolsâ€™ actions, and said, â€śHow can we verify if the parents have actually paid the fees or not? By the order of the court, schools are supposed to collect a maximum 85% of their original fees, the rest can be reduced on a case-by-case basis on humanitarian grounds.â€ť He added, however, that once â€śverificationâ€ť of the fee payment has been done and no pendency found from the parentsâ€™ side, the school has to issue the TC. â€śIf the school still asks for extra money, then strict action must be taken against the school,â€ť he said.
The above cases are markers of a more widespread problem. The practice of withholding TCs continues, despite laws stating that a school cannot take longer than a week to produce a TC to those who require it, failing which the designated Block Education Officers (BEO) and Deputy Director of Public Instruction are asked to take action against the schools.
However, Reshma, a Programme Officer at ActionAid Association, which works on social justice for marginalised communities, said that even when officials issue notices to the schools, it has had no impact. â€śIt is non-negotiable that once the BEO issues the school a notice, they have to hand over the TC. However, no school is following it and no official is enforcing it. The government has to carry a survey on how many children are suffering due to this, because there are many. At least 250 students must have been studying at Godwin, where are they? Do we have any data on them? Just imagine the psychological impact that not being able to go to school for two years can have on a child,â€ť she added.
â€śThe schools also threaten the parents saying if they raise this with any NGOs, then the TC will not be issued at all. The parents are scared to take any legal action as they fear that if the child remains in the same school, they will face discrimination from the school authorities,â€ť Jancy, the ward co-ordinator at Slum Mahila Sanghatane, alleged. â€śHowever, we have conducted protests, public hearings and sent letters stating the issue to BEOs, Social Welfare Department, and others,â€ť Jancy added.
When TNM reached out to The Commissioner of the Department of Public Instruction, Vishal R, he directed us to the respective BEO as he was not aware of the situation. Girijamma H N, the BEO of South 2 Zone, under which Godwin School comes, said, â€śI was transferred here only 15 days back and I got to know of the issue only now. So far, we have helped 2-3 students to get the TC, and if more parents come to us directly, we can help them out.â€ť
Deputy Director of Public Instruction for Bangalore South, Baylanjanappa, said, â€śI was not aware of this situation. Karnataka Education Act 1983, Section 106 states that if a private school is closing down, it must hand over all its documents. Strict action must be taken against such schools.â€ť
Before the lockdowns, the parents managed to pay their fees. However, when the pandemic hit, their income was severely impacted due to loss of jobs and rising debt. They could no longer afford to pay almost Rs 30,000 to Rs 40,000 annually per child. Stating this, the parents sent letters to the State Education Department to completely waive fees for the academic years 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 and that they would start paying from the year 2022-2023. The NGOs have also been writing to various government departments since 2021. This year alone, TNM has seen at least three letters that ActionAid has sent to the Social Welfare Departmentâ€™s Commissioner and Joint Director, highlighting the plight of the studentsâ€™ parents and a request to use funds from the Scheduled Caste Sub-Plan (SCSP) and Tribal Sub-Plan (TSP) to ease the burden of pending academic fees that piled up during the pandemic years when parents had lost their jobs. â€śHowever, the officials suggested they enroll the students in hostels that provide free education. The parents would have considered this if such schools provided good quality English education,â€ť Jancy said.
Last year, the BEO of South Zone 2 had also issued a notice to Godwin English School - of which TNM has seen a copy - stating that their sudden closure and refusal to issue TCs has been brought to their notice. Further, the letter said that registration of the school will be cancelled if they do not report to the office in three days from the date of the notice. However, this too, provided no relief to the affected students and their parents.
According to a report issued by the Unified District Information System for Education Plus (Udise+), almost 261 schools, most of which were private, shut down during the first academic year of the pandemic. The report says that 50% of the eligible children did not seek admission for pre-primary classes for the academic year 2020-2021. As per another report by India Today, 1.5 million schools shut down due to the pandemic all over India, impacting 247 million children. Moreover, over six million children were not enrolled in schools even before the pandemic.