The coronavirus pandemic has hit businesses and institutions around the world, and that includes preschools and day care centers across metropolitan areas. Most playschools in cities have remained closed since the nationwide lockdown was announced as parents are fearful of sending their children to these centres.
Daycare centres and pre-primary schools take children between the ages of 1.5 years and 4 years. Typically, these centres take in about 5 to 150 students a year, but now the case is different. There have been no new admissions.
Pre-primary schools are usually considered to be nursery and kindergarten classes that teach kids through a syllabus. Running a pre-primary centre requires permission from state governments, and are also commonly called play schools. Daycare centres however are designated places for kids before they join school.
TNM spoke to the administrators of daycare centres and pre-primary schools across cities in the south to find out how they are coping with the pandemic.
Heena, a teacher from Royale Blossoms in HBR Layout, says that parents are not willing to send their children to school even though they only teach seven students at a time.
"We shifted the school to this area last year, and parents are hesitant to send their child to school. Before the lockdown, we had gotten quite a few enquiries for new admissions. Yet even as lockdown restrictions are eased, parents say that they are not willing to send their children to school," she says.
"For already existing students, they are not willing to have online classes as they are too young. We have asked parents to buy the necessary books and teach their children, as we don't know yet when schools will be allowed to be open," she adds.
The school has two teachers, and Heena says that they have not been paid since April. "We didn't ask for much salary during the lockdown, but we were given Rs 4,000 to manage our expenses. We have agreed to take salaries only after school starts again, as the owner still has to pay rent."
Karnataka Education Minister S Suresh Kumar had earlier announced that online classes were banned for pre-primary and primary school students. Subsequently, the government banned online classes for children up to Class 5.
When it comes to Hyderabad, there have been no guidelines regarding online classes so far. Most daycare centres and pre-primary schools have been shut since the lockdown first began. However, those who have the infrastructure have gone digital.
"For obvious reasons, parents do not want to send their children to the pre-primary schools, and we don't know how long this will go on. So we have started recording our classes. Our teachers come and record it here in the school and the parents train the kids when they are free,â€ť according to a representative from a pre-primary school in the city on the condition of anonymity.
But even for these classes, the enrollment is low.
"Only 25% registered for these online classes and only about 10% turn up. We usually give weekly progress reports after testing what they have learnt," added the representative.
Meanwhile, some of the daycare centres are also receiving calls from working parents to look after their kids.
"Though we haven't opened our daycare centre yet, we are getting calls from parents, who have to resume going to the office. However, we said we haven't reopened yet and we are waiting for some guidelines from the government,â€ť says A Chaitanya, who started Kool Champs daycare centre and pre-primary school in January this year.
â€śThough our schools are closed we still have to pay rent, which is around Rs 25,000. As of now, we are giving half-salary to our staff,â€ť he added.
Play school administrators are unclear over whether they will be able to start classes this academic year, given the conditions due to the novel coronavirus.
Krishna Raj, state secretary of the Tamil Nadu Nursery, Primary, Matriculation and Higher Secondary Schools Welfare Association, told TNM that a 26-year-old woman had started a play school that she was successfully running with three teachers and 30 students. Today, she has closed the school and started searching for jobs in the textile industry due to the losses faced during the COVID-19 lockdown.
â€śPrimary schools face a lot of financial crunch. For the past three months, we have not been able to pay salaries to our staff. We are going into debt to survive during this period. We are unable to pay the EMI for school computers. There is no liquid cash either. Parents are also facing financial constraints. Yet we should follow government order and refrain from starting admissions,â€ť said Krishna Raj.
â€śIf you have 15 teachers and you do not even have 50 students, then you cannot run a school. So many schools have closed due to the financial crunch. Restarting playschools are also under question,â€ť he said.
With inputs from Bharathi SP and Alithea Stephanie Mounika