No fees, no password: As Hyd schools begin virtual classes, parents face many issues

So far, the Education Department in Telangana has not released any guidelines to conduct online classes.
Parents face a host of problems as schools begin teaching via online
Parents face a host of problems as schools begin teaching via online
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As students in Telangana are undergoing makeshift arrangements with online or pre-recorded classes, in lieu of real classrooms, parents are also learning to cope with the new teaching-learning process, stumbling upon new problems every day. 

Being barred by the school management to access online classes for non-payment of fees; buying additional gadgets; having strong Wi-Fi connectivity; and sitting throughout the class along with the child — many aspects of this ‘new normal’ mode of learning have become challenging for the parents. 

While some private schools in Hyderabad have already begun online classes, many others are slated to begin from June 15.

Some schools are giving pre-recorded lessons to the students, asking them to watch it at their own pace. Meanwhile, other schools have transferred the entire school curriculum and activities online, starting from the assembly, daily lessons and sports and yoga classes. The schedule has been sent to parents.

"Can't we teach our children the alphabet and rhymes on our own? Do we need five hours of online classes for these primary kids?” asked a parent who is part of the Hyderabad Parents’ Association. Many parents of this association are questioning the need for online classes for the pre-primary and primary classes. 

According to Prathap*, father of a class 4 student at a private school in the city, students are distracted by the multiple faces that appear on the screen. “They cannot concentrate on the lessons or what the teacher is saying,” he told TNM, adding, “Earlier, we were the ones who asked our kids not to look at mobiles or laptops for a long period. Now, we are forced to give them everything. We do not know what kind of impact it would have on their health in the long run."

These concerns are just the tip of the iceberg, said parents. There are a slew of other rules and regulations laid out by the schools that have put the parents in a tough position. 

No fee, no password for online classes

Some schools, including international schools, have made it mandatory for parents to clear the dues till June (April, May and June) to avail the digital lessons.

"I am a single mother and have lost my job amid the lockdown. Now my child’s school has made it mandatory to pay the fee to avail the online classes,” said Latha (name changed), a parent of class 6 student at a private school in Hyderabad. 

As her son’s virtual classes are set to commence on June 15, Latha was worried if her son would fall behind with the lessons if she did not clear the dues up to date. 

It was on June 5 that the school had sent her the email, asking her to pay the fee, with the deadline of June 10. Failing to pay the fee before the deadline, would not only attract late fee fine, but it also means that she will not get the password to the link to join the virtual class. 

“He will question me if he is not able to access these classes, when all his friends can access them,” said Latha, who finally paid the fee on Wednesday. But, parents should be given more time, she added. 

It’s a package: paying fee, buying stationery

Some schools have not only asked parents to clear the fee from the month of April to June, the period when schools are usually closed for summer holidays but also to mandatorily purchase all books and stationery items from them.

One such private school in Hyderabad has laid out a step-by-step procedure to access these online classes, said Murthy*, the parent of a class 7 student of a budget school. 

“It’s like a package! First, we have to clear the dues from April to June. Then, after showing the receipt, we have to buy the necessary books and stationery items from the link they provide. Once the second step is completed, they would send us an online username and password to avail the classes," Murthy explained to TNM.

"Schools are not even giving us the option to get second-hand books from other students. We hardly used the stationary that was bought last year. These orders from the school are not at all helping us cut unnecessary expenditure,” he said.  

For a class 5 student in this school, the April-June fee would come up to Rs 18,000.

When parents tried contacting the school, the staff at the helpdesk were unresponsive and told that they are not allowed to visit the school. When enquired about the mandatory process to buy stationery and books, the parents were informed that the school had already placed an order with a wholesaler in advance.

While some schools are giving access to online classes and have given time to parents to pay the fee, many parents are not sure if they would continue to have access to the online classes if they fail to clear the dues on time.

Digital equipment, sitting with child

"I am a parent of three children and all are studying in the same school. We somehow managed to get the equipment such as laptop and mobile phones for all the three, as we had no other choice,” Aishwarya* told TNM. 

Apart from this, the family had to set up a Wi-Fi connection, which is again an additional expenditure of more than Rs 1,000 every month from now on, she said.  

Then comes another hassle where some schools have asked parents to compulsorily sit with the children throughout and oversee the online classes. There are other parents also who sit with the children out of curiosity. 

“It is an additional burden on housewives and working parents to take care of their children during these sessions. We do all this by paying the same fee for attending classes at schools," she said.

New pattern uniforms

The rising COVID-19 cases have contributed to the uncertainty over when businesses and educational institutions will resume. Amidst this, many schools have asked parents to buy uniforms for their children for the new academic year, even before the state governments are yet to take a decision on when schools will be able to reopen. 

Like other parents, Vidyasagar*, too, has been struggling to cut off all unnecessary expenditure amid the financial crisis. "Uniform was the last thing on our mind, as we have decided not to send our child to school until there is a vaccine for this. Yet, the management came up with a new uniform with a different pattern. Each uniform would easily cost about Rs 1,000 and we have to buy at least two sets,” he said. 

“We wonder if the schools are following what is happening around the world or are they living in an isolated world where they have not been affected? We don’t understand the need for a change in school uniform now. We are already spending so much for these online classes,” he added. 

Combining additional fee under tuition fee 

Parents from Meridian School in Banjara Hills, Hyderabad, had staged a protest on Wednesday as the school has been collecting additional fees, apart from the tuition fee. 

On April 21, the Telangana government issued an order, asking schools to only collect tuition fees. However, some schools combined all additional fees, including mess fee, under tuition fee. Previous academic year, these additional fees were segregated from the tuition fee. 

Read: Pvt schools manipulating govt order to collect extra fees, parents in Telangana allege

When parents protested, the school had asked for a couple of days to look into the matter. Its decision is awaited on Friday. The parents also told the school that if they did not come up with a favourable response, the latter would be receiving notices through the National Human Rights Commission.

No guidelines by Education department

Hyderabad District Education Officer (DEO) Venkata Narasamma told The News Minute that the Education Department has not released any guidelines for conducting the online classes yet, but may come up with some rules soon. 

Meanwhile, if they receive any complaints regarding denying access to online classes for non-payment (or late payment) of fee and other reasons, they will instruct schools to refrain from taking disciplinary actions. 

(*Names changed on request)

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