Established in 1954, the Children’s Montessori High School in Vijayawada is more than six decades old. All these years, it has operated as an aided private school, running with the help of grants from the state government. However, the Andhra Pradesh government recently decided to withdraw the grant-in-aid provision to all aided schools and colleges in the state, prompting the Children’s Montessori High School and hundreds of other institutions to close down.
While all teaching and non-teaching staff covered by government aid are being absorbed by the education department to be reassigned to government schools and colleges, officials and teachers are mapping students to nearby government school alternatives. On Thursday, September 23, Children’s Montessori High School asked all its students — around 450 of them — to collect their Transfer Certificates (TCs) and join nearby schools.
Parents in several schools on the verge of closure have objected to the move, as many of these aided schools have a long legacy, having been around for several decades. They are also the nearest and preferred school for many students. A few aided school managements have approached the Andhra Pradesh High Court challenging the move, and the court on Friday, September 24, sought an explanation from government officials over the issue. While several school managements, parents and students have objected to the government’s decision, teachers working in aided institutions say that the dissolution of these schools has been imminent for a while now, and hope that being absorbed into government schools will improve their work conditions and benefits.
Rationale for closure
Aided schools have been around since the period of colonial rule, and were an important part of the public education system in Andhra in the post-independence period as well. However, over the years, with the government establishing many schools and colleges, aided educational institutions slowly lost their significance as they were sidelined, says Armstrong, a leader of the Andhra Pradesh Aided Schools Teachers’ Association. While the state government provides salaries for teaching and non-teaching staff at aided institutions, since 2004, promotions for existing staff and recruitment of new staff has been stalled. While institutions earlier received grants amounting to 6% of the salaries paid to its aided staff, this grant has also been disbursed irregularly for years now, says Armstrong.
The state government had reportedly constituted a committee to study the performance of aided schools and colleges, and whether it was necessary to continue providing grants to them. The committee studied aspects like student enrolment, pupil to teacher ratio and the financial situation of the management, and recommended that the state government withdraw its grant-in-aid and absorb the aided staff members who were receiving salaries from the government.
State Education Minister Audimulapu Suresh has said that aided institutions had become obsolete as government schools and colleges in the state are being upgraded and are on par with private institutions. As part of reforms in school education, the YSRCP government has introduced the Amma Vodi scheme which provides annual financial assistance of Rs 15,000 to mothers of school-going children, and under the Nadu-nedu scheme, schools and colleges are being revamped with new infrastructure including consruction of new classrooms, repairing existing buildings, furniture and sanitation facilities. The Education Minister told Indian Express that the purpose for which aided schools were established was not being served anymore, and alleged that aided schools had recruiting incompetent teaching staff merely to keep the school running and to access government funds. He also claimed that in some cases, teaching resources were being underutilised by appointing one lecturer or teacher for a class of only 20 students.
Calling aided institutions and colleges a “scam”, the Education Minister claimed that they were not run properly and were a waste of government funds. Principal Secretary (School Education) Budithi Rajasekhar has said that while the government has introduced many welfare programs like Nadu Nedu and Vidya Kanuka which were implemented in aided schools too, enrolment numbers had dropped in recent years.
Earlier in August, the government had issued orders that detailed the policy to be followed for taking over “willing” private aided schools and colleges, including minority institutions. As per Section 60 of the Andhra Pradesh Education Act, 1982, the government may take over an educational institution after giving one month’s notice, if it is of the opinion that it would be in the public interest or to secure the proper management of the institution. However, private schools and colleges managed by a religious institution cannot be taken over without the prior consent of the management. The educational institution “shall be deemed to include all assets, rights and leaseholds, powers, authorities and privileges and all property, movable and immovable including lands, buildings, stores, instruments and vehicles, cash balances, reserve fund, investments and book debts and all other rights and interest arising out of such property as were, immediately before the date of taking over.” The Act also specifies that “any liability incurred by the private management in relation to the educational institution before the taking over shall be enforceable against the said management” and not against the government.
School Education Department officials had said that the government would take over the moveable and immoveable assets of aided institutions after receiving written assent from the management, and no compensation would be paid. The government would then be authorised to use any surplus assets for public purposes.
On Friday, September 24, a government order was passed authorising District Educational Officers (DEO) to issue individual orders for conversion of “willing private aided schools into private unaided schools duly obtaining the willingness of the management and its staff for surrendering all the aided posts along with aided staff”, as per the policy issued earlier in August. These “willing” schools have been asked to furnish details of number of students, teaching staff and non-teaching staff who fall under aided and non-aided categories, amount credited by government in salaries, amount incurred by the institution and the value of assets.
With this, all aided schools will henceforth stop receiving grant-in-aid, and their aided staff (teaching and non-teaching) will be surrendered to the DEO’s office, where their new postings will be decided. School managements now have two options — either retain their assets and continue to operate as a private unaided school, or surrender their assets to the government. Schools continuing as unaided will not be allowed to dispose of assets bought with the help of government funds or donations from any individuals, with government approval.
Impact of the move
DEOs and MEOs (Mandal Education Officers) have been asked to ensure students are accommodated at nearby government schools, if their current school is being shut down, or if they don’t wish to continue in the school once it is unaided. In cases where schools are about to close down, teaching activities and mid-day meal provision will continue until students are shifted to alternative schools.
While aided schools must provide free education, some schools have been known to charge a nominal fee. Once the school’s status becomes “unaided”, the management can collect fees as per the stipulated fee structure recently announced by the government. Armstrong, who is a teacher at RCM Upper Primary School, an aided school in the Kondapalli suburb of Vijayawada, says that the parents of the school’s 250 students are unhappy with its impending closure.
Jyotsna, a parent of one of the students at RCM, said, “At a time when most families have been struggling financially because of the pandemic, if this school becomes unaided, it will be very difficult to send our children here.” Several parents protested the government’s move to absorb the school staff on Saturday, September 25, and submitted a representation to the Mandal Parishad Development Officer (MPDO) to halt the process. Parents and students at Children’s Montessori High School also held protests on Friday, saying students of classes 8, 9 and 10 will be adversely affected if they’re forced to move to a different school.
For most aided schools, continuing as an unaided school is not a feasible option, Armstrong says, as several students who currently study there cannot afford private school fees. “Once the school becomes unaided, students will not receive textbooks, notebooks, school bags, uniform and other things that are part of the Vidya Kanuka scheme, and mid-day meals will stop. Most of the students at RCM come from poor families in the SC (Scheduled Caste) colony where the school is located, and will not be able to continue without these facilities. Parents are worried that the kids will have to go too far for a different school now,” Armstrong says. According to a Deccan Chronicle report, there are around 2,000 aided schools in the state, and nearly 2.5 lakh students and 6,700 teachers will be affected by these changes.
While the School Education Department has said that it has obtained the “willingness” of school managements before taking over, managements have alleged that they have not been given much choice, and written assent is being obtained by pressuring them. A High Court bench hearing their petition has summoned the School Education Commissioner for the next hearing in the case on September 29.
Teachers of aided schools, however, have welcomed the move. Armstrong says. “For aided teachers, promotions have been halted for several years now. We also do not enjoy additional benefits like provident fund etc. In some schools, working conditions are not very good and aided teachers are forced to give up a part of their salary towards school expenses. So for many teachers, being moved to a government institution would mean better pay and working conditions.”