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Rich schools of poor Kashmir

Nissar Bhat

KASHMIR is in the throes of a civil strife of a phenomenal magnitude. The continued shut downs marked by frequent curfews and government-imposed restrictions over past four months have mauled almost every segment of our economy. While the transport and tourism industries are the worst hit, the losses to the manufacturing industry and the general trade cannot be underestimated.

In the export sector, barring fruit, the handicraft and handloom have suffered immense monetary losses. While the human loss inflicted on Kashmir in the last four months, which is open to every naked eye, is simply irreparable. The economic life in the Valley has largely been comatose.

Amid this situation where every segment of our economy has booked and is booking losses, our for-profit schools have been witty enough to frame an ‘indemnity plan’ for them to go unscathed. They want to secure their losses simply by making students’ parents to recompense. Their mantra is simple: “Profits are ours, losses you (parents) have to indemnify.”

We have no term in Economics to define this unique business proposition. Perhaps the commercial world should take some lessons from our for-profit schools on how simply the businesses can be made immune to the losses or how the losses can be gainfully shifted.

School industry, without doubt, has over the years emerged as one of the most successful and profitable businesses in Kashmir. Some of the elite schools in Kashmir earn crores of rupees in fees, a fact that their audit reports would testify.

Now see, what they are ‘offering’: 50 per cent ‘waiver’ on bus fee. Did those buses run? No. How much they saved on account of fuel? Was there any wear and tear of the buses during these months? No prize for guessing.

On tuition fee, they offer no concession reasoning that “we have to pay the salaries of our staff.” Do the schools spend 100 per cent tuition fee on the salary of their staff? Of course not! Do they operate on no-profit-no-loss terms? Certainly not! Rough estimates tell us that salary component for the schools may not even be constituting 25 per cent of their total income.

We all know that for any commercial venture, its staff/workers are its exclusive responsibility, but our for-profit schools want to change this rule for their benefit for ever. Our labour law tells us that an employer cannot deny minimum wages to its employees/workers on account of ‘low income’ to the venture. They even entitle an employee to ‘redundancy payment’ during lay-off period. But our for-profit schools make payment of salary to their staff contingent upon getting fee from parents.

In the garb of ‘salary to the staff’, our for-profit schools demand 100 per cent tuition fee for the period they did not work. They don’t want their profits to shrink, no matter what conditions prevail in Kashmir and what happens to other sectors of economy.

Education is a public service, and it has a key role in creating an inclusive society. There are educationalists in the world who are totally against profit provisioning in this sector. According to them, when it comes to education, profit provisioning is a “fundamentally morally bankrupt idea.” They believe that “every penny that a school gets should be invested back into education.”

When the profit provisioning becomes the objective of the institutions of learning, education becomes a commodity to sell and purchase. The dream of the inclusive society crumbles and a ‘better future’ becomes the monopoly of few Haves. No matter what quality you try to maintain in education, the lesson you unwittingly impart to the children is that even education does not have ethics.

On the other side, the more money you get into this sector, the more money you take out of it. That is the problem with our education sector in Kashmir. The amount of money being gained by the private schools does not get reflected by the facilities— teaching and technological— available with them. While the owners rake in the moolah, the staff has to be content with the crumbs!

Experiences world over have shown that the for-profit schools most often exclude the ‘hardest-to-teach’ pupils. These schools become ‘learning centres’ for ‘learned students’ while the children from rustic background or those coming from hard-to-reach families don’t find place in these schools.

True, without some incentives, we cannot expect people investing in schools. But when the need for incentives grows into crass-profit-maximization-motive, we compromise the essence of education. Perhaps, that is the problem in Kashmir. Many of the big schools in Kashmir get money more than they actually require for the development. They accumulate the income coming in the school business and invest it in other sectors to make fortunes for them.

It has become a fashion with us to pat ourselves for “fighting every misery together” in times of crisis. We tend to forget certain ugly things. How many doctors of repute we have who announced a cut in the consultation fee during the current crisis? How many medics volunteered to see their patients free? Is there a single doctor who left it to the capacity of the patient to pay? Is there a single chemist— please remember current crisis did not affect their business—who announced discount on the medicine. The answers we all know.

—Courtesy: GK