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Calling the elephant in the room

As long I have been in this industry, I believe I belong to a section that believes that for the nation to progress, healthy competition in every industry is the key (not to mention an open economy with presence of Indian and foreign companies but that’s a debate for another time) and more specifically within our own industry – education, the role of private schools is interesting – pushing the deck, raising the bar, bringing in new ideas, best in class teaching and learning practices, challenging the status quo, better infra, better systems and processes among other things. For all of this to happen, there will be investments and a lot of effort.

For as long as I can remember, the private sector has been held back and is the first to come under any sort of scrutiny when the going gets tough enough on grounds that managements are interested in returns and education is considered “…..” For the record, no one has ever been able to define this blank for me. Education is what? Every child’s right? Noble? Has to be non for profit because it is……? I remember a liaising officer telling me, “Madam, this is what it is. The law says this and we know it is baseless and forces people to find loop holes, but what to do?”

For a moment, let’s accept it is what it is. Let me bring in another sector like education that recently has been brought into a lot of discussions. Healthcare.

Every citizen’s right to access and reach? Noble? It is about lives and about health. At times, it is about life and death right? How can private players come in the name of a foundation and set up numerous branches across the country and initiate a sales and marketing team not to mention PR to ‘attract’ customers for their better systems, processes, diagnosis and post treatment care. How on earth can they make this experience a seamless one for families, and why associate comfort with it, and fancy beds and reception areas and grand infra. Basic works?

Well everyone knows as a democratic nation, as tax paying citizens of a country, we have a right to choice, live and be educated and avail of healthcare within our means.

For example, a parent enrolling a child in a school pre pandemic is aware about the fees, the policies, the expectations and readily accepts this when enrolling in a private school? This parent I would assume cares deeply about his/her children and plans ahead for the future as every progressive mind would? Plan for a rainy day – almost like putting money in some sort if ’paper‘ so that on a rainy day despite the circumstances, that is one thing that is taken care of?

Well, I know many parents spend sleepless nights wondering how to get into ‘their’ dream school (child is oblivious), and do possibly everything in their power to send their child to the school that they believe will cement a strong foundation for a bright future?

The same school 4 months later, (and agreed that these are not normal times and everyone is experiencing extra ordinary circumstances) becomes a ‘monster’ exhorting money and making profits while their families are undergoing a crisis?


How did this transformation happen in 4 months when schools were closed? Did it happen because a few initiated a movement and decided that while they will continue to pay GST and penalties for their own businesses that are shut down, will pay their own staff salaries in full, and demand money from their customers with a penalty clause, will continue to pay electricity bills and order take away from restaurants at the same rates that they would eat in the restaurants, the schools, however must share their financial pain.

Schools with deep pockets (remember they make tons and tons of profit and therefore are able to multiply rapidly – please do not give them credit for being enterprising and building capacity and scaling, do not for a moment give them credit for their efforts, innovation, quality for which parents are signing up, and dont for a moment give them credit of being futuristic and ahead of the ahead to help your children) …. so back to the point, schools with deep pockets must now ignore their loans, emis, expenditure and challenges (remember they are also in the same boat as everyone else, the pandemic did not make them emotionally stronger because they are running schools) and waive off fees because their efforts for seamless learning online is not considered effort.

“After all online learning is not ‘school’. It is a stop gap” – As some media reports have us believe is what is being discussed with ministers.

Well, the truth is that we may be in this ‘stop’ gap for the rest of our lives, because even when schools open, if we do not scale up as a nation and embrace technology, we will be doing a disservice to our children because they will be back to square one and in fact in the negative as they will not have the skills to cope with a world that will constantly change. They wont have what it takes to survive. And that puts us back in the loop – no jobs and a poor economic output.

So, while I accept that there has to be a medium path- some sort of discussion and dialog what disappoints me about this whole movement is governments who have very little time (remember they are dealing with a bigger issue of stability and pandemic) are passing directives, comprising fundamental right to educate, and earn. And doing it with a view to ‘please’ and not consider the impact of decision and its deep consequences for the future.

Courts are becoming battle grounds, and I do hope children are not reading some of these discussions openly because when a parent making his point on FB last night about schools having ‘egos and extorting money’ will need to know, when all this is over, his child or a nephew will be reading this and wondering why the parent is sending their loved ones to ‘extortionists’.

For the sake of our children, for the sake of their future, let’s communicate in this industry in a way that can set example of how one needs to act and behave when there is a crisis.

For the sake of the children, trust your school and their commitment to your children, have faith that teachers toiling hard last 4 months will be jobless and when your children are ready to go back to school, those same teachers may be demotivated to come back and teach. There may not be schools to send your children to!

For the sake of the children and with them, our future, let’s partner and not point fingers. Let the decisions be made within each school and what each management can do, let the flexibility come in, let there be a solution generated, and let the children continue to learn.

For the sake of the children remember one bad experience of a management not communicating cannot be generalised for all!

Not through apps, or videos but taught by their teachers who have skilled up. Let’s commit to paying fees that help the whole eco system move ahead.

This is not an US Vs THEM debate, this is about teachers, children and the future of the country and there has got to be a better way to progress than blanket bans and court cases?

Who has the time or money for that?

Make that adjustment everyone for we are wasting previous time. As a country, we are two decades behind in every sense. Let’s not handicap these children further.


Fatema Agarkar

Founder, Agarkar Centre of Excellence Veteran of 3 educational start-ups – is now a Founder of Agarkar Centre of Excellence, Fatema’s passion for teaching-learning and children defines the different roles she has crafted – as an edupreneur, educator and mentor.

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