Without malice towards one and all

Dictating terms to private schools of certain background of certain dos and don’ts do not amount to civilised rationale.

The issue of paying salaries to teachers has been going for quite some time since COVID-19 intruded and perturbed the balance of the world. Like many people who are affected by this problem, I have been intrigued with more questions than answers about the issue. I take complete liberty to deal on this topic from my own perspective as I am neither part of the shareholders nor in any connection with the school affairs. I would randomly classify the probable shareholders into three groups: The school authorities, the teachers, and the parents or the guardians. And the views expressed here are totally mine and without malice towards one and all. As Khushwant Singh, the acclaimed journalist would put, With Malice Towards One and All. Whichever is appropriate is for the reader to take.

There is an impasse between these conflicting groups (the tri-polar pull, of teachers, school authorities, and parents) each trying to have their rightful claim. I recall my younger days’ school story about two goats (bucks) trying to cross each other on a narrow bridge. Both the goats seemed not to budge and unwilling to bend and give way to the other. Therefore, a quarrel started and they fought. The story went on to tell that both had a fall into the river. After some time, two does pass each other by at the same spot. One of the does bent to its knees and the other crossed over to the other side. The story may sound babyish but convey mature lessons for life.

The stand of the Parents and Guardians: Without much thinking the logic of the parents and guardians would be, if no class, no to paying tuition fees. Any ordinary parent would argue and think this way. And it would sound normal. It is illogical to ask normal fees from the parents when normal situation is not prevalent. Parents like all others are constraint from their usual means of livelihood. These are hard times for many parents even to have proper square meals a day, forget about other not so essential things. Providentially, the present scenario has not reach a stage where, the government employees would be forced to cut their salaries or work without pay.

The position of the teachers: Teachers are part of families. Many teachers have been preparing online classes and disseminating class-notes through the means of different social media. And one cannot deny the fact that it was a new challenge to embark on this new venture of imparting education through this process. Not all the teachers are computer wizards. There are teachers, who like thousands in the world, are least aware of the use of technology. And by the virtue of teaching for many years did not make them privileged of the latest computer knowledge and its nuances either. Computer literacy is of recent history to many people and even of educational institutions. Teachers therefore, face the challenge of learning the latest means of imparting digital education. The struggles of some teachers are compounded by the fact that, some stay in rented homes. They depend solely on their monthly income for their livelihood.  If only parents and guardians would position themselves in the place of the teachers, then there would be better understanding and negotiations of the impasse would be dealt with a humane approach.

The uncomfortable situation of the School authorities:Of the three groups, the school authorities’ position remain in the most uncomfortable one, caught between the devil and the sea. How to please the teachers without hurting the feelings of the parents? How are they to ask the parents to clear the tuition fees while classes not taken in the normal way? Some schools have just collected only the admission. The normal monthly fees are yet to be collected.  And so, if some rumours are to be believed, teachers demanding for a full pay-scale look unfair and even unkind. If schools are to pay in full, for how long and from where do their resources? And COVID - 19 without much doubt will linger on amidst us; no one can surmise when it will disappear.

To stick on to one’s own stand would be like hanging between two boats in the sea, precariously swinging in between. Good sense has to prevail. Most of the parents are aware but a few need a little nudge from behind to remind that digital classes are on. The concerted efforts of the school authorities along with the teachers are on to reach out to the students to impart knowledge by connecting the students through the use of mass media. In fact, many schools have been relentlessly working on this front as not to deny the classes missed due to the prevailing situation. The school authorities have collaborated with the teachers to make the best use of the given ambiance. Hence, the absence of physical proximity in no way reduces the tasks of the teachers to relax and gain undue mileage from the unfortunate condition.

The solutions lay not in mass resignation by the teaching faculty, nor withdrawing wards from the school due to lack of solution to this problem. Maybe the schools can get new teachers, maybe teachers can be employed in new schools, and students be admitted in different schools. This would amount to running away from a temporary trouble heading for a greater fall. What is the need of the hour is to thrash out a solution, where different parties need to give in to some extent, making efforts to ‘meet halfway’. It did not seem palatable to my mind, even if the government ask the school authorities to pay full amount, if parents and guardians are not willing to contribute some share.

At this juncture, it is important to remember that one yardstick cannot be used to measure for everyone and for all the schools. The first premise, since some schools paid to their teachers (however praiseworthy maybe), other schools should follow likewise, is of shallow reasoning. Not all the schools are in the same pool. Different schools have different challenges. The same is not wrong for the parents and guardians of the students; certain parents did not pay, I would not pay, is a cheap bargain. There are many affluent families who are in a position to clear fees, though equally there are many families who are finding hard to meet both ends meet. The government had not cut salaries of the government employees baring the minuscule deduction for a day’s cut. Asking to pay fees for their ward according to the grade of parents and for certain schools is way away from an honourable solution. Dictating terms to private schools of certain background of certain dos and don’ts do not amount to civilised rationale.

If hearsay were to be believed, murmurs are doing round that parents pay 30 per cent of the school fees for their ward, the school authority chip in another 30 per cent, and teachers get 60 per cent of their salary. This sounds quite reasonable to me. If the government can jump in and help in some way would be an added bonus. However for this to happen, I have my share of reservation, because the government is also at its wits’ end.  Due to COVID - 19, the government has been struggling to deal with the situation, which is further accentuated by the arrival of many returnees from different parts of the country. Well, negotiation within the tri-polar parties is the only way out. Citing examples of different schools and areas, even orders from the government would not bring an amicable solution. Parents/ Guardians, Teachers, and School authorities need to hear each other out. To exchange and be in the shoes of each other will help to soften the ground for a middle path. The lockdown which gave rise to this volatile situation is not the fault of any. So, for a solution, sit and discuss, give and take attitude has to come.

It is a fact that all peoples across all walks of life are facing this dreadful challenge. COVID - 19 makes no distinction is also a fact, proven before our eyes. Many rich and powerful people died, so too many young people. Our collective hope is that, what British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a COVID -19 survivor, warned that a mass vaccine for the highly contagious disease may be over a year away and may in fact never be found not become a reality. Unless, coronavirus is contained, or zeroed to, in our respective places and states, one can’t think of proper normal classes. And to achieve this, the state machinery needs the collaborative helping hand by following the protocols given by the government.

The solution ahead will not be feasible for all, but there had to be some meeting point. Jesus in the gospel of Mark said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God” (Mk. 12:17). The stalemate at the present scenario is not too clear as the case of giving to Caesar his due. Two parallel opinions, in this present case, three, seem to be heading at the end of the tunnel without seeing the light. Someday, some time, together with all, the world will be able to overcome this pandemic. The sun will shine again, temporary differences should not become permanent walls to divide. The normal situation will come. A little give and take can help to build a better world.

First Published:May 30, 2020, 12:02 p.m.