November 1, 2021
"The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfils Himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.”
-Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892), English Poet Laureate during much of Queen Victoria’s reign.
This new column, EDUWISE, is about the changing educational scene in India and across the globe - going back to ancient times.
The gurukula system of education in India has been in existence since ancient times. The Upanishads (1000-800 BCE) mention multiple gurukulam, including that of guru Drona at Gurgaon. The Vedic school of thought prescribes the gurukula (sacred rite of passage) to all individuals before the age of eight and at least by 12. From initiation until the age of 25, all individuals are prescribed to be students and to remain unmarried, and celibate.
Gurukulam were supported by public donations. This was followed by the many following Vedic thoughts, making gurukula one of the earliest forms of public school centres.
Then, under the British rule ( Macaulay for instance), education came under three components – students and their parents, teachers and management and regulation and supervision by government departments concerned.
This has been highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic when some parents could not pay the initially-agreed school fees and they appealed to the departments of government. The government/ educational department decreed a compromise formula ordering a reduction in the annual fees by 30 % for the academic year 2021/22.
The private schools went up to the Supreme Court and here is its ruling delivered in early-October 2021. The Supreme Court said a school management can recover pending fees from parents after considering their “just” pleas -- related to more time or some other difficulties – “compassionately.”
“It is open to the school management to initiate appropriate action for recovery of the outstanding dues/amount, if any, in accordance with law,” a bench of Justices A M Khanwilkar and C T Ravikumar said. “At the same time, if the concerned parent or ward seeks some indulgence for just reasons, it will be open to the school management to consider such request compassionately,” the bench said.
The court passed this order on October 1,2021 on an application seeking clarification on the judgement. It said the school management can recover the fees “strictly in accordance with law.”
Among others, the top court's judgment had then directed the school management not to debar any student from attending either online classes or physical classes on account of non-payment of fees and arrears, including the instalments. It had also then directed them not to withhold the results of the examinations of any student for that reason.
The court also said that, if any individual request is made by the parent or ward finding it difficult to remit annual fees for the academic year 2020-2021 in terms of the judgment, the school management should consider such representation sympathetically on a case-to-case basis.
Passing its order on the clarification application, the bench said, “The spirit of the direction was to give time to the concerned parent or ward to pay the fees, including by way of instalments.”
In its contention, the school management said that the last date for paying the instalments has already expired long ago and, despite that, there were some parents and wards who were still in arrears and had committed default.
Allowing the recovery of fees in such cases, the court said the parent or ward can obviously approach the appropriate forum if the demand was excessive and beyond the permissible amount.
The top court, however, said private school management, engaged in doing the charitable activity of imparting education, is expected to be responsive and alive to the pandemic situation and take necessary remedial measures to mitigate the hardship suffered by students and their parents.
These seem pious recitations that have no legal binding and are a far cry from the ancient Gurukul system where the student or his parents paid what is feasible. The next appeal could be to national/international arbitration – thus adding a fifth leg to the educational process.
But, there is an exit route – by voting with your feet. When the classes reopened, there were fewer footfalls at the elite schools that liberally use “International” “Oxford” and “Cambridge” on their school name-boards and letter-heads. It is also a lesson for parents not to compete and show off to the Joneses and Kapoors.
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While mainly tailored for students, teachers, school administrators and education officials, this column does not foreclose non-academic readers of Daiji. It is an all-embracing column open to all readers to respond. This fortnightly column is starting from November 1, 2021 and will be featured every fortnight (Monday) hereafter.
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