Are Head-in-Sand Private Schools Headed for Harakiri?

November 27, 2021

We are in danger of destroying ourselves by our greed and stupidity. We cannot remain looking inwards at ourselves …” – Stephen Hawking (1942 – 2018), British theoretical physicist.

Under our ancient educational system called Gurukul in which the student (sishia) stayed at the Guru’s residence and at the end of his education, he offered his Guru thanksgiving token gift called Gurudakshina which refers to the tradition of repaying one's teacher or guru after a period of study or the completion of education. The tradition is one of acknowledgment, respect, and thanks.

It was a token of gratitude but was manipulated even in the Mahabharata epic. For instance, Drona asked Ekalavya for a guru dakshina that a student owes his teacher upon the completion of his training. Ekalavya replied that there was nothing he would not give his teacher. Drona asked for Ekalavya's right thumb, knowing that its loss will hamper Ekalavya's ability to pursue archery.

Representational image

The word Harakiri, used in the headline, is a ritual suicide by disembowelment with a sword, formerly practiced in Japan by samurai, (worriers) as an honorable alternative to disgrace or execution.

All the above come to mind when we follow actions of the high-priced private schools which generally sport “Cambridge”, “Oxford” and “International” on their name boards and letterheads.

Chasing prestige and instinct to imitate or compete with Jones or Kapurs drives many parents to send their children, whether they can afford or not, to these exotically titles schools.

The Covid 19 pandemic upset the apple-cart for both private school managements and some of the over-reaching parents. Some of the parents may have lost their jobs or had their business shrunk and there was a payment of fees crisis.

A concerned education minister stepped in and a compromise solution, mainly centered on 30% reduction in fees, was offered to the distressed parents. But, the unbending private managements rejected the concession solution and went to the High Court which further reduced the concession to parents by 15% (85%).

Then private school managements went to the Supreme Court which clarified on May 3, 2021 that States cannot impinge on the autonomy of private unaided schools to fix and collect “just” and “permissible” school fees from parents, especially in the name of the pandemic.

The May verdict had come in a series of appeals filed by private unaided schools in Rajasthan against government notifications to defer/reduce school fees due to aftermath of pandemic (lockdown) from March 2020.

Some parents had refused to pay despite the judgment. School managements had moved the apex court again.

Clarifying, a Bench led by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar recently ordered that the court’s judgment in May “does not prohibit the schools from taking coercive action against the students who have failed to pay the installments as per the arrangement predicated in the judgment”.

“The spirit of the direction given in the judgment was to give time to the parent/ward concerned to pay the fees, including by way of installments... That does not and did not extricate the parent/ward from the liability to pay the amount specified in the judgment in any manner,” the court noted in its order.

While noting that it was up to schools to initiate action for willful defaults in fee payment, the court said indulgence should also be shown to parents with genuine reasons.

“If any individual request is made by the parent/ward finding it difficult to remit annual fees for the academic year 2020-2021 in terms of the judgment, the school management has to consider such representation on case-to-case basis sympathetically,” the court reiterated.

Meanwhile, the Annual Status of Education Report 2021, released mid-November 2021, has important finding that a large number of students have shifted from private schools to government schools. According to an editorial in Deccan Herald (23/11/21) the shift was from 64.3% to 65.8% between 2018 and 2020 and to 70.3% by 2021 across gender and age. This reversed the trend seen in the previous years when private school enrolment kept rising. The inference is that many parents found it difficult to send children to private schools which charge high fees. Some private schools even closed down.

The choice for private schools seems to be to bend or break. Are they ready to come down from their high perch and face the situation realistically?


Deccan Herald (26/11/21):

Complaints about private schools allegedly harassing children and parents by denying Transfer Certificates has prompted (Karnataka) government to issue strict directions. The department of public instruction has directed the concerned Block Education Officer to take necessary measures to get the TC within a week of application.

The loss of jobs and other financial crisis due to Covid 19 pandemic has forced several parents to shift their wards from private schools to government and aided (private) schools which are affordable. But, when the parents applied for TC private school managements are demanding parents to clear the fee dues to get it.

The subject is open to many views. What are yours? Your response is welcome on the format given below (Pl scroll down a bit). Over to you.


While this fortnightly column is mainly tailored for students, teachers, school administrators and education officials, it does not foreclose non-academic readers of Daiji. It is an all-embracing column open to all readers to respond..

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Comment on this article

  • mohan prabhu, mangalore/canada

    Tue, Nov 30 2021

    A while ago I read in Will Durant's "Our Oriental Heritage" that Harakiri was practised by Brahmins in the old days when the King refused their rightful demands. In these days, instead of Harakiri, people commit suicide because they cannot cope with life. Perhaps some students of private schools have done the same because they could not go back to their "prestigious" schools because their parents could not afford to send them. In my days, bright or rich students got into a special division of a class, and this selection of bright students occurs even in other countries, like Canada. Perhaps, people who had money sent their children to prestigious schools in foreign countries, especially to Cambridge and Oxfor UK and these may be "victims" of enrolment deficiency! By the way what are "reproduction rights"? Is this what I don't think it is?

  • Rohan, Mangalore

    Sat, Nov 27 2021

    I have always believed that children should study in a school much lower in fee. This makes the children mix with a different social group other than the regular group they meet and socialise at family gatherings, social get togethers etc They will have a broader prospective about living and appreciate the good things God has given them. I feel in the future a buddy system should start where the elite schools should make it mandatory that for each student that pays there is a student that is sponsored by the paying student. Everyone has a right to education in the school of their choice. This way both social sections are benefited. The elite get to know the ground reality and the poor a good opportunity. Thank you.

  • Melroy C.F.Fernandes, Mangalore

    Sat, Nov 27 2021

    Seeing the Invisible :Economics for children by Sanjeev Sabhlok(available on Kindle and for free download on his blog).///Economic blindness has dire consequences. The world is pushed back into the Dark Ages every time an ignorant politician winds the clock back on trade and prosperity.///Educating children well in economics is one of the most important projects of our time./// Economics is about things that are hidden from sight – the series of actions and interactions among humans. Not for nothing did Adam Smith think of the market’s invisible hand. Later, Hayek told us about spontaneous order. The source of this order is visible only to economists.///It remains a challenge to explain this to the ordinary, untrained person. Our daily actions influence production not just today but across generations. Think of the effects of socialism in driving the best talent of innumerable countries to the USA.///This little book simplifies the insights of economics for every child. After reading this book, every child will begin to appreciate the power of markets and the risks of government interventions. This book is intended mainly for children between the ages of around 10 to 16 but anyone to the age of 100 can benefit from it.

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