Last month, when a high court-appointed committee indicted 122 private schools in Delhi for unjustifiably hiking tuition fees by up to 25% in 2009 and recommended that the amount be refunded along with 9% interest per annum, many parents sending their kids to suburban schools wished there were similar set of regulation in the National Capital Region.
In another case, the court on April 10 ruled that no unaided private school in Delhi could ask for more than a month’s fee at a time.
It came as a big relief to parents who struggle to pay advance fees in lump sum every three months.
But parents in NCR towns have not been as lucky. Most schools in Gurgaon, Ghaziabad, Noida and Faridabad have hiked their fee by as much as 40% this academic year.
Not many had the courage to openly fight these school managements as they feared their kids might be victimised.
A group of parents from Ghaziabad, however, did seek the district administration’s intervention for a partial rollback.
The administration obliged. But the rollback was applicable to only a few smaller players in the market. Elite schools remain untouched.
On their part, private schools claim they are being constantly pushed to update technology and expand their courses and extra-curricular options.
This requires more teachers, classroom space, equipment and none of these comes free.
To cover increasing operational costs, the state governments of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana have allowed a 10% hike in fees every year.
But due to poor regulation, most schools, particularly in the NCR, arm-twist parents into paying more.
The grievance redressal system is often dysfunctional because most elite schools are beyond the district administration’s control.
If challenged, they file lawsuits that drag on for years in higher courts of Chandigarh and Allahabad.
As a result, parents end up paying exorbitant fees. They are also charged to cover school building funds, bus fee and much else.
They are forced to buy textbooks, exercise books and even stationery from school tuck shops.
Many schools change their uniform frequently, some every year, to keep their students “engaged and excited” about attending school.
This year’s fee hike, however, is being blamed on the Right to Education Act.
All private schools have to reserve seats for kids from economically weaker sections and the differently-abled, which requires additional infrastructure. Schools want to pass this additional cost on to parents.
However, nobody has really asked if the schools have implemented the RTE guidelines in the first place.
In the NCR towns, there has been no stock-taking although the deadline to implement the RTE lapsed on March 31.
Most schools continue to demand ‘donations’ and screen students and parents though the RTE bans both. Many still use application forms that ask parents to declare their incomes.
While the RTE calls for equal opportunity by reserving seats for the under-privileged, most schools have started special sections or separate after-hour shifts for them.
Their excuse is that parents of students from general category object to their children being seated with poor kids. But that is another story.
Nobody expects private education to come cheap. Unless it is for a significant loss of income, few parents would pull their kids out of a school because it got too expensive.
According to a 2011 survey by Credit Suisse, Indians spend more on education than Russians, Chinese or Brazilians.
Most Indian parents prefer private schools over ill-equipped state-run schools.
They want the best for their children’s education and are prepared to spend well beyond their means.
But with the future of their wards in the custody of these schools, the parents are easily the most vulnerable of consumers.
Profiteers will continue to fleece them with impunity unless and until the state puts its foot down.