School’s reopen next week, and it is not just the parents who should be tense
The long winter break of the children are about to end now. Most of the schools, including Government schools, will reopen on 16 February for a new academic session. Like every year, it’s time again for parents to prepare for the several new challenges owing to their children’s education. It is obvious that the month of February is a tight-budget-month for every parent. Almost all private schools have revised the tuition fee and some schools have announced changes of school uniforms and the like. Parents working with middle-class budgets will be directly affected by this.Parents of first-time school goers will have another problem regarding new admissions. If the child gets admission in a school of the parent’s choice, it will take some more time to adjust to the new routine. Waking up early in the morning, preparing breakfast and lunch for kids, getting uniforms and school bags ready and taking the kids to school, bringing them back after school, homework etc. will be added burdens for parents with first-time school going children. For those whose children will be returning to school next week, the same routine will take some time getting used to again.
Also this time, not only parents of the private school going children, but even those having wards admitted in government schools too will face budgeting problems. The State Government has announced free textbooks/ exercise copies, uniforms, school bags, shoes etc. to only those having Sikkim Subject Certificates/ Certificates of Identification. While this rule was always in place, this time around it appears set to be implemented. What this means is that low-income families with children in government schools will now have to purchase items which they had been receiving free for a long while now.
Even a casual survey of schools will reveal that at least in government schools in and around Gangtok, 60-70% children come from “non-domiciled” parents. For more than a decade and a half, they were receiving free uniforms and textbooks [to begin with, till class VI and later up to class VIII], but the new arrangement will definitely upset budgets. One hopes that this does not upset the educational pursuits of the children.
Non-local parents of children [upto class VIII in govt schools] are also seen in dilemma about how much money they will now have to keep aside for their child’s education because they will be paying for the first time. It is found that some parents, especially daily wage earners, have three to four children enjoying free education in government schools. If additional expenses like purchasing uniforms and textbooks come up, their budgets will be definitely be upset, and corners will have to be cut.
The new academic year pressure is not only bearing down on parents, but must be exerting on the Human Resource Development Department as well because this session will come with new challenges. The recent decision of State Government to reduce the retirement age of teachers from 60 to 58 years has led to slightly over 400 teachers retiring since the new rule came into force and not being available for service this year. An arrangement has been made to allow service extension up to 62 years for required teachers, but that remains only an announcement thus far. Add this number to the already accepted shortage of teachers in several schools, and staffroom strengths become a worry.
Another challenge facing the HRDD will be to convince and ensure that the 1,063 recently transferred teachers - several of whom believe that their transfers are politically motivated - work sincerely and dedicatedly, whether in their new schools or even the existing one. It is possible that these teachers will spend at least a quarter of the academic year trying to negotiate their transfers by chasing files in the district and head offices.
The Department has not yet appointed regular teachers to fill the vacancies. The dates for interviews for several important posts are yet to be announced. And, if past track-record is anything to go by, the recruitment process will be long and contested. The recent retirements have left several schools without headmasters/ headmistresses and principals [as the case may be]. The Department has called for interviews and time will tell how quickly the process is completed and how efficiently the schools are staffed.
Another controversy that hounds HRDD every year is that of textbooks. Most years it is about delays and quality, and last year, the Department saw officials getting suspended after some glaring and embarrassing errors were found in the textbooks.
And despite all these concerns and worries, children will be returning to schools excited and eager. It falls on all of us to ensure that this wide-eyed wonder of the children is not allowed to fade. The commitment to quality education should not be a priority only for the government, but also an owned-up responsibility of all parents.