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Many private schools in India are on the verge of closing their doors, and they are concerned that a third wave of COVID-19 will put them out of business

Contrary to popular belief, the majority of private schools operate on a shoestring budget

Around 70% of private schools charge a monthly cost of less than Rs 1000. Due to a lack of resources, these schools have been unable to compete with elite schools as education shifts online in the face of the epidemic, and are experiencing significant dropout rates.

Poor fee collections are causing stress among private schools, which is not only affecting their cash flow but also impeding their ability to pay loan dues. Many of them are concerned that a third wave of COVID-19 infections, as well as any subsequent lockdown, will force them to shut down permanently. Pre-primary to middle-level schools, particularly those serving low-income families in rural and semi-urban areas, have been the hardest hit.

Contrary to popular belief, the majority of private schools operate on a shoestring budget. As much as 70 per cent of private schools in the country charge less than Rs 1,000 as monthly fee, according to the ‘State of the Sector Published on Private Schools’ report by Central Square Foundation that came out lately. The survey also reveals that while the government schools have improved their performance over the years, the same has stayed constant in private schools, hence narrowing the learning gap between private unaided schools and government schools.

Due to low student participation during the pandemic, private schools in India have been struggling to pay their costs and loan obligations to banks and other lenders. Many of them are concerned that a third wave of COVID-19 infections, as well as any future lockdown, will compel them to shut down permanently. Those who focus on pre-primary to middle-level education and serve low-income families in rural and semi-urban areas have been the hardest hit. Aside from the obvious loss of education for children, this could result in a large number of unpaid loans for banks and other lenders, as well as a loss of livelihood for teachers and other staff.

Several of these private institutions have even filed lawsuits in federal courts around the country, claiming that they are facing a crisis due to the outbreak. Many states have responded by allowing schools to collect tuition fees during the lockdown, but schools argue that this is insufficient. Take, for example, Kerala High School in Telangana’s Karimnagar. The 550 pupils that attend the low-cost private school, which offers studies from Nursery to Xth grade, are mostly from the surrounding communities. It has been surviving on near-zero cash flows for the past 18 months, as the majority of the fees it collected were used to pay salaries to its workers, repay loan instalments, and offer online lessons.

FICCI ARISE Treasurer Anirudh Khaitan, who is also vice-chairman of Khaitan Public School in Uttar Pradesh, claimed that with the state government increasingly backing local government-run schools, low-budget unaided schools were already on the verge of closure. The epidemic, on the other hand, has hastened the process. “Prior to the pandemic, I believed that unaided private schools would be completed in 15 years, owing to political pressure on state governments to improve the performance of state-run schools. Thousands of unaided schools, I believe, will not be able to withstand the pandemic,” Khaitan remarked.

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