Dealt a blow by Covid, parents flock to civic schools

MUMBAI: Sudhir Ahire lost his job in the pandemic last year. Unable to pay private school fees, he shifted his teenage son and nine-year-old daughter to a municipal school. The move from a private school to a civic one seemed painful initially. Now, he is all smiles.
With students being denied online classes for non-payment of fees, parents faced with job losses are making their children leave private schools and join civic and aided schools where education is free.
The 10 new CBSE schools introduced by the BMC this year, and one ICSE, are flooded with applications. The schools spread across Mumbai have 40 seats each from nursery to Class VI.
The first non-state board CBSE school in Poonam Nagar, Jogeshwari, and the ICSE school in Mahim were launched last year. Both schools have a nursery and a junior kindergarten. The Poonam Nagar school has received 90 applications for 40 nursery seats and 286 more applications for junior KG. The ICSE school this year received 130 additional forms for junior KG.
“Till 2019, I used to simply write a cheque for fees. It was only when the pandemic struck last year that I realised my son’s fee was Rs 3,100 per month,” said Ahire, who was told about his job loss over a message. He tried to seek time from the school for payment of fees. While that did not happen, his son, in Class VIII was not allowed online access. “My son was reluctant to go to a municipal school. But at least a dozen of his classmates have also joined. He is happy to attend online classes,” said Ahire.
BMC education officer Raju Tadvi said the non-state board schools run by the municipality are a hit among parents. He added that the rush for the schools is a result of the pandemic-induced financial crunch. The principal of a civic CBSE school said they have got middle-class parents seeking admission for their children this year. “We have children of state and central government staff and persons holding positions in private companies,” said a principal.
‘Informing daughter about school change tough, but so was Rs 80,000 fee’
Nitin Dalvi, one of the 28 petitioners who moved the Bombay high court against two private schools in Dadar for denying their students online access due to nonpayment of fees, moved his son to the civic ICSE school in Mahim. “I have lost my job and my wife is a government employee. We had no answer when our son asked why he was not attending school,” said Dalvi. After the court intervention, the school allowed the 28 students online access from last Friday. And parents have been given six monthly installments to pay fees.
The exodus of parents from private to civic schools is evident from the applications received for classes V and VI. “It was not easy to explain to my daughter why she was changing schools after getting into secondary. But a yearly fee of around Rs 80,000 was getting difficult,” said a parent, who after losing his job has been selling vegetables.
At Vikhroli’s Hariyali village civic CBSE school, all the 40 seats for Class VI have been taken and there is a waiting list of 10 students. At the civic CBSE school in Tunga village, Powai, 27 Class VI students could not get admission as seats were filled. Another 103 Class IV students could not get seats in the school.
In case of Class V, 90 students who had applied at the CBSE school in Bhavani Shankar Road, Dadar, could not get admission.
Mahendar Ande, who moved his Class II son from an international school in Lower Parel to a civic school, is relieved. “I was skeptical about a civic school but after watching my son’s progress in the two months of online learning, I am happy,” said Ande, who has been without a job since the pandemic. He used to pay an annual fee of around Rs 75,000. He has got his daughter admitted in the nursery section at the same school.
Between last Wednesday and Thursday, at least 32 parents moved their children from private to civic and aided schools. In aided schools, education is free for girls and heavily subsidised for boys. For instance, it is Rs 5 for Class V, Rs 6 for Class VI and so on.
Sainath Durge, civic education committee member, said the BMC is taking efforts to give infrastructure and quality education to students.
He said parents are turning to civic schools due to the pandemic but they are also happy with non-state board schooling.
With private schools refusing to give leaving certificates before clearing fee dues, the state has asked civic and aided schools to admit children based on their birth certificates.
Tadvi said, “Parents should look at civic schools as our teachers are being trained to teach other boards. We are also working on improving vernacular civic schools.”

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