Covid-19, the New Normal
It’s been a while since I wrote something like this, but several social discourses since the advent of this “new-norm”, particularly with similarly circumstanced parents who have kids attending privately funded “colleges” or schools, prompted me to address this issue publicly; so that we may perhaps find a solution together for what appears to be a common concern. Corona has made us turn a complete 1800 in most of our everyday activity, from the use of the now commonplace face-mask to the constant rinsing of our palms, or indeed having our darling angels constantly at home; who would’ve otherwise been in the safe sanctity of that heavenly escape (at least for us parents, during day time) called school. This being so, should only tuition fees of private educational institutions remain unchanged?
I must concede that I cannot take the singular credit for all the ideas expressed, as some have been shared with me by other like-minded parents who, perhaps knew that this would prompt me to “bell the cat”, which they themselves would not have wanted to do (in true Sri Lankan fashion) and for the same reason, it is sincerely hoped that these thoughts of the father will not result in some adverse reaction on the education and future of my own kids; I should hope that we have been groomed enough to tolerate an opposing view and look at the issue objectively and not take it as a personal affront and lash out in defense.
‘Private’ Education – Why We Pay More?
This is once again a common argument in many social circles, indeed as a student who attended a fully privately funded College I faced my own share of “the music” when I entered the State University system, struggling with the tertiary equivalent of the constant tussle between perceived “classes” in the system; a minority who are seen as a privileged class with parents spending (millions these days) on schooling, who speak in English and are mainly centred around Colombo (who I have heard being collectively referred to as “Colombians” rather derogatorily – no connection to the Latin American Republic, the capital of which is Bogota) as against the relative majority of students who attend what are generally referred to (once again incorrectly) as “government schools” that are actually funded by the State, not a particular government.
There may be several valid reasons for bearing such expenditure if you ask a cross-section of parents. For us however there appears to be a common sentiment (amongst at least those who have shared their ideas with me) that they pay handsomely, at times severely prohibitive amounts at great personal sacrifice to some private colleges, not just for learning lessons in a book, that the mere fact of being part of that student body within that institution of history and tradition, whether at work or at play, renders an overall finished product of making a young lady or gentleman of your child that is fit to assume their role in a responsible society. Given that rationale the question then arises when you are not receiving the benefit of that additional consideration, must you still pay the same?
Severe Economic Pressure – Pay Cuts & Loss of Income
I am personally aware of several good friends who are struggling to make just basic ends meet, to honour their basic payment schedules or indeed maintain their routine daily expenditure, leave alone making payments amounting to thousands for their children’s education; as a direct result of either loss of employment, pay-cuts by as much as 60% of their usual income of either one or both parents. Even professionals are now gradually coming to terms with invoices for services to even top corporate clients not being settled as regularly as before, for even those corporate entities are facing serious cash liquidity issues; this is the new norm, so unless you are part of that very small percentage making the “million dollar club” with unlimited currencies stored away in foreign accounts we must all simply ride this wave, get used to cutting down on our otherwise “wants” and getting-by on what are only “needs” and simply hope for a better tomorrow free from Corona! The question then is, why should private educational institutions be treated any differently?
On the one side you have parents with severely diminished earning capacity and on the other, tutorial and other staff of these institutions who are not expected to be at work as regularly as before, who conduct “online classes” from the comfort of their own homes with no expenditure or time consumed in travel; should that also not be considered when billing fees for children who are actually at home and not at school?
Relative Expenditure on Infrastructure & Facilities
In some of our discussions between equally circumstanced parents (mostly the very opinionated mothers) I have heard the argument being raised, to the contrary, that there is an actual cost incurred in providing for the Wi Fi or other similar internet based learning apparatus and this must necessarily be factored in; I accept this very valid point and thus venture to make the suggestion that some rational quantification be done, taking into account on the one side those expenses that a private educational institution would ordinarily incur in maintaining their daily (or monthly) activities, classrooms, electricity and other amenities, extra-curricular and sports activities with all related cost indices such as staff, support staff and other payments when the children are normally at school and compare it to a situation on the other side; where there is none of that but only the additional expenditure of facilitating the internet based learning and then open such accounts in some transparent manner for the parents to peruse. I am no financial accountant but I have this strange feeling you may just notice an additional “profit” being shown on that equation. If indeed such is shown, shouldn’t there be at least some pay-back or credit afforded to those parents who have over-paid (in such a situation), if not indeed a direct remittance of such excess collected?
The Child Psyche – Beyond Rupees & Cents
For me, as I am sure for any parent, we will try to do beyond our best for our kids, forsaking all other benefits for ourselves; as our parents did for many of us when we were students. Therefore I suppose we will beg, borrow (but perhaps just stop short of stealing) to somehow continue to cough-up the required funds for our children and their future; but should this be taken advantage of, our innocent desire to see them bloom and not to harm their future in any way be taken for granted by not affording some relief on the payment of fees, particularly for those parents who may truly be suffering?
There is also the most important part of what effect all of this “home-learning via computer screen” is having on our children. We all know that the classes are far from ideal, however much we try our kids do not get up in the early hours of the morning and get ready to go to school, they are mentally not geared to the classroom atmosphere and at times may even be sitting in front of the screen in their pyjamas! Some parents who are fortunate enough to actually continue in employment may not even know if their children had been at these online classes or simply watching TV!
If indeed this “new normal” is expected to continue for a while (as some experts claim), should all educational institutions not start thinking now of alternatives; perhaps taking two shifts of learning instead of one, get classrooms divided into a fewer number of students and permit them to actually attend school even on some days, if not all?
Finally let me reiterate that I have discussed all of this in the Public Interest, so that if there are ideas that are similar, or indeed arguments against, we may openly discuss it and engage in a dialogue aimed at attaining the best for our kids; our future and that of this great nation!
“EDUCATION is the WEAPON with which we can CHANGE the worlds” (Nelson Mandela)