J&K – where private school teachers are paid peanuts for teaching
Labour Department can’t intervene as teachers are not categorised as ‘workforce’; DESK can’t intervene, as there are no such rules and; private schools can’t pay more as they don’t have financial autonomy result – teachers suffer and owners of big schools make empires!
Kashmir has seen a massive growth of private sector schooling over the years, and the majority of the students, mostly up to class 10th, are enrolled in these schools. Approximately, there are around 2700 private schools across the Valley, with around 47,000 teachers —roughly 80 percent of them being females, with sufficient qualifications.
However, these teachers are being meagrely paid. In research, backed by reliable sources, this newspaper found that a majority of teachers in private schools get Rs 9000/= as an average monthly salary. The salary scale in every private school starts from Rs: 4000 to 20,000 only (exceptions are there though), while as many of the private sector school owners have succeeded in building empires for themselves, from their schooling businesses, over the years.
Ironically, the governments, that be, have failed to ensure the teachers in private sector schools are paid well. The job insecurity in private schools is another issue that the teachers are grappling with.
To get a clearer picture and to ascertain the reasons for the victimization and exploitation of these teachers, KASHMIR IMAGES spoke with some concerned people. Here are the excerpts:
I had been working as a teacher and administrator in private sector schooling for more than five years, until the recent past. Presently, I am devoting my time to an educational project, which pertains to the prospect of a quality education system.
Given my experience in private sector schools, I can tell you that the inadequate salary and the poor incentives to the private school teachers has been a chronic issue here, since long.
Since the teaching staff is the most significant component of the schooling system; and the teachers are responsible to build an educated society, the salaries of the teachers, ideally, should have be the highest of all. However, in our case, the one who gets minimum wages in the entire private education sector is a teacher.
Pertinently, females are predominant in this field; and lest I forget to tell you that majority of these teachers are highly qualified and even some of them have been toppers in their academic careers. Mostly they are dedicated to their jobs and are performing well. However, just because they have not been able to get government jobs, they have fallen prey to the private sector schools.
Worst, some of the school owners and those who are at the helm of affairs in these schools are arrogant to the extent they don’t even offer desirable respect to the teachers, forget the dignified labor. I have many case studies to prove it. I know a female teacher who was recently denied her salary for a month just because she tested positive for Covid-19 and had to stay home. After all her efforts to get her dues failed, she tried to approach Labour Commissioner’s office, from where she was returned back saying a teacher does not fall in their ‘labor category’ list!
To give you a clearer picture, let me share my own experience with you: The last school I worked in, choose to sack me rather than accept my leave application. I had applied for two months’ leave for furthering my education, which the school management categorically denied. Left with no option, I tendered my resignation given the one-month notice period. A few days later, I was asked to go without waiting for a month. And when I asked for the month’s salary they refused by saying that under the “no work no pay” rule, I was not eligible for the last month’s salary. It disheartened me. I felt disrespected, rather humiliated. Then I lodged a complaint against the school management with the Director of Education’s office. It is not about the money. It is about principles. It is about my right, and I will fight for my right. I am sure the concerned authorities would ensure justice in this particular case.
It is really sad to see that some private school owners and their managements have set their own rules in place. Many of these rules are idiotic and even in violation of ethical values. How can you build an educated society if you deny respect to a teacher and refuse to give him or her respectable wages? Teachers do not have job security in most of the private schools, where they pour blood sweat, and tears to serve well. They are pushed to the wall by the arrogant owners and management.
And, all this continues because the government, unfortunately, has turned a blind eye to this issue. I wonder if the government can intervene in matters like parents’ grievances, fee fixation of the schools, and so on, why it can’t take some initiatives to ensure problems facing teachers in private schools are solved. A teacher builds a society. How can you keep him or her motivated in these circumstances?
To conclude, it would be unfair if I will not talk about the challenges and problems that some school owners are facing, particularly since the outbreak of the pandemic. It is equally true that the government has left private schools at the mercy of God. I am sure, if the government intervenes with a problem-solving mindset, things will be alright in the private sector schooling.
Usually, private schools do furnish the salary details of the teachers before our fee fixation committee. But our department does not have any authority to fix the salaries of the teachers in these schools. Fixing the salary of an employee of a private school pertains to the concerned school and the person involved. It simply does not fall under our domain. Therefore, we are unable to do much in this regard.
However, we intervene if the salaries are not provided to the teachers in these schools. For instance, during the pandemic, we received some complaints that some teachers were not given salaries. We intervened and ensured that the teachers are paid their dues. Sometimes, I get complaints from the teachers, whose salaries are kept withheld by the concerned school management. I make sure that the complainant gets his or her salary in time. But as far as the issue of fixation of the salaries of the teachers is concerned, I am not in a position to help.
Private sector schools enroll more than 52 percent of the total student population (Nursery to class 12th) across the valley, and nobody can deny the fact that this sector of schooling has been exhibiting better performance. The credit, indeed, goes to the teaching staff, which is the most important component of the schooling.
However, I will not hesitate to say that most private school teachers do not get the salary that they actually deserve, despite the fact that their livelihood depends on teaching jobs.
That said, I have to tell you that the problem lies with the government, which is not ready to provide autonomous space to the private sector schools in Jammu and Kashmir. At least, these schools should have financial autonomy to ensure they are able to pay reasonable salaries. Unfortunately, the government considers private sector schools as a non-profit activity while as the owners want to run their schools as businesses.
To maintain its writ and hegemony on private schools, the government squeezes their financial autonomy. For instance, fee fixation is the government’s domain. The government tells the schools how much they must charge as tuition fees. Since the tuition fee is the core income for the private schools, the owner decides, the salary structure according to his or her net income.
Had the government allowed private schools to run as a profitable venture, they would have been giving desired salaries to the teachers and other staff members.
Look at the tuition centres: A teacher, who receives a meagre salary from school, gets a huge amount as a salary in a tuition centre. The reason is that tuition centres are independent. They are under the purview of GST. They are allowed to charge according to their investment. But the case with schools is entirely different.
Even though, the Supreme Court has said that private schools can have their surplus funds, and they can have reasonable financial autonomy; multiple government agencies have been curbing the financial autonomy of the schools here. Ironically, on one hand, the government considers private schools as a non-profitable activity and on the other hand, all kinds of taxes are imposed on these schools.
Private schools never compromise on anything when it comes to collecting fees from the parents; they didn’t give any relaxation to the parents even in times of pandemic. The owners of these schools have built empires out of their schooling business. However, when it comes to giving desirable salaries to the teachers, they are reluctant.
Even after working hard and with dedication, most of the teachers in private schools get meagre amounts in the name of their salaries. In my view, this is not only a severe violation of their rights but it should be deemed as a human rights violation as well.
Teachers Association has time and again raised this issue with the concerned authorities, but we failed because our attempts are hindered due to the strong nexus of the private schools and authorities. They use their influence to ensure the government does not take the effective initiative to ensure desirable salaries to the teachers.
There should be a strict law in place to prevent the exploitation of teachers by the school owners. The way the government has formed a fee fixation committee, a committee should be there to ensure teachers get proper salaries in private sector schools.
Unlike in Srinagar – where many of the missionary and elite schools are situated – schools in rural areas work and run under entirely different circumstances. Most of the schools in villages are budget schools, where students are charged low fees, and eventually, the teachers also get low salaries.
On the other hand, candidates looking for jobs as teachers are always ready to work on low salaries in these schools. That is because of the growing unemployment and lesser avenues of the employment opportunities available here. Let me share with you that since I have established my school five years ago, I have not got that many student admissions, as I have received applications from job seekers. It pains me to see that some of these youngsters share their personal and financial problems in their applications. Most of them are even ready to work on nominal salaries. Even then, I am not in a position to accommodate the staff beyond a limit.
Therefore, private schools established in rural areas cannot and should not be blamed for providing meagre salaries to the teachers. These schools fetch little even for the owners. It is not easy to change this whole scenario overnight. And, change will not occur unless government at least gives fee fixation autonomy to the budget schools. It is pertinent to mention here that more than 80 percent of private schools are budget schools.
Since I have been working for women’s empowerment for a long time, I wish teachers in private schools are given at least that much salary which makes them economically independent.
No one can deny the fact that teachers in private sector schooling get marginal salaries, comparatively to their counterparts working in the government sector.
Since I have trained and supervised a number of teachers over the years, I can tell you that many of the teachers in private schools are not satisfied with their jobs simply because it does not fetch them a decent and desirable income. Even, many of them do not consider their work as a dependable job. They join schools just to get engaged with something until they get a suitable avenue for their livelihood.
As per my experience, many of the youngsters go for the underprivileged teaching job in private sector schools just because they don’t have any job. They psychologically remain mindful about the fact that they do not get what they deserve. And, therefore, they do not work by pouring their heart into their assigned job. Eventually, their mindset, not only affects their performance but also the overall quality of education in their respective schools.
That said, I would like to put a note of caution here that blaming school owners for the unpleasant situation of the teachers, would not be fair. Most of the schools, in given circumstances, simply cannot afford to offer handsome salaries to the staff.
In my view, allowing mushroom growth of private schools in the Valley, over the years, is one of the key reasons for the unfair treatment that the teachers are met with. Had the government put some effective laws and regulations in place before allowing exponential growth of the private sector schooling, which started some 10-15 years ago, we would have a better situation and mechanism in place by now. Why should someone be allowed to establish a school, if he or she does not have the required financial capability and funding to afford decent salaries to the teachers, who are the most important component of a school? Now, since these schools are established and they are running, the government needs to take some measures to ensure the financial viability of these schools.
In some cases, ironically, even the owners of big schools do not pay adequate salaries to the teachers, despite them having huge earnings. And, there is no accountability for the owners of these schools on behalf of the government. Even the victim staff has no one to complain against this injustice. That is why, I strongly believe that the scenario of the private educational institutions, in terms of meagre salaries to the teaching staff, will not change until the government shoulders responsibility about the issue. Government has to set some rules and norms keeping all the facts, including problems and the challenges facing low-income schools, in consideration.
We do not have any Act in place, which could enable us with powers to look into the complaints of the school teachers about their low wages. The concerned Acts — like the Payment of Wages Act, 1936, and the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, and the Minimum Wages Act of 1948 — provide us guidelines and rules to look into the issues of the workmen. However, none of these Acts, neither considers an industry nor categorizes a teacher in the definition of the workman.
In fact, a Supreme Court ruling has refused to incorporate a teacher into the workman definition. This particular judgment of the apex court has categorically suggested that a teacher is not a workman. The court in this order has explained that since the job of a teacher is imparting education, therefore, teaching cannot be considered as skilled, unskilled, manual, and technical, or clerical work.
However, the nonteaching staff of private schools come under the definition of the workman, thus we can look into the complaints, if any from them, about their wages.
Many teachers come to us with complaints about being paid low. Sometimes they get aggravated when they come to know that we are unable to help them under the law. But we cannot go beyond the laws. Our existing Acts are the only source that guide us how to look into the complaints. There are set rules. We cannot cross our limitations. That is not possible.