When everyone is blocked at home due to curfew in Mauritius, many are asking the question: “Should parents pay the private schools when kids are not going to school?”
Before coming to a conclusion let’s consider some facts about private schools in Mauritius.
In Mauritius we have two types of private schools namely (1) Government-aided private schools and (2) Unaided/ fee paying private schools.
For the government-aided private schools, parents do not need to pay school fees as government pays. Whereas unaided/fee paying private schools depend solely on the fees collected as revenue from parents. Apart from the school fees collected from the parents, private fee paying schools do not have any revenue. However, for quite some years only the registered private pre-primary schools get Rs. 200/= (Rupees two hundred only) per student (Between 3 to 5 years) per month. The amount has not been revised although costs of all other things have gone up! Unaided/fee paying Private primary schools do not get any financial assistance from the government. Even the text books and ICT equipment are bought from the ministry!
Apart from creating employment, contributing NPS/NPF some profitable fee paying private primary schools pay considerable amount of tax to the government.
Majority of the children in Mauritius attend private fee paying pre-primary schools. However, the number of private fee paying primary schools and the number of kids attending them are lesser than government and government-aided primary schools. Although the demand for private fee paying schools is increasing considerably. People expect more from private fee paying schools and these schools are also in competition to provide better services than their competitors. This motivates the parents to opt for private fee paying schools. We must remember that it is a choice of the parents NOT an obligation to send their kids to private fee paying schools.
Schools fees charged by different private fee paying schools also vary. These schools charge from Rs. 800 to Rs. 25,000 per month as school fee. Registration fees also vary from Rs. 2,000 to Rs. 100,000 per child. Material fee, session fee, examination fee, development fee, library fee, cultural activities fee, outing fee, food charges, transport fee etc. are also changed by many schools. If we put all these together, parents may need to spend a considerable amount of their income to send their children to some private fee paying schools.
It is a general belief that the higher the cost is, the better the services are. However, this might not be always true. Of course without finance private fee paying schools will not be able to invest in infrastructure, teachers and other staff members, technology etc. and these are essentials for quality teaching and learning to take place. So, in order to be competitive some private schools charge very high fees to be able to invest further.
Now let’s come to the topic. Schools were declared closed by the Ministry of Education in mid-March 2020 due to COVID-19. Since then children of private fee paying schools are staying at home like the children of government and government-aided schools. As per the concerned ministry, schools will remain closed until end of July 2020. During this long period of time (about four and a half months) should parents continue paying? Well, let’s calculate the number of months that the children are practically losing from school.
From the four and half months if we remove two weeks first term holidays, four weeks second term holidays and about two months and a week third term holidays, we are left with three weeks. As per the proposed plan, Ministry of Education will give a short break of one week and three weeks during the rest of the academic year. If we add these four weeks with the three weeks kids will miss school, we get one month and three weeks in reality kids will lose school. I have read some comments of parents where they mentioned that kids will lose school for five months. I humbly request them to correct their calculation. We have to appreciate the tremendous efforts that the concerned ministry is employing in order to devise new plansand strategies which will ensure that children stay in touch with their studies and do not lose too much because of the confinement.
During lockdown period all the government employees are being paid irrespective of the fact that they can work from home or not. Of course some employees are attending their normal duties like doctors, police officers, nurses and other staff members, people working in the essential sectors etc. Government has come up with a plan where all employed people irrespective of their employers get their salary. Government is helping private businesses though MRA by paying half salary for March 2020 and full salary for April 2020. It should be noted that many schools are registered as NGO and NGOs are not entitled to get wage benefit from MRA. I know a school with about seventy staff members, pays NPF regularly but did not get any wage benefit. Also teachers not registered as from January 2020 have NOT received the benefits.
Some schools have foreign staff members who came to Mauritius less than two years before. Employers cannot deduct the salary of these employees to contribute in NPF. Hence, these employees are not entitled to get wage benefits. So, schools which got some aid from MRA are not finding it sufficient to cope with the salary of their staff members. They have other fixed costs as well. We do not know yet what will happen for May? As from June curfew will be withdrawn but schools will remain closed for a further period of two months. Will government continue helping the private fee paying schools during this extended period? The answer is unknown.
Now the question is if parents do not pay, how will the schools pay their teachers and other staff members, rent, instalment for loan, utility bills, suppliers etc.? Will not the teachers of our children get salary? How will they survive then? Will not we feel bad when everyone is getting their salary only people who are educating our children are not getting theirs?
Some parents argue that government is paying the salary of the teachers. Then why should they pay school fees? I believe that they have understood it well that all schools did not get the benefit and schools do not only have the cost of paying salary to its teachers. Some essential sectors like supermarkets, pharmacies are operating under some strict conditions. Employees of these sectors also got wage benefits. Then are we getting foodstuffs and medicines free of charge or at a half price just because MRA has paid the half salary of March and full for April 2020? The answer is no.
I have taken the opinions of two lawyers into considerations before writing this article. As per them, parents will have to pay normal school frees even during the lockdown period unless they have a contract with their respective schools which states otherwise. When I contacted few schools about it, all of them said that in their contract it is mentioned that parents must pay normal school fees even though kids do not attend school for a long period of time.
Let’s take another example. When we travel abroad for few months, we do not use television, Internet etc. However, as we have a contract with those specific services providers, we must continue paying for these services. For schools as well the same formula applies.
I know since the beginning of the lockdown many private fee paying schools are teaching their students using Internet. This requires huge investment for the schools, lots of preparations and hard work for the teachers and members of the management team. So, practically many private fee paying schools are working much harder than before for the welfare of our children. For some people schools are closed, teachers are on holidays. But in reality, they (teachers, management team and schools offering online classes) are working very hard. Then why should not we pay for the service?
Some self-employed people are finding themselves in difficult situations these days. They are not able to work and the amount they have received from MRA as assistance is also not sufficient. These parents should contact the schools of their children. Schools can consider these cases on humanitarian ground. They can be given delay for the payment. Some dues can be written off wherever possible (For extreme cases). The most important thing is that both the parties should talk and find a mutual solution. Ministry has not taken a stand yet stating that it is not a priority. It might be difficult for a third party to intervene as the contract is between to two parties. It is a civil matter. All of us are passing through a very difficult moments. So, we should try and find a solution which will not be a burden for some parents and schools can also survive.
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