The impact of Covid-19 on education has been staggering. In April, roughly nine out of ten students worldwide were out of school. The most common response to the pandemic, it seems, was an abrupt nationwide shutdown of schools. 

Denmark, the first country to do so, is now trying to ease back into a normal routine through split classes and outdoor teaching. It has opened up only primary sections but even this drew the ire of scared parents. This is possible because Denmark’s infection count has fallen below 3.5 per 100,000 citizens.

Schools in India shut down around the same time as Denmark—17 March. But the situation here couldn’t be more different. Between 1 May and 21 May, the daily reported cases grew grew The New York Times India Coronavirus Map and Case Count Read more 2.6 times, from 2293 to 6088. School owners and principals The Ken spoke to claim that the new academic session isn’t likely to start before September.

The extended lockdowns have brought one major section of Indian schools to the brink of closure—the 270,000 affordable private schools (APS) that cater to 30-40% of Indian students. Approximately 79 million students attend these local private institutions according to a report by FSG, a social impact consulting firm.

“Affordable schools, even normally, exist hand-to-mouth. Fees are the only revenues we get. And that’s completely stopped since March,” says Kulbushan Sharma, an APS owner and president of the National Independent School Alliance (NISA). Sharma’s 450-student school, based in Ambala, Haryana, is still due to receive Rs 9 lakh ($11,920) in fees from parents for the last academic year. He will most likely write off the amount, equal to about a third of total income. Other schools in the NISA network have received less than 30% fees, and are struggling to pay teachers and non-teaching staff.

“We’re facing an existential threat because of the pandemic,” Sharma tells  The Ken.

Structurally, APSs lie at the intersection of need and want. “They started as a grassroots response to the lack of quality schools in low-income slum areas or outer fringes of the city,” says Parth Shah, founder of the Centre for Civil Society (CCS), a Delhi-based think-tank. 

"Higher end private schools charge between Rs 18,000-25,000 per year; the mid-priced section between Rs 8,000-18,000 and lowest tier charges below Rs 8000 a year. It's like a pyramid. The lower you go, the more schools there are"

Gaurav Singh, founder, 321 Foundation

Shah claims that APSs also bridge the gap between elite private schools and low-quality government schools, charging between Rs 500-3000 ($6.62-39.72) a month, depending on where they are located.

AUTHOR

Olina Banerji

Based in Delhi, Olina writes about mega-trends in urban mobility, education, skilling and the environment, with a focus on how institutions and innovations can help cities grow sustainably. She is a graduate of the London School of Economics, and has worked previously with India Today and global non-profit Ashoka.

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