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✍️ Chrishmal Warnasuriya

Covid-19, the New Normal:

It’s been a while since I wrote something like this, but several socialdiscourses since the advent of this “new-norm”, particularly with similarlycircumstanced parents who have kids attending privately funded “colleges” orschools, prompted me to address this issue publicly; so that we may perhapsfind a solution together for what appears to be a common concern. Corona hasmade us turn a complete 180
0 inmost of our everyday activity, from the use of the now commonplace face-mask tothe constant rinsing of our palms, or indeed having our darling angelsconstantly at home; who would’ve otherwise been in the safe sanctity of thatheavenly escape (at least for us parents, during day time) called school. Thisbeing so, should only tuition fees of private educational institutions remainunchanged?

Imust concede that I cannot take the singular credit for all the ideasexpressed, 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 themselveswould not have wanted to do (in true Sri Lankan fashion) and for the samereason, it is sincerely hoped that these thoughts of the father will not resultin some adverse reaction on the education and future of my own kids; I shouldhope that we have been groomed enough to tolerate an opposing view and look atthe issue objectively and not take it as a personal affront and lash out indefense.

‘Private’Education – Why We Pay More?

Thisis once again a common argument in many social circles, indeed as a student whoattended a fully privately funded College I faced my own share of “the music”when I entered the State University system, struggling with the tertiaryequivalent of the constant tussle between perceived “classes” in the system; aminority who are seen as a privileged class with parents spending (millionsthese days) on schooling, who speak in English and are mainly centred around Colombo(who I have heard being collectively referred to as “Colombians” ratherderogatorily - no connection to the Latin American Republic, the capital ofwhich is Bogota)  as against the relative majority of students who attendwhat are generally referred to (once again incorrectly) as “government schools”that are actually funded by the State, not a particular government.

Theremay be several valid reasons for bearing such expenditure if you ask across-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 payhandsomely, at times severely prohibitive amounts at great personal sacrificeto some private colleges, not just for learning lessons in a book, that themere fact of being part of that student body within that institution of historyand tradition, whether at work or at play, renders an overall finished productof making a young lady or gentleman of your child that is fit to assume theirrole in a responsible society. Given that rationale the question then ariseswhen you are not receiving the benefit of that additional consideration, mustyou still pay the same?

SevereEconomic Pressure – Pay Cuts & Loss of Income:

Iam personally aware of several good friends who are struggling to make justbasic ends meet, to honour their basic payment schedules or indeed maintaintheir routine daily expenditure, leave alone making payments amounting tothousands for their children’s education; as a direct result of either loss ofemployment, pay-cuts by as much as 60% of their usual income of either one orboth parents. Even professionals are now gradually coming to terms withinvoices for services to even top corporate clients not being settled asregularly as before, for even those corporate entities are facing serious cashliquidity issues; this is the new norm, so unless you are part of that verysmall percentage making the “million dollar club” with unlimited currenciesstored away in foreign accounts we must all simply ride this wave, get used tocutting 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?

 Onthe one side you have parents with severely diminished earning capacity and onthe other, tutorial and other staff of these institutions who are not expectedto be at work as regularly as before, who conduct “online classes” from thecomfort of their own homes with no expenditure or time consumed in travel;should that also not be considered when billing fees for children who areactually at home and not at school?

RelativeExpenditure on Infrastructure & Facilities:

 Insome of our discussions between equally circumstanced parents (mostly the veryopinionated 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 othersimilar internet based learning apparatus and this must necessarily be factoredin; I accept this very valid point and thus venture to make the suggestion thatsome rational quantification be done, taking into account on the one side thoseexpenses that a private educational institution would ordinarily incur in maintainingtheir daily (or monthly) activities, classrooms, electricity and otheramenities, extra-curricular and sports activities with all related cost indicessuch as staff, support staff and other payments when the children are normallyat school and compare it to a situation on the other side; where there is noneof that but only the additional expenditure of facilitating the internet basedlearning and then open such accounts in some transparent manner for the parentsto peruse. I am no financial accountant but I have this strange feeling you mayjust notice an additional “profit” being shown on that equation. If indeed suchis shown, shouldn’t there be at least some pay-back or credit afforded to thoseparents who have over-paid (in such a situation), if not indeed a directremittance of such excess collected?

TheChild Psyche – Beyond Rupees & Cents:

Forme, as I am sure for any parent, we will try to do beyond our best for ourkids, forsaking all other benefits for ourselves; as our parents did for many ofus when we were students. Therefore I suppose we will beg, borrow (but perhapsjust stop short of stealing) to somehow continue to cough-up the required fundsfor our children and their future; but should this be taken advantage of, ourinnocent desire to see them bloom and not to harm their future in any way betaken for granted by not affording some relief on the payment of fees,particularly for those parents who may truly be suffering?

Thereis also the most important part of what effect all of this “home-learning viacomputer screen” is having on our children. We all know that the classes arefar from ideal, however much we try our kids do not get up in the early hoursof the morning and get ready to go to school, they are mentally not geared tothe classroom atmosphere and at times may even be sitting in front of thescreen in their pyjamas! Some parents who are fortunate enough to actuallycontinue in employment may not even know if their children had been at theseonline classes or simply watching TV!

Ifindeed this “new normal” is expected to continue for a while (as some expertsclaim), should all educational institutions not start thinking now ofalternatives; perhaps taking two shifts of learning instead of one, getclassrooms divided into a fewer number of students and permit them to actuallyattend school even on some days, if not all?

Finallylet me reiterate that I have discussed all of this in the Public Interest, sothat if there are ideas that are similar, or indeed arguments against, we mayopenly discuss it and engage in a dialogue aimed at attaining the best for ourkids; our future and that of this great nation!

EDUCATION is the WEAPON with which we can CHANGEthe worlds” (Nelson Mandela)

CW (a “Colombian” – Oct’20)


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