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A healthcare worker collects a nasal sample of a passenger at Patna railway station. Image Credit: ANI

Patna: COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have left a disastrous impact on the education sector in Bihar.

According to a report of the Association of Independent Schools (AIS), around 10,000 private schools have been shut in the state over the past 15 months, leaving more than 100,000 teachers unemployed.

Of them, 7,000 are nursery schools, 2,000 primary schools and over 1,000 middle schools, according to the data prepared by the association.

“The whole situation has turned alarming,” AIS president Dr CB Singh said. He said the jobless teachers were fighting their biggest battle for survival as job opportunities are scarce.

In Patna alone, the capital of Bihar state, around 3,600 such private schools have been closed as they have no money to pay rents for the buildings, electricity and salary to their staff, with fee collected from pupils has been reduced by more than 60 per cent. Many families have even withdrawn their children from schools due to uncertainty.

School association leaders said private schools have played a vital role in shaping the career of the next generation and putting the nation on the path to progress yet the government has been mysteriously silent over the fate of teachers who are literally starving. “But, what is distressing, the state government has been forcibly collecting electricity bills and even road tax from these schools although they have been closed. This is inhumane,” said Syed Shamael Ahmed, national president of the Private Schools and Children Welfare Association.

According to him, Montessori and primary schools started shutting down from July last year. The enforcement of a fresh lockdown after the spread of infection in April this year dealt a further blow to their hope.

“The new session should have started in April but a lockdown was imposed again. This shattered the hopes of private schools and there began a mad scramble among them to wind up schools,” Ahmed said. He rues that the government didn’t provide any support to such schools.

He said the government announced a salary hike for health workers and provided free ration to 800 million poor, but no relief was given to private schools. “So, the intention of the government is clear — they want the schools to be closed so that students don’t seek jobs after getting education,” Ahmed alleged.

A school teacher said his entire family had moved to a village and took to farming as they ran short of options for survival. “My family was on the brink of starvation as the school didn’t pay me salary for six months. Eventually, I decided to move to my village in Samastipur district and engage in farming to earn money,” said Tuntun Singh who taught at Patna Public School.

The story of another teacher Sanjeet Kumar is even heart-rending. “I don’t have money even to buy vegetables as I have not been paid for the past eight months,” says Kumar who was employed with National Mission Public School, Patna. He said the situation worsened as parents had stopped sending their children for tuition fearing they would catch infections.