The Students’ Federation of India (SFI) organised a statewide protest in West Bengal demanding fee waiver in schools and colleges on Wednesday, June 18. The organisation demanded that the fees be waived in schools for the months of the lockdown, and for the current semester in colleges and universities. Sit–in protests were organised in various districts across the state on Wednesday.
SFI West Bengal said in a statement, “The fee should be waived for the duration of the ongoing lockdown, and online classes should not be started until each and every student has access to the internet.” It added, “Before the classes resume, all schools and college campuses should be thoroughly sanitised, and masks and sanitisers should be made available in enough quantities for all students.”
In Birbhum, during a peaceful sit-in, the protesting students were allegedly threatened by the local Trinamool Congress (TMC) goons. SFI West Bengal State Committee member Wasim Raja was also physically attacked by the goons. However, despite all of it, the protest continued.
West Bengal state secretary of SFI, Srijan Bhattacharya, said, “The schools cannot take fees during the lockdown period. A lot of families have lost their source of income. The parents of children studying in private schools have been demanding fee waiver for a long time now. Why is the government not paying any heed to it? Why can’t the TMC government in the state ask the private schools to cooperate?”
While some schools in West Bengal have indicated that they will provide fee relief for the April-June quarter, most schools have kept mum on the topic. In a large number of private schools, the parents of the students are still paying transport fees despite the fact that the schools have been closed for three months now. They are also paying lab fees and other development charges. The parents have raised these issues multiple times during the lockdown.
West Bengal has 76,703 primary schools, 8,839 upper primary schools, 3,296 secondary schools, and 6,898 senior secondary schools, according to the Educational Statistics at a Glance report released in 2018 by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD). The number of higher educational institutions is 1,411. Lakhs of students are studying in these institutions, and a major proportion of them have been suffering due to lack of resources during the months of the lockdown.
Srijan added, “Apart from that, the government must also waive the fees for the current semester in college and universities. The Union government has time and again asked all educational institutions to use online teaching. However, this is disrupting the education of a lot of students. The central government and state government should declare a special stimulus package for education.”
The central government and the state government have constantly been making decisions that concern the students, however, according to SFI, no one has made any attempts to talk to the students, who are the real stakeholders here. Apart from fee waiver, Wednesday’s protest had a 17-point demand charter, which included proper sanitation of schools and college campuses, midday meals for all school students, and scholarships for all students.
Protests took place in at least 15 locations across the state on Wednesday. Amphan, the cyclone in the month of May, along with the lockdown have affected the education sector, and the students are also bearing the brunt of it. SFI has said that if the government continues to ignore their pleas and demands, they will be forced to take the protest farther.
Srijan said, “We came out on the streets to raise the issues being faced by ordinary students during the pandemic. If even this does not open the government’s eyes, we will gherao the homes of Chief minister Mamata Banerjee and Education Minister Partha Chatterjee.”