When I was in school, my school fees were the least of my concerns . Just like the tooth fairy left money under my pillow in exchange for a tooth, the stork brought the babies, I guess I just assumed that everything else like how my fees got paid , ran on pixie dust or something of the sort.
I never made the connection between my parents going to work with me being able to go to school. I doubt many of us did. Definitely not in Grade 2
The story is very different in schools that students like mine go to. There is no fee genie that surreptitiously pays their fees while they’re busy with an art activity. Their parents scrimp, save and often fight just in order to pay their fees. The kids are aware that if their parents don’t pay their fees, they might not get to sit for an exam or see their report cards, regardless of how bright they are.
My school final exams began today. Parents had been told that if they did not pay the fees (or atleast speak to the principal if they couldn’t), the students wouldn’t be able to sit for their exams. When I came to school , I saw Ratnesh and Shivpoojan nervously pacing, out of their assembly lines. Irritated, I asked them if they hadn’t heard the bell. Then I noticed the look of woe on both their faces. They kept looking out of the school gate as if waiting for someone or something. When they saw me, Shivpoojan gestured to his reluctant mother, who was waiting at the gate, to come speak to me. She hesitated a bit and his gestures became even more anxious . Eventually, she came up to me and said, “Teacher, I cannot pay the fees. I will pay it in two or three days.” Shivpoojan stood by with his head dropped. I told her to inform the principal of the same. She and I both knew that the principal wasn’t really going to stop Shivpoojan from writing the exam. Or Ratnesh for that matter, who finally saw his mother and started screaming “Mummy ! Mummy!” and pointing to the fee counter, literally making her run to it . But who was going to explain the concept of ’empty threats’ to these 6 or 7 year olds? In their heads, they were doomed if their parents didn’t pay the fees that very second.
This isn’t the first case of stuff like this happening. Ajay refused to come to school for the entire first month because his father couldn’t pay the fees. His father told him to go, and even the principal told him it wasn’t an issue and his father could pay the fees later, but he just did not come until he saw his father pay his fees at that counter.
The look on Ratnesh and Shivpoojan’s face today made me angry at this unfair world. Where so many of us don’t have to worry that much about school fees when we’re in Grade 2. Where our immediate responses to a Rs 300 picnic fare aren’t “That is too much for my daddy to pay”. I just don’t think kids that age should worry about stuff they can do nothing about. I wish they could hold on to the notions of tooth fairies, stork babies and yes, even fee genies.
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