Non-MPO Teachers: Eid will bring them no joy
Shahadat Hossain, principal of Nikunja Model College in the capital, was able to pay for family expenses for the first 10 months of the pandemic, with the money he got from selling some of his ancestral land.
After the amount was exhausted, he had to take loans from relatives for himself and his family to survive as the college could not pay his or other teachers' salaries due to the financial hit it took since its closure in March last year.
The loaned money too is almost finished now.
Although the government is now providing a one-off cash assistance of Tk 5,000 to teachers of the private educational institutions, the future he sees is bleak.
"If the situation remains the same, I don't know how I will run my family. I cannot even think of buying anything new for my children for Eid. Our situation is very grave," said Shahadat.
His institution runs on the tuition fees. However, citing financial strains, less than five percent of the guardians, of the college's 470 students, paid the fees, while some were irregular in paying.
"If we do not get tuition fees, how would we pay salaries? I can't express in words how it feels when you cannot pay your teachers," he said.
The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent closure of educational institutions have thrown into disarray the lives of many teachers, especially of private schools and colleges. Those who are not under the government's MPO (Monthly Pay Order) scheme are in a graver situation as they neither get their salaries from the schools nor do they get support from the government.
There are about two lakh non-MPO teachers at 37,000 secondary schools, madrasas and technical institutions in the country, according to the data of the teachers' association.
Under the MPO, teachers of a private school gets 100 percent basic salary, Tk 1,500 house rent and medical allowance.
In Bangladesh, the teachers of non-MPO secondary schools and colleges have always been ill-paid. They provide private tuition to make ends meet. But that too came to a halt during the pandemic.
Teachers said they are trying to run their families by borrowing from relatives and friends. Some of them have already switched professions, while some are having to earn their livelihood now by selling fruits and vegetables.
Meanwhile, many of them went back to their villages after finding no hope in the capital.
Nazrul Islam Rony, president of Bangladesh Teachers' Association, said although the government is providing Tk 5,000 financial assistance to each of the 81,000 non-MPO teachers, the support is not enough to ease their sufferings.
"No one is paying heed to the silent cries of non-government educators. Eid is a festival for all but it will not bring any joy to many teachers," he told The Daily Star.
Speaking to this correspondent, a number of teachers said there were only a handful of schools that are still able to disburse salaries and festival bonuses from their savings, without having to be completely dependent on students' tuition fees.
But the situation is bad for most institutions.
Tofazzal Hossain, headteacher of Trinity High School in the capital, said, "Apart from teaching in the school, the teachers give private tuitions. Now that the schools are closed and students mostly are staying at home, they have lost both means of earning."
Halima Begum, principal of T&T Boys High School, said the teachers did not get festival allowances for last Eid-ul-Azha last year and the immediate past Eid-ul-Fitr.
"We will not get the allowance for this Eid either," she said.
Ziaul Kabir Dulu, president of Obhibabok Oikya Forum, a platform of guardians, said a huge number of parents either lost their jobs or are earning less due to the pandemic.
"Many are struggling to pay for living expenses of their families and even their house rents. In such a situation, it is not possible for them to pay tuition fees."
Educationists say the government should come forward and help the institutions with financial assistance.
"The teachers cannot depend on tuition fees for their salaries. The government should come forward with subsidy during this tough time," said Dhaka University Prof Emeritus Serajul Islam Choudhury.
"Many have been leaving their jobs or losing interest in the profession. If the situation worsens, the recovery of education after Covid-19 will be tough," he warned.
Rony suggested that the government provide soft loans or loans without interest to the schools as a temporary solution. "The amount would be repaid once the situation is back to normal."
Prof Syed Md Golam Faruk, director general of Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education, said they are urging capable guardians to pay the tuition fees.
"Both the guardians and the school authorities should act reasonably… We are providing one-time incentives to non-MPO teachers and staffers, which would be some sort of relief for them."
About soft loans and other mechanisms, he said those are not under consideration right now.