When Babu Jacob lost his job as a result of Saudisation drive, officially known as Saudi nationalisation scheme, or Nitaqat system in Arabic, his wife persuaded him to continue in Saudi as she thought she could manage the family with her salary. Lisamma, who works as a nurse under the Health Ministry, is forced to chose between the 'expatriate dependant fee' or the 'family tax' which she has to pay for her husband and two children, who are dependent on her. The fees will be doubled from July this year.
The fee that works out to 7,200 riyals (equivalent to Rs 1,23,280) a year for the three is more than her month's salary. The increase in dependents fee comes on top of steep rise in the cost of living following the introduction of Value Added Tax (VAT) and huge hike in the prices of petrol, water and electricity besides school fees and house rent.
Babu and the children could stay in Saudi till June since Lisamma had paid 3,600 Riyals last year as family tax. But he is getting ready to return later this month because his children, who are studying in class VII and IX, need admission in schools.
Hundreds of children like these will be queuing up before schools in Kerala in the next two months as the immigrants are preparing to send their families back home before the commencement of the new academic year.
A large number of children were sent back last year. More will return in the coming years as the family tax will be increased on a year-on-year basis at the rate of 100 Riyals a year till 2020. There will be a big scramble for admissions if there is a huge influx. The authorities have no idea as to how many children will require admission since there is no clear data about Keralites living with their families in Saudi Arabia. Dr S Irudaya Rajan, chair professor at the Research Unit on International Migration at the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, said this could be between 15 to 30 percent.
The 2014 migration survey led by Rajan had estimated the number of Keralites in the kingdom at nearly 6 lakh. The number of those Indians living in Saudi with families, according to the survey, could be between 90,000 and 1.8 lakh. Considering the two children norm that Keralites follow, the number of children requiring admission could be 1.8 lakh to 3.6 lakh.
Even if half of the immigrants sent their families back, it could mount big pressure on existing schools in Kerala. The pressure will be on schools affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE) since these are the only two syllabuses available to Indian students in Saudi.
Kerala at present has 1,400 schools following CBSE syllabus and 160 following ICSE. Apart from this, there are about 350 unrecognised schools which run without NOC from the state government and affiliation from CBSE.
TPM Ibrahim Khan, president of Kerala CBSE School Managements Association, said the CBSE schools will be able to absorb the influx if the state government is ready to co-operate with them. He told Fistpost that majority of the CBSE schools in the state have sufficient infrastructure to introduce additional classes.
"We had coped up with such a situation when immigrants returned from Kuwait in large numbers in the wake of the seven-month-long Iraqi occupation of the country in 1991. The situation has changed now. The current government is trying to gag the CBSE and ICSE schools in their bid to promote the Kerala syllabus," he added.
He said that a number of schools following the central syllabus were facing closure due to the antagonistic stand taken by the Kerala government. He hoped that the government will desist from this in view of the imminent influx from Saudi Arabia.
A senior official in the general education department said that the allegation was wrong. He said that the government had acted only against those schools that failed to comply with the provisions of the 2009 Right to Education Act. He said this was also applicable to school following the Kerala syllabus.
The Act that came into force in April 2010 stipulates closure of all unrecognised schools. The official, who chose to remain anonymous, said that most of the unrecognised schools were being run without the required infrastructure. The schools must have at least 3 acres of land, 300 students on an average for three years, permanent buildings and qualified teachers to be eligible to get recognition according to the Central Act.
The official pointed out that the government had given an opportunity to unrecognised schools to get the recognition by meeting the conditions of the Act. Of the 3,400 schools that applied for recognition, only 900 were found eligible. Of these, about 400 are CBSE and ICSE schools. Most of these schools have classes up to VIII standards. The CBSE and ICSE do not recognise schools without secondary classes.
Students activists fear shortage of seats in schools could make the immigrants vulnerable to exploitation. Kerala Students Union (KSU) president Abhijit K M said many schools are in the habit of fleecing NRI students. Though there is no separate fee structure for the NRI students in schools, some school managements take hefty capitation fee from them.
Abhijit told the Firstpost most schools also take more money from NRI students by way of application fee and admission fee and higher charges for hostel, transport and study materials. He has urged the government to be vigilant against school managements who will try to cash in on the crisis.
Ibrahim Khan said that the association would issue guidelines to its member schools on the admission of students returning from Saudi Arabia. He said they will be asked to adopt a human approach to these students since they are returning in distress.
"There will be no separate fees for the NRI students. The fee will be in accordance with the CBSE affiliation laws and norms fixed by the state government. The affiliation law allows the government to fix the fee commensurate with infrastructure and facilities offered by the school," he added.
Apart from the education expenses, the immigrants are also worried about the huge cost involved in maintaining two establishments. They are sending their families back home because of the high cost of living in Saudi Arabia but if the expenses on maintaining two establishments are high many will have to abandon their job and return home.
What stares majority of the immigrants is an uncertain future.
Updated Date: Feb 08, 2018 16:16 PM