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While the nationwide lockdown due to the coronavirus maybe a fading bad dream for most people, the impact of the pandemic continues to haunt several poor students in Tamil Nadu. Despite having struggled through long school closures and lack of resources to complete their schooling, many students now face a new hurdle as many private schools are withholding their school leaving and exam certificates citing unpaid school fees.

Although these underprivileged students have successfully completed their schooling, they face a bleak future and lack of employment opportunities without their marksheets, transfer certificates and other documents.

Students from underprivileged communities were among the worst hit by the pandemic-induced lockdown and subsequent economic collapse. As their parents lost their livelihoods and many were forced to migrate to find meagre work, these children had to discontinue their studies or even dropout of schools to support their families. Online education was a mirage to these deprived students.

And yet the determined students who soldiered on to complete their Class 10 and Class 12 grades in the face of considerable hardship, are now faced with cruel intransigence from schools that are refusing to hand over their certificates. Many of those who approached the schools to get the certificates were told by the administrations that they would ‘give the education certificates only after all their dues are paid’.

Although these underprivileged students have successfully completed their schooling, they face a bleak future and lack of employment opportunities without their marksheets, transfer certificates and other documents

Rajesh (name changed), who was studying in a private school in Tiruvannamalai town is one such victim of this egregious situation. He had written his Class 12 exams when the pandemic struck. Due to the lockdown, his family was forced to migrate from the temple town to Mangal Koot Road near Kanchipuram where his mother works in a small eatery.

A bright student, Rajesh scored well in his school leaving exams but his hard work has been of little help as his school in Tiruvannamalai has refused to hand over his certificates which would have helped him get a decent job to support his family.

According to the family, the school administration demanded dues of Rs 50,000 from them to release the certificates. Several attempts to explain their dire conditions fell on deaf ears. Rajesh was forced to take up work as a daily wage labourer, even as the family ran from one authority to another to get his certificates.

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When Muthukumaraswamy, an activist from Dusi Mamandur in Tiruvannamalai heard of Rajesh’s plight, he tried to meet the school authorities. When he finally managed to meet them, he was unable to persuade them to reconsider their demand for the unpaid fees from the poor student.

Talking about his bitter experience, Muthukumaraswamy said, “They are a very poor family. I approached the school administration, explained the situation and asked them to give the certificates. But they were only focused on getting the money. Finally, after bargaining, they reduced the demand to Rs.10,000. We could only get the certificates after we paid the money.”

Activist Muthukumaraswamy has urged the state’s School Education Department to intervene and ensure that students do not suffer from the multiple burdens of poverty and the pandemic

More than two years after he successfully cleared his exams, Rajesh finally got his certificates last week.

But not many are successful. According to Muthukumaraswamy there are thousands of students like Rajesh across Tamil Nadu who are being denied a better future and opportunities by callous schools. The activist has urged the state’s School Education Department to intervene and ensure that students do not suffer from the multiple burdens of poverty and the pandemic.

Since the school education department has a database of all students enrolled and those who cleared the exams, it can ensure that all those who have successfully completed are issued the relevant certificates to help the poor students in their further attempts at finding employment or higher studies. This would also prevent private schools holding the students hostage and if required take action against schools depriving students of their legitimate documents.


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