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Standardised school fee will burden women educators

CultureStandardised school fee will burden women educators
In the year in 2003 I embarked on a journey to establish educational institutions which would enable India to capitalise on its “demographic dividend” through the creation of jobs, wealth, and a generation of compassionate future dreamers, thinkers, innovators, doers and leaders.  I co-founded and run one of India’s top K12 schools—Inventure Academy, in Bangalore—India’s knowledge capital. Prior to that I had worked for twelve years overseas in two Fortune 500 companies and a start up across London, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sydney, Hong Kong and New York.  

As a woman educator who has given it her all to create an environment that enables our faculty (95% women) and children to be the best that they can be, the fee fixation tsunami sweeping across India makes me wonder if I or my fellow educators have a future in Indian education, and about the future of India.

Let’s consider the current scenario in India:

1) We have the largest population of youth (both school going children and working) in the world)

2) We also have the largest population of children not at school or in school, but not achieving age relevant learning outcomes,

3) We are not creating enough jobs for our working population. (“India will add over 80 million net new job seekers. But at current rates only 30 million net new jobs— mostly informal, low-wage—will be created—Source Wadhwani Foundation.)

4) We rank a lowly 120th out of 131 countries for female labor force participation— Source World Bank.

5) There is a huge supply gap and we need to recruit three million new teachers in the next 14 years in order to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal—Source UNESCO

6) Parents overwhelmingly prefer to send their children to fee-charging private unaided schools, over FOC government run schools; and yet a vocal minority is asking the government to intervene in the very same unaided schools. The right to education has become not just the right to free and compulsory education, but the right to a quality education, at a private school of one’s choice, at a price point that a parent is willing to pay.

7)  Even while employment opportunities and salaries in the IT sector are declining, investment by private schools in faculty salaries and training is rising at an average of 15% p.a to deliver the quality that society expects.         

The good news is that India has made admirable strides in education with the percentage of children going to school has gone up considerably for all children and in particular for girls from  71.9% in 1990-91  to 100% in 2014-15. This growth strongly correlates with a substantial increase the number of women who have chosen to become teachers in the same period (other countries that have achieved universal basic education also have majority female teachers). In India this number has increased from 41 female teachers for every 100 male teachers, to 79 female teachers for every 100 male teachers from 1990-91 to 2011-12 (Source HRD, Govt of India).

Why is this important?

The Dalai Lama recently stated that the world is facing a “moral crisis” and needs more compassionate leaders (I would make a case for teachers too). “Biologically, females have more potential. Females have more sensitivity about others’ wellbeing”, he said.

To quote India’s most famous teacher—President Abdul Kalam said, “Empowerment of women is essential as their value system leads to the development of a good family, society and ultimately a good nation.”

This level of empowerment can only happen if we recognise the very real differences between men and women, value what women have to offer, and the choices they must make.

Fee fixation in any form at  private unaided schools will be a major disaster given the  single largest recurring spend in private schools is on teachers, and teaching attracts and needs more women than men.

Women need to be given the chance to pursue a career that they are passionate about, which gives them more economic independence, which they are inherently more suited to (research tells us that women are more compassionate than men, thanks to the way in which they are brought up), which has female role models in leadership positions, provides an environment which is safe and nurturing, allows them  to bring their children to work, has shorter work hours,  more holidays, and pays well.

What’s better than encouraging women to become teachers, in a country which is losing its war to create jobs, become a more empathetic  society,  and work towards the dream of ensuring “ inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” (United Nations SDG4).

To sum up my sentiments in the words of Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, “how can I compare you to those who taught you?” when asked by judges, doctors, and engineers for the same salary as teachers (who get the highest salaries in Germany).

Women educators talk about potential salary capping

Lack of  Financial Viability

Monisha, a senior science teacher wanted to do a PhD and be a Scientist. She got an opportunity in Singapore to work at NUS Singapore. The job however required a 24×7 commitment which was not  viable for her as she had to take care of two girls single handedly. She chose teaching as she had some experience from her time as a Masters student, and loves teaching and being with children. She recommends the government work on improving government schools, rather than interfere with private schools. She says, “I fear that I may have to look to more financially viable professions if fee fixation leads to a drop in my salary”.

Disastrous Impact

Meet Varsha who has taught for over 20 years across India and the US. She chose teaching over medicine as it enables her to create an impact, while “keeping in touch with her children”, who also study at the same school. She has this to say about the potential for fee fixation, “What is the govt’s motive in doing this? It will be disastrous. Not sure how much it will impact me personally, but I am sure it will lead to a much larger impact—will it cause schools to close down”, she wondered?

Demotivating Move

Dr Sowmya Ramesh, gave up working in the IT sector despite it being better paying, to become a teacher, as she felt it was her calling. Besides her responsibilities in school she is also a committed mother and cares for her extended family of parents and in laws.   She is responsible for the instruction design process and curriculum development at Inventure. She says, “It is demotivating that the government does not care for innovation in education, or for encouraging women’s empowerment”

Threatening Independence

Gousia Mohammed a senior IT teacher at Inventure is passionate about programing, and would be a desired hire at any leading IT company. She translates this passion by teaching high school students IT, and is over the moon because one our students topped India and the world in the board exams. Teaching is the only profession that her family is comfortable with her pursuing, as it provides a safe and predominantly female work environment.  Her response to fee fixation and potential salary capping, is, “my family will ask me to come to back to my husband’s native and be with them, as my expenses will be higher than our family income.”

About the author 

Meet Nooraine Fazal, an educationist, sports person, and entrepreneur who believes providing quality education is a significant way to empower youth who can then bring about a positive change in the country going forward.

After completing her Undergraduate degree in Commerce from Bangalore University and Postgraduate studies in Business Management from Boston University she worked for 12 years in international organisations such as Reuters and IBM connecting with people from all over the world and learning how large organisations operate efficiently.

With this much passion and determination to make a difference through education, upon her return to India it came as no surprise when she conceived, conceptualised and brought to life her maiden venture—the Inventure Academy—a Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 12 school. With a vintage of less than 10 years, Inventure Academy today stands tall amongst all it’s peers. It has the distinction of being ranked as one of the Top 10 Day schools in India.

Ms Fazal dons many hats. She has been a long-standing volunteer of Corruption Saaku and India Against Corruption. She is also a core committee member of the Bangalore Political Action Committee (BPAC) and has been a State level sportsperson. Through Inventure Academy, Ms Fazal works actively with several NGOs and neighbourhood schools to make quality education accessible to marginalised children.

Nooraine was born and raised in Bangalore and comes from a family that has lived in the city for generations. Her guiding mantra is—“To learn, unlearn and re-learn”.

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