Expatriate Heads of Schools: An intrinsic Indian need?

There are now over 700 International Schools across India that offer foreign programmes of study, that are termed ‘Foreign Boards’. These International Schools charge from Rs 4 lakhs to Rs 8 lakhs in annual tution fees. Parents continue to want the best for their children, but mainly to send them overseas. Earlier, it was to Oxbridge or the Ivy League Colleges in the USA, but there are many other countries that have become viable options. The international programmes of study definitely do inculcate ‘learning for life’ and underscore the need to question, to rationalize thoughts and to support points of view. Teachers undergo rigorous training and are constantly re-learning – not just methods of teaching, but how to integrate subjects and most importantly, how to grade. Moreover, school managements and faculty must uphold the stringent accreditation and registration requirements. This includes the hiring of expatriate staff – a reminder of the necessity for cultural diversity in our inter-connected world.

According to online research figures, the expensive schools hire expatriate staff and Directors, to the tune of 40% of the full-strength faculty.

My words below, written six years ago, still ring true.

As an Indian, I will always revere ‘Athithi Devo Bhava’: expatriates or guests are ‘god-like’ and we must and will maintain our traditional ‘welcome’ of them.

However, when I recently enquired from a Human Resources Team in India what they meant by ‘expatriate’ in their advertisement for a Principal, I was informed, ‘one who is not an Indian citizen’. In my opinion, this implies prejudice and insensibility. If an Indian citizen lives overseas, due to the spouse’s job, then this ought to qualify him or her for the NRI or ‘expat category’. No further information or explanation was given. Therefore, I had no other option but to stop soliciting information.

My thoughts and words are directed at the management of schools, who willingly pay an expatriate teacher almost 4 to 5 times that of a local hire’s salary. True, some incentives must be given to help expatriates relocate. However, local hires work as hard, are also expected to maintain the ‘equilibrium’ of the institute, even explain issues to parents, who are often unable to fathom ‘accents’. This includes the explanation of entire programmes of study.

There are few corporate-style benefits in the education sector. Voluntary work is usually undertaken willingly and conducted thoroughly. Surely the staff needs to be appreciated for all their extra efforts?

True, there are the ‘vacations’ that others underscore as relaxation and beneficial, but let us keep that aside. My contention is: Why may an Indian not head a secondary ‘world class’ institute? There are a few exceptions in the country, but too few in this given context.

When we Indian nationals apply overseas, we are not always taken in the same numero uno position. As a vice principal, perhaps, so we tend to lose out, both at home and overseas.

If you do internet searches and check websites that mention leadership roles in education, recently selected for positions across the globe, you will rarely find a name from our sub-continent.

I have often asked my colleagues overseas why this occurs, only to encounter a shrug of the shoulders or a comment on accents or communication issues. Not that all western accents are easy to follow, including those from down under, still managements continue to seek newly-retired expatriates, or those already in the country with another school (‘poaching politely!’) or those who are in other roles or careers, even those with very little experience in teaching… the examples are endless. Why do they not promote faculty under their very noses? Collegiality is a must, but under such circumstances, it often causes rifts.

Do I suffer from an inferiority complex? No, but I do feel disheartened at all the advertisements for expatriate principals, directors, heads of international schools that are now mushrooming across our nation. Seven years ago, there were a mere handful of such schools, offering international programmes of study. Now there are over one hundred. Parents are paying ‘top-dollar’ or may I re-phrase that to, ‘top-rupee’ for their children to be educated in excellent academic programmes, accepted globally, that also nurture the all-round development of the student, easing the angst of adolescence and alienation into mature adulthood.

The teachers are required to be trained in these programmes, that require many hours of reading and learning about standard assessment procedures and a full-understanding of the programmes too. It is extremely hard work and a continuous process for the 2 years of study.

I fully support these programmes of study. I also fully support hiring expatriate staff. However, I cannot fathom why institutions are hiring directors and principals from overseas, when we have so much talent at home? True, such hires do add to the cultural diversity and sensitivity of our institutions. A few expatriate teachers are definitely required, to provide a balanced environment for the students. This inclusion of staff, in turn, equips students for their future studies and careers, wherever they may choose to study, either at home or overseas. We need to show that selection procedures remain transparent and are based on merit and experience. We need to show that India, the land of cultural diversity, cares for its own and will also care for those who come to live in our land. We need to show professional courtesy. We must not neglect our own and cause unhappiness or inadvertently cause stagnation or lateral growth in a person’s career.

Teachers are our hope for the future of our children.

As Rabindranath Tagore said: “Every child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged of man.”

And it is our teachers, at school and in college, who will help instill knowledge, tradition and values in our children. They are the ones who will also inculcate in their pupils a love of learning, that should last a life-time.

We do need to support our teachers and help them continue in their chosen profession, with dignity. This includes promotions and benefits and not having to worry endlessly about retirement with no pension benefits.


Published by Jayshree Tripathi

Jayshree Tripathi lived in diverse cultures for over thirty years. Her late husband was a career diplomat in the Indian Civil Service. Jayshree received her Master of Arts Degree in English Literature from Delhi University (1978) and a Post Graduate Diploma in Human Rights Law (2001, Distance Education Programme) from the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru. She has been an educator and examiner in English Language and Literature for the International Baccalaureate Organization and their trained Consultant. Jayshree has worked in print media in the late ’70s and ’80s and calls herself an 'arranger of words', of narrative verse and short fiction. She continues in raising awareness about adult literacy in India and ‘women helping women’- #HelpHerWalkForward. Jayshree, as the eldest of five daughters, includes her maiden surname in her writing. On Twitter @JayMTrips. On LinkedIn https://in.linkedin.com/in/jayshreemtripathi

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