Exception: JSS International School was the only one to improve from ‘acceptable’ to ‘good’. Many Indian schools say they face difficulty in retaining good teachers and this is proving to be a major constraint in helping them improve ratings Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Dubai: Indian schools have blamed the high turnover of teachers and systemic constraints for their stagnant performance.

The Dubai School Inspection Bureau (DSIB)’s report of Indian and Pakistani private schools released last week showed that of the 25 Indian schools covered in 2013-14, only one — JSS International School —- improved from ‘acceptable’ to ‘good’, while 60 per cent remained ‘acceptable’ or ‘unsatisfactory’ since 2011.

But a better rating appears to be easier said than done. From a high turnover of teachers, lack of training and limited resources to fee restrictions, poor timing of inspections and incompatible inspectors, schools said their progress is hindered by several stumbling blocks.

 

Knowledge drain

The head of an “acceptable” Indian school, said: “Knowledge capital drain is the biggest challenge for us. We have improved our performance on several parameters but the overall rating has remained ‘acceptable’ for three years.”

According to him, Indian schools constantly face the prospect of teachers leaving for newer schools, which he claimed offer better pay as they charge higher fees when they are launched. Four new Indian schools opened in Dubai last year alone.

“This is a big problem as teachers are looking for greener pastures all the time and new schools which are not limited by fee caps can pay them more. Also, we bring in new teachers from India in April and start training them over the next three months. Then its time for the summer break, after which inspections are held in September. So where is the time to invest in their sustained development and build capacity and knowledge capital?”

He said when inspections are conducted in September, the teams do not have enough data to gauge a school’s performance. “We would have had only unit tests by this time. Half-yearly exams in Indian schools are held only in October. Similarly, international benchmark examinations are held in November. So inspections are better off being conducted in January or February as more data is available to make judgements.”

He said fee caps also restrict them. “We are bound by the educational cost index which is 1.74 per cent this year. 
So an acceptable school cannot increase fees beyond 1.74 per cent, a good school beyond 2.61 per cent and an outstanding school beyond 3.48 per cent.”

Kalloor Guruswami of the JSS International School and JSS Private School, agrees.

While JSS Private School remained “acceptable” this year, JSS International was the only school in Dubai to have improved - from “acceptable” to “good”. But even so, Guruswami feels the process is fraught with challenges.

“We welcome inspections because they help us improve. But sometimes inspectors assigned to Indian schools may not always have a full understanding of our curricula or the students’ mindset. Finding the right teachers from India can also be a challenge as the pool largely comprises women who are bound by family commitments.”

He said most schools are unable to retain good staff unless they pay them more. “In JSS International, a teacher’s average monthly salary is Dh4,500, higher than the Indian school industry standard. But it is difficult to pay teachers more as our funds are limited. We cannot raise our fees beyond the cap and whatever we make goes into the operating costs.”

He said the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) must step in to help train teachers to “outstanding” standards. “We would like KHDA to train our teachers to the necessary requirements. Such an initiative will be widely welcomed.”

The director of another “acceptable” school, also said KHDA training would help improve the quality of teachers. “We would like KHDA to give our staff an exposure to teachers from outstanding schools and get trained by them.”

She said schools have difficulty retaining good teachers. “It’s a free market and we have no control when they leave. There’s also the issue of funding. We work hard to meet KHDA recommendations to get things right and would like the authorities to step forward and help us train our teachers better.”

The head of a CBSE school said teachers coming from India must be specifically trained to meet KHDA’s requirement. “Usually, they fall short in the initial stages because they are used to a timetable-bound learning whereas what is advocated here is a flexible learning centre where a child’s development is not stifled.”

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