The education sector in India is constantly expanding due to the high demand fuelled by the country’s increasing population. Education is the core need for our children to acquire knowledge and become responsible citizens in the future. Through various initiatives, the government has made education accessible to the society at large. Nevertheless, the need for private schools is on the rise to cater to the growing demand of good quality education and to increase the literacy rate in India. Along with the satisfaction of contributing towards the social cause of providing education, schools serve as capacity building centres too. As a result, people from various walks of life – entrepreneurs, academicians, landowners, and corporates, to name a few, are venturing into the setting up of schools.
The task of setting up a new school may seem daunting and challenging. To make the task easy for school promoters, the guidelines for setting up a new school have already been published by us, and can be found However, new and unanticipated challenges inevitably crop up once the school starts functioning, i.e., at the ‘school management stage’. The opportunity to provide a perfect learning experience for the students and teachers may prove to be overwhelming for school management. One of the major challenges observed is the lack of setting clear expectations, guidelines, and policies related to the most important asset of the school- the staff members, consisting of the principal, teachers, and non-academic staff.
Globalization and the ease of movement of working professionals has led to the much-needed increase in multicultural environments in workplaces. Schools also benefit from hiring professionals from a culturally diverse talent pool. These professionals have a broad range of skills that are usually not found when hiring locally. Despite the obvious benefits of having a culturally diverse team, the local management faces new challenges in maintaining this multi-cultural team, especially in newly set-up private schools in remote or non-cosmopolitan areas. The most general ones observed are listed below:
Cultural Stereotypes or Prejudices –This can lead to management or staff making decisions about people around them with little or no information. Biases based on stereotypes may lead to dissatisfaction, stress, absenteeism, and lack of team-spirit among staff. Management must be able to not only abstain from, but also spot the presence of prejudice and stereotyping in the school environment.
Lack of Openness and Inclusivity –This often leads to members from deferential cultures struggling to communicate their ideas in team meetings along with speaking up to senior members in the hierarchy.
Communication and Language Barriers – The barrier of language is just one of the many challenges in this area. Though all the staff may speak English, accents may vary due to regional influence. Comprehending the various accents can be an issue not only by the colleagues but also for the students and may lead to parents’ complaints. Another observation is how a few people who know the same language tend to speak it in the presence of another person who can’t understand them, leading to groupism on one hand, and feelings of isolation on the other. Often, the management or the leadership comprising of the local people tend to do the same during meetings, excluding others. This is a recipe for friction within the team, and this insensitivity needs to be avoided. Thirdly, since the parents of the students are primarily from local communities, management needs to have an experienced person/persons within the team who has excellent communication skills in, both, the local language and the English language. This person should have an in-depth understanding of local dynamics to bridge the communication gap between the principal/teachers (who do not know the local language) and the parent community. Non-verbal communication, which is a subtle part of cultural interaction, plays an important role. It includes body language, gestures, eye contact, facial expressions, etc., and may lead to misunderstandings within the team.
Differences Affecting Teamwork – Different attitudes towards work, behaviours, values, etiquette, and manners, etc., of team members may be enriching, yet may also cause conflicts within the team.
Lack of Professional Communication –Usually, an employee handbook is ready with the management before school starts. It is often seen, however, that this important document is not shared with staff, who remain unaware of the HR policies and procedures. In cases where it is shared with them at the beginning of the session, subsequent changes are not shared, and they remain ignorant, leading to non-transparency in dealings, which, in turn, can lead to dissatisfaction, confusion and lack of team spirit among people coming from highly organised and professional working backgrounds.
The challenges mentioned above often undermine the management’s efforts in building a cohesive team, which is the main ingredient of productivity. These issues can be addressed with cultural audits, cultural and diversity workshops for employee awareness, taking feedback from staff regarding their experiences, and inviting suggestions for changes. The driving force of the school culture is leadership. Along with policies and procedures, school management needs to set behaviour standards through their actions and words.
Founder & Consultant - School Serv
Vinod Kakumanu heads a team of school services professionals and is an independent commentator on Indian school education scenario. Vinod has assisted school promoters establish 35+ schools besides providing ancillary services to over 1000 schools across India. He envisions a future where quality education is made available to every child of the country. The focus he places on the quality of the deliverables and customer satisfaction has made him renowned in the field of K-12 school education.