Two summers ago, I was given the wonderful opportunity to volunteer for the Warwick Laksh foundation. For those of you that don’t know what the Laksh Foundation does, it is an initiative that began ten years ago. It used to be a small NGO, organic farm and women’s sewing co-operative which began to offer free education to the children of local farm workers, offering them a way to improve their futures. We’ve worked with the Foundation since its creation, and have helped to shape their teaching programmes over time. As volunteers, we offer extra-curricular classes in maths and English to over 800 students aged from 3 to 18, and we train the local teachers in new ways of leading classrooms too. During my volunteering experience, I realised a huge difference between the leadership and management systems in village schools in rural India, compared to UK schools, and this article addresses how and why this is the case. In a typical UK school, whether it is a primary school, secondary school or a sixth form, leadership positions vary from head teachers, deputy head teachers, heads of department, senior tutors, and for some schools heads of years.It can sometimes be complicated knowing their exact roles and how they all play a part in providing the best education for the students in the school. However, the management systems put in place in the village schools is very simple to understand. There is a centre leader, who is in charge of the school, and then there are another 8 to 10 teachers in the school. And that’s all. But why is this? Why are the management and leadership systems in UK schools and village schools in rural India, both of which have the same purpose of providing quality education to children completely different?
We need to consider the size of the village schools and the lack of resources that they have access to and compare this with schools in the UK. The schools I visited in my volunteering experience were about the size of half a football pitch. Many of the students sit outside on mats and the teachers only have a blackboard and chalk to use to teach their lessons. There is no access to technology whatsoever. So no computers, no interactive whiteboards, none of that brilliant technology that the vast majority of us are used to learning from. You probably get the picture of how the structure of the schools in the villages massively differs from the typical UK school. This makes it clear how the role of the centre leader is different from the role of the head teacher, or any other leadership role in UK schools. However, due to the small sizes of the village schools, which provide education for about 200 students, the centre leader can afford to be the only one in charge and since the maximum number of students in each age group is about 30, there is no real need to have any heads of year or senior tutors.
Furthermore, we are probably used to knowing teachers that only teach one subject in school, especially in secondary schools and sixth forms, but in these villages, each teacher teaches every subject for their particular class: Maths, English, Science and Hindi. Meetings about the teaching are led by the centre leader rather than having separate heads of subjects, so discussions on more than one subject can be covered in the same meeting, and the centre leader in this instance has to act as the head of Maths, English, Science and Hindi.
Throughout my volunteering experience, I found it admirable how committed and inspiring the centre leaders were, and how despite the sheer number of responsibilities they have every day, they always managed to fulfil them with smiles on their faces. . They have to play the role of head teacher and be in charge of the whole school, the role of head of every subject when having teaching meetings, and even be a doctor when a student gets hurt (I actually saw this happen once during my time there).
However, they still get paid significantly less than even a normal teacher in the UK. The difference between village schools in rural India and UK schools just shows how big the discrepancy in privilege is between our education systems and how we take for granted a lot of things, even the fact that we sit in chairs whilst in lessons.