“My ideal school is equipped with water facilities, toilets, and electricity so the children do not have to read their books in the dark, and classrooms filled with print-rich materials. Most importantly, my wish is to see 100% attendance among my boys”
– Sushila Ma’am, on her ideal school
At SRF Foundation, we want the best for children in Mewat. We want to provide them with quality education and opportunities, opening doors to a better future. As an organisation, we can work towards this goal by getting the finest people to work on our team; bringing in the best to design our programmes and implement them at ground level. Yet, we will always be one step away from meeting our goals, without the cooperation and commitment of leaders in the communities we work with.
Headmasters (HMs) are one of our most pivotal stakeholders. As leaders of the schools, they are one of the driving forces behind the effectiveness of these government schools in improving literacy rates in the poverty-stricken area of Mewat. In total, there are 40 HMs, of which nine are female.
To understand their jobs better, we invited Sushila Ma’am, the Headmistress of Kherla Boys’ Primary School, to share her perspective.
With 26 years of experience in the education sector, Sushila Ma’am possesses the knowledge, skills, and leadership to guide the school towards excellence. Before she was appointed as headmistress three years ago, she had been teaching in Kherla for 14 years.
Her responsibilities as headmistress include teaching, managing teachers, ensuring discipline among students, settling administrative issues such as letters and documents for submission to the government, supervising mid-day meals, overseeing any construction within the campus, and most importantly, enrolling out-of-school boys living in Kherla.
When asked if she enjoys her job, she elatedly says “yes”, and shares with us the joy of seeing children coming to school and getting the education they deserve.
However, being a Headmistress is full of challenges, the main one being getting children to attend school. She takes on the responsibility of increasing the enrolment in her school, by speaking to the parents whose boys are out of school.
One might think that convincing parents to send their sons to school is easy; given that the traditional challenge has always been to encourage female education. However, Sushila Ma’am says that this is not the case. Even after meeting parents personally, counseling and persuading them to educate their sons, many parents remain unconvinced on the value of education. It takes multiple coaxing before parents finally relent and enroll their sons in her school.
She cites sibling care as the main reason for this lack of support towards education. Rural families tend to be big, with four to five children on average, and help is needed to take care of the younger ones while the parents are out at work. This traditional mindset is her biggest obstacle in raising the education level of the people in Kherla.
She mentions that the lack of infrastructure is also another serious problem in the school. Currently, there are no proper furniture, electricity and water supplies, and toilets. This remains a big resource gap between her current and ideal school.
Apart from infrastructure, the shortage of manpower is also another obstacle in providing better quality education. According to the Rights to Education (RTE) Act, the ideal teacher-student ratio is 1:30, to ensure that students receive sufficient attention from their teachers. This means that Kherla Boys’ Primary School, with its 500 odd students, needs 18 teachers. However, they only have 10, including Sushila Ma’am herself. In addition, with no sweepers or watchmen, they have no dedicated staff that helps to keep the school environment clean and protected from theft.
These problems hinder the school from providing better quality education to Kherla’s residents, and she’s constantly thinking of how she can solve them, with the help of her stakeholders.
Yet, amidst these troubles, Sushila Ma’am joyfully claims that she loves her job, and gets personal satisfaction from running the school and managing her close-knit team of teachers, who were having a little party during their break time prior to our interview, to celebrate the new plot of land that one of them had recently purchased.
We were also curious to know if she faced any personal challenges being a female leader, against Mewat’s patriarchal background. Her answer was a confident “No”, as she does not believe in letting her gender affect the outcomes of things. Commitment and hard work are the keys to success, and this was exactly what we saw during our interview. Although she had 8 male teachers under her, she was able to command their respect, with most of them looking up to her as a motherly figure. She also has the respect of Kherla’s opinion leaders, earning bonus points for being able to speak their local Haryani language.
On the Foundation’s part, we understand the challenges of our headmasters and do our best to train and equip them with the necessary skills and knowledge. In December 2010, we organised a “Vision and Leadership Building Workshop” for the HMs and Sarpanch-es. The main aim was to upgrade the visioning and leadership abilities of the participants, who head important institutions. Some of the key topics covered during the workshop were identification of common problems, possible solutions, definitions of what the ideal Mewat Schools are, and individual action plans for each school.
Sushila Ma’am attended the workshop and found it tremendously useful and hopes for future workshops like this, with focus on specific issues such as ways to increase school enrolment.
Her passion for the school and her students are clear. But with greater outside support, she can do so much more to improve the state of education in Mewat.
If you would like to collaborate in empowering the Headmasters in Mewat, email firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss how you can make a difference.
Mewat Mondays is brought to you by our interns, Aisyah and Rafidah, who enjoyed interacting with Sushila Ma’am and her staff. As part of their field research, they have been spending time in some of the 19 villages, and will gladly share pictures and anecdotes from these experiences. Reach them at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org respectively.