The New Head of School at JIS, and the Busi­ness of In­ter­na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion

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Tarek Razik Ed.D, The New Head of School at JIS, and the Busi­ness of In­ter­na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion

In this ex­clu­sive in­ter­view, Jakarta In­ter­cul­tural School’s new Head of School shares his thoughts on the busi­ness of ed­u­ca­tion as well as his vi­sion for this sprawl­ing cam­pus filled with one of the most di­verse stu­dent bod­ies in South­east Asia.

Not many peo­ple un­der­stand Jakarta In­ter­cul­tural School (JIS) ex­ists as a non-profit ed­u­ca­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Its found­ing as a small school for United Na­tions staff posted to Jakarta after In­done­sia gained in­de­pen­dence in 1951 has now trans­formed to lush and sprawl­ing grounds with three sep­a­rate cam­puses. With roughly 2300 stu­dents and 65 na­tion­al­i­ties rep­re­sented through­out, it’s an in­cred­i­ble sight to be­hold when the school bell rings at Ci­lan­dak and stu­dents pour out of class­rooms and move on to the next. Floor-to- ceil­ing glass walls al­low par­ents and vis­i­tors to see how the youngest stu­dents en­rolled in the early ed­u­ca­tion pro­grammes are learn­ing at Pat­timura. With a ra­tio of one teacher to ev­ery ten stu­dents, teach­ing staff and ad­min­is­tra­tors also com­ple­ment the cam­pus and many greet stu­dents on a first-name ba­sis as they walk through the cor­ri­dors.

Per­haps due to its tu­ition costs, an im­age has cir­cu­lated through ex­pa­tri­ate and lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties that JIS is an elite and priv­i­leged in­sti­tu­tion. And while the costs of school­ing have in­creased at pri­vate schools such as JIS in re­cent years (and may have per­pet­u­ated this im­age), one needn’t look far to also see JIS’s po­si­tion in the re­gion as one of the first and largest in­ter­na­tional schools with high ma­tric­u­la­tion and grad­u­a­tion rates for those stu­dents who fin­ish the rig­or­ous In­ter­na­tional Bac­calau­re­ate or Ad­vanced Place­ment pro­grammes. The new Head of School Tarek Razik, Ed.D, sits down with

In­done­sia Ex­pat and dis­pels this com­mon mis­con­cep­tion along with ex­plain­ing the dif­fer­ences be­tween the busi­ness of ed­u­ca­tion and the art of ed­u­cat­ing in the cur­rent eco­nomic en­vi­ron­ment.

The Ed­u­ca­tion Busi­ness

Ed­u­ca­tion has changed dra­mat­i­cally over the past few decades. It is a mas­sive busi­ness, with large man­age­ment com­pa­nies run­ning schools around the world. “In­vest­ment firms are putting big money into pur­chas­ing schools. There’s the GEMS [Global Ed­u­ca­tion Man­age­ment Sys­tems] or­ga­ni­za­tion run­ning pri­mar­ily in the Mid­dle East. There are also [oth­ers] that are run­ning a lot of the in­ter­na­tional schools in Asia and South Asia,” Razik ex­plains to In­done­sia Ex­pat one af­ter­noon at his of­fice in Pon­dok In­dah cam­pus.

One look at the pro­file of any of these ed­u­ca­tional brands re­in­forces this po­si­tion.

“As long as qual­ity is kept in mind, I am OK with it. But you’ve got to put stu­dents first, and most of these schools end up try­ing to save money in order to turn a profit and that’s ei­ther on re­sources or on teach­ers or teach­ers’ salaries. There is this ten­sion, I think, be­tween the busi­ness side and aca­demic de­liv­ery. How­ever, some of these schools have fig­ured it out and are do­ing a very good job; I sin­gle out GEMS be­cause I know they put the stu­dents first,” says Razik.

And although JIS is a non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion, it is not ex­empt from In­done­sian gov­ern­ment taxes. In fact, the school is taxed like a for-profit en­tity. Razik ex­plains, “We are the largest em­ployer of ex­pa­tri­ates in In­done­sia. We are not mak­ing any money, but we are taxed like it. The taxes on teach­ing staff salaries and ben­e­fits re­ally puts us non-prof­its at a real dis­ad­van­tage.”

It is strange to con­sider that in­ter­na­tional schools like JIS might even­tu­ally go the way of the di­nosaur. In order for school boards to at­tract top tal­ent, main­tain high qual­ity fa­cil­i­ties and make re­sources avail­able to the stu­dents; the schools must spend money. Fi­nances are a con­stant con­cern for the head of school. “We have to raise tu­ition each year com­men­su­rate with the cost of liv­ing that just keeps go­ing up and I worry un­less we de­velop al­ter­nate streams of rev­enue, we could be priced out of the mar­ket.” Pub­lic schools in the United States and other West­ern coun­tries have cor­po­rate spon­sor­ships, on- cam­pus ad­ver­tis­ing, leas­ing of school fa­cil­i­ties and other such in­come-gen­er­at­ing ac­tiv­i­ties for the schools when gov­ern­ment funds do not meet the ris­ing costs of re­sources or salaries.

How­ever, the only source of rev­enue for a non-profit, pri­vate, in­ter­na­tional school such as JIS is through tu­ition. Com­pe­ti­tion is high be­tween schools in the re­gion for sourc­ing the best teach­ers, too. “If we want to re­main com­pet­i­tive against schools in Sin­ga­pore and China, then we have to main­tain a com­pet­i­tive ben­e­fits pack­age. I do think that there is a sim­i­lar ten­sion be­tween non-profit and for-profit sys­tems, and that for-profit schools are go­ing to take over most of the ed­u­ca­tion in the re­gion. I strug­gle to think of how many not-for­profit schools there are in In­done­sia, Thai­land or China. They are few and far be­tween,” says Razik.

At­tract­ing the Best Ed­u­ca­tors and Tal­ent

Some in­ter­na­tional schools have a tough time at­tract­ing and re­tain­ing top tal­ent. There is a small pool of qual­i­fied, in­ter­na­tional school ed­u­ca­tors in an ev­er­ex­pand­ing world of in­ter­na­tional schools. Some for-profit schools man­age that by throw­ing money at teacher ap­pli­cants who would other­wise be work­ing else­where with less hard­ship. “At JIS, re­cruit­ment is con­ducted year-round to find the best peo­ple. It’s a non­stop job,” says Razik.

For him, there are three ma­jor fac­tors that he be­lieves to be im­por­tant.

“The least im­por­tant one is a com­pet­i­tive salary and ben­e­fits pack­age; teach­ers need to know they’re be­ing looked after. The more im­por­tant ones for me are the work en­vi­ron­ment and rep­u­ta­tion. Schools de­velop rep­u­ta­tions, and it im­pacts the re­cruit­ment process more and more. Teach­ers want to feel that they’re val­ued, they en­joy com­ing to work, they’re re­spected and they have op­por­tu­ni­ties for pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment and growth within the or­ga­ni­za­tion. I al­ways say that you can be mak­ing a lot of money, but be very un­happy in your job and you’re not go­ing to be pro­duc­tive so the stu­dents are go­ing to suf­fer. Money is not go­ing to buy a good work­ing en­vi­ron­ment. How­ever, a teacher is more will­ing to stay and the stu­dents will ben­e­fit if the work en­vi­ron­ment is pos­i­tive and the salary is good. If you can put those two things to­gether, then you’ve got a good thing go­ing,” says Razik. He adds, “I’m try­ing to nav­i­gate the im­pact of Jakarta on re­cruit­ing as well. Com­ing from Bei­jing, we had this lit­tle thing called pol­lu­tion that we had to work our way around pe­ri­od­i­cally. Here, I’m just learn­ing about the chal­lenges.”

The En­rol­ments Is­sue

If there’s one is­sue that is al­ways a con­stant source of anx­i­ety and con­cern at board meet­ings and con­fer­ences, it’s the is­sue of en­rol­ments. When the global econ­omy was ex­pand­ing dur­ing the early part of the cen­tury, ex­pa­tri­ates were hired in large num­bers, par­tic­u­larly in Asia. As that stag­nated and coun­tries started to lo­cal­ize be­cause of the ex­penses as­so­ci­ated with re­lo­ca­tions and ben­e­fits pack­ages pro­vided for school and hous­ing, a dif­fer­ent ap­proach was taken. “Any­body who tells you that their en­rol­ment is in­creas­ing with ex­pa­tri­ates right now, well, I’d like to see their data. Most of the time you see a de­cline in ex­pat stu­dents and that’s where your board starts to get ner­vous, es­pe­cially with for-profit schools,” ex­plains Razik.

For many of the schools, the al­ter­na­tive is open­ing the doors to lo­cal stu­dents. By do­ing so, do schools then lose their in­ter­na­tional ap­peal? Is a bum on the seat that trans­lates into tu­ition the only way to sur­vive a tough eco­nomic en­vi­ron­ment? Razik con­sid­ers this point care­fully. “Peo­ple stereo­type by say­ing, ‘ We’ll lose our iden­tity and our in­ter­na­tional cul­ture.’ I’m not sure I agree with that. I think here at JIS we want stu­dents that fit with our ad­mis­sions cri­te­ria, and they and their fam­i­lies agree with our mis­sion and val­ues. You can be In­done­sian, you can be Korean or you can be Brazil­ian. How­ever, if you agree with our core val­ues and mis­sion and you’re aca­dem­i­cally qual­i­fied, then we will hap­pily ed­u­cate you.”

The New Head of School

Tarek Razik pauses for a mo­ment. “I’m only three months on the ground here. There are many dif­fer­ences be­tween work­ing in China and In­done­sia. It’s a dif­fer­ent pace and cul­tural sen­si­tiv­ity.”

Razik is a sea­soned head of school, hav­ing start his ca­reer in the Caribbean and then land­ing a man­age­ment role at the Shang­hai Amer­i­can School in 2000. He even­tu­ally moved to Bei­jing where he was head of school. “Even though I’ve been do­ing this for a while and mov­ing pe­ri­od­i­cally, no two cities or schools are ever alike. I want to ac­cli­mate my­self per­son­ally and with my fam­ily. I also want to make sure I re­spect the work that’s been done to get the in­sti­tu­tion to this point and how I’m go­ing to add value with the next it­er­a­tion of Jakarta In­ter­cul­tural school with my lead­er­ship,” he says thought­fully.

He de­scribes his phi­los­o­phy in de­tail. “At the end of the day, test scores should not be the mea­sure­ments of a child’s suc­cess. Is a child happy? Is the child giv­ing back to so­ci­ety? Is the child do­ing good things for the world? Is the child healthy men­tally and phys­i­cally? Those things, in my mind, will in­flu­ence their ed­u­ca­tion in a pos­i­tive di­rec­tion be­yond the academics. You see some of the big scan­dals around the world like En­ron; these peo­ple have se­ri­ous col­lege and grad­u­ate school de­grees and yet they’ve gone off and done these un­eth­i­cal things. I think that’s what we try to pre­vent here. We look at well­ness and mind­ful­ness be­cause I be­lieve a healthy mind and body will even­tu­ally lead to aca­demic re­sults that are ap­pro­pri­ate for that in­di­vid­ual child. There is def­i­nitely an em­pha­sis on the academics and less so on the child in many coun­tries, and I don’t think that’s healthy.”

JIS Elites?

So where does this elit­ist rep­u­ta­tion come from? Is it sim­ply from the costs as­so­ci­ated with at­tend­ing the school or are there other fac­tors that come into play?

Razik seems acutely aware of the sit­u­a­tion, and sur­pris­ingly, does not shy away from the sub­ject. “It’s def­i­nitely crossed my plate since I’ve been here. I want to dis­pel this rep­u­ta­tion, but ac­knowl­edge that per­haps some of it is our own do­ing. I think we need to get out there and share more of the com­mu­nity ser­vice work that we do. We need to show­case what hap­pens on this cam­pus when this place is abuzz with lo­cal stu­dents us­ing our class­rooms, the­atres and sports fa­cil­i­ties. We are a very com­mu­nity-based school here.”

When pressed fur­ther, he adds, “The elit­ist per­cep­tion comes from the fact that we charge tu­ition, and our tu­ition is high for all of the rea­sons that we spoke about ear­lier. How­ever, that in it­self shouldn’t drive the nar­ra­tive for the school and who we are. It’s not about how much you spend to go to school, but how you’re giv­ing back to the com­mu­nity and get­ting peo­ple to see your at­ti­tude. And your at­ti­tude should never be one of ar­ro­gance or con­de­scen­sion, but rather some­thing that is in­clu­sive and re­spect­ful.”

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