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THE PRINCIPAL PROBLEM

Only recently, Doon School, a leading public school in the country, conducted a six-month nation-wide hunt for a head to replace the existing incumbent who was relinquishing office. The replacement they found, though an academic of renown, was not a schoolteacher.

And thereby hangs a tale! Is it that there is a genuine shortage of appropriate personnel to fill these posts or is it that the existing personnel are just not good enough' The answer I suspect is a bit of both.

If one takes an overall view of the teaching profession, it is quite evident that not many bright, talented youngsters are drawn to it. Apart from a whole host of reasons, there is a historical background to this. Right from the days of Nehruvian socialism, teaching has never been identified as a priority profession. In the early days the emphasis was on churning out engineers and doctors. The nation then went into the “MBA mode”, and now the IT revolution has taken over. Teaching, naturally enough, became a second or third choice. This is particularly true in the case of boarding schools and schools located in the smaller towns.

The metros have a somewhat different story to tell. Here there is a huge pool of highly educated talent, particularly among housewives seeking a second income. Teaching fits in admirably into their lifestyles. They are normally out of their homes and back along with their children. The income is very useful but not always critical and the job keeps them fruitfully occupied and professionally fulfilled. Of course, not included within the scope of the term “teaching profession” are the hordes of tutorial academies and “tuition givers” in all the cities.

Which brings us to a related problem. There is a staggering male-female imbalance in the profession. A leading city school recently advertised for teachers. Of the 5,000-odd applications they received, only 20 or so were from men! Most schools all over the country face a similar situation. Schools that are looking for a male principal because of their own peculiar necessities are therefore confronted with a huge predicament: so where have all the good men gone'

Before we actually try and find the root causes for the paucity of heads, it would be interesting to examine the nature of the role that a head is expected to play. Gone are the days of Tom Brown’s Schooldays when it was enough for a head to be merely a good teacher or at best a stern disciplinarian. The increasing complexity of educational administration on account of the huge pressures and demands that the sector faces means that today’s heads have an extremely demanding job cut out for them. They must be in firm control of the strategic direction and development of the school, understand and appreciate the nuances of the teaching-learning process, lead and manage staff, effectively deploy staff and resources, have excellent PR skills and above all, be accountable. These are only the broad areas that engage their attention. If these are to be broken down into their respective components, the job card of the head is truly formidable.

In order to be truly effective in the performance of these duties, a good head must possess a vast range of attributes. He or she must first be a good teacher. There is no substitute for leadership by reputation and example. A good head is necessarily a good leader. That in itself implies the possession of a multiplicity of skills — team-building and confidence-building being critical. A head must realize that for the most part “readymade teachers” are not available. What is most often available are untrained or badly trained individuals sometimes completely demotivated by their lack of success in other walks of life. It is the head’s job to bring out the best from this resource, to enthuse, inspire, and to mould this crude clay into fine sculpture.

Being child-centred is a vital quality for headship. Any head who cannot empathize with a child’s needs, aims and aspirations cannot successfully perform that role. It is imperative for a head to be an excellent communicator. Poor communication ability does not inspire confidence amongst faculty, students or parents. A head must be a good PR person, sensitive to the needs and feelings of not only the school community but also the larger one in which the school is placed. It goes without saying that a head must be able to take decisions, sometimes unpalatable to many. And finally a school head must realize that for a school to be truly effective, all its constituencies must have a strong and compelling shared vision, and that the task of leadership is to make the vision and strategy speak through facts, actions and achievements.

Such then is the incredibly complex role of a head. And yet there is no training programme for those aspiring to this position. Whilst there are Bachelor of Education courses of hugely varying quality available throughout the country, there are, for example, no equivalents of either the Indian Institutes of Technology or the Indian Institutes of Management, either for teacher training or for equipping existing teachers to take on the role of heads.

More often than not, heads are teachers-on-promotion. Is it surprising that they tend to be confused about the expectations from their new assignment' From being expected to attain classroom objectives, to attaining institutional objectives is a huge transition and to expect teachers to achieve this without any formal training is indeed a big ask. The fact that there are not many takers for headship, and amongst those that there are, most are woefully unprepared, is therefore not very surprising.

To make this depressing scenario worse, most managements are not very clear about their own roles in relation to the head. Very often they see the role of the head primarily as that of ensuring quick returns on the investment made. The head is then under tremendous pressure of a particular sort that takes up all the time and energy which should be used for the real purposes of headship. An almost complete lack of respect for the position and day-to-day interference in the running of the school acts as yet another deterrent for would-be heads, and a high turnover rate for the existing ones. Managements fail to realize that their job is to provide a strategic view, act as a critical friend, and ensure accountability.

If the education system is to become a powerhouse for throwing up our future leadership, it must first of all generate excellent leaders for itself. The scenario at the moment is quite grim. Is the answer then to look outside the profession' In the long term I think not. Would the Indian army, for instance, whilst confronted with a severe shortage of officers, contemplate recruiting generals from outside' Certainly not, and with very good reason. True leadership must emerge as it were, from the ranks. Only then does that leadership have the credibility and competence that it needs. As a nation we are duty-bound to create systems by which we ensure that bright motivated young people join the teaching profession, that they are adequately supported by proper training and compensation packages, and that this in turn creates a huge catchment area for future heads.

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