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‘I have enjoyed the work’

Educationist Neil O’Brien, 77, stepped down as chairman of the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examination, which conducts the ICSE and ISC, on Friday. He spoke to Chandreyee Chatterjee of Metro about his decision, his long stint with the council and his plans.

Why did you step down as chairman of the council before the end of your term?

My term ends in November and I am leaving in July so it is not that early. My health has been rather indifferent for the past few months and I have been advised to reduce my work schedule and cut down on stress. I am getting on in years also (laughs).

In the last 18 years, the council has taken up much of my time and I have missed out, without much regret, on family time. I have not been able to do what I love doing most — reading, writing, quizzing and spending time with my grandchildren. But the decision is mostly because my doctor has strictly advised it.

But did the council want to let you go?

It is not a question of letting me go… I wanted to go. There was a certain reluctance — why now, why not carry on for six months.... It would not make much of a difference.

How has the journey been?

I have enjoyed the work over the years because of my great interest in education. Being with the council, I watched the development of schools and the expansion of education in the country.

What are your significant achievements and the council’s achievements under you?

I wouldn’t like to list my achievements. That is for others to do. There have been achievements but I would not like to say that they are wholly because of me. A lot of factors and a lot of other people were involved. So I would like to look at the achievements as the council’s achievements and not personal ones.

Where do you see the council going from here?

Well, it is going where it has always been going: forward (laughs). When I joined the council, 600 or 700 schools were affiliated to it, now there are 1,800 and the list is growing. What we’d tried to maintain, and what I’d been very particular about, is a certain standard and a certain discipline of thought and action in what we did. The council has always been in the vanguard of improvements in education and I have had a pretty free hand in that.

Do you intend to stay in touch with the council as an advisor or something similar?

When you leave, you leave; you don’t hang around in some capacity. It wouldn’t be right. I did that when I was working with Oxford University Press. It would not be fair to my successor, whoever he is. I have enjoyed working with the people in the council, so I am content. People always ask me what is your greatest quality. It would be that I have tried to be content.

I believe there was some talk about creating a chairman emeritus position at the council…

Well it was mentioned but it is not in the rules and changing them doesn’t make sense. The decision is ultimately mine — and of course it depends on what kind of work a chairman emeritus has to do (laughs) — and I can’t be actively involved. It was just a suggestion and was not even official.

There are two things that you have proposed to the council. Can you share the details of the schemes?

I suggested two projects that the council could undertake as its give-back to society. One is a scholarship for pupils who have successfully appeared for the ISC examination in the recent past and are finding it difficult to pay for further education, teacher training or professional courses. The scholarships should be based on merit and means and the money should be sent to the institutions concerned directly.

The second project is even closer to my heart — a welfare and assistance scheme for retired teachers. There are many retired and ailing teachers whose children are abroad and not in touch. Many of them belong to a generation when teachers were poorly paid and they have nothing or little by way of bank balance and savings. Help for them could be in the form of a one-off assistance, reimbursement of medical bills and diagnostic tests or small monthly stipends.

These have been accepted by the council, now they have to work out the modalities. They have honoured me by saying that they would name the schemes after me.

Now that you don’t have council duties, what are going to do with your time?

(Laughs) I will certainly do all the things that I lost out on. I retired from service way back in 1966 and have been doing council work since then. Now I want to retire from, for the want of a better word, public life.

I will continue to work in my capacity as president-in-chief of the All India Anglo Indian Association. I really look forward to giving the association more of my time. It is in the service of my community. I am also looking forward to writing and spending time with my grandchildren.

What is your message for Neil O’Brien? Tell ttmetro@abpmail.com

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