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Efficacy of leadership in India’s education: Persistent problems and a way forward

Dr. Swaleha Sindhi

The need for a systematic approach to school leadership development in India has become significant in the context of the government policy initiatives in support of Right of Children to free and Compulsory Education Act (2009), the right to quality education, and other educational reforms. The realization of these initiatives directly depends on the effective school leadership. But, unfortunately our school leaders do not receive any formal training for developing their knowledge base that can help them learn skills to exercise leadership. This places greater emphasis on creating mechanisms for continuous training or support for School Leaders. The potential transition in the dynamics of relationships between the governments, the school administrators, the teachers, the students, the parents and the broader community, would need leaders with skills and knowledge to critically analyse the challenges that arise due to changing times.  In line with the needs of education reforms in India, our school leaders are expected to set the tone for growth of their Institutions to create institutions of excellence (rather than copying the best practices of other organisations) and make this growth apparent to all the stakeholders.

Moreover, across India in most of the schools, promotions of teachers to the post of Principal is based on seniority and not aptitude. Teachers are automatically promoted to the position of a Principal or coordinator based on seniority, this is the growth cycle of a teacher’s career.  There is an absence of or limited training of Principals at the time of their appointment into the school system, and almost no other initiative for continuing development. A relevant question in this situation is; why our school leaders not self-motivated to learn in this age of modern technology? Why are they not self-introspecting (if their performance is better today than few years back)?

We all become better with passing years, as we learn from our experiences. It is a sad fact that schools in India are observed as insular institutions, where only routine daily activities take place. School leaders hardly take an opportunity to leverage the role of an instructional leader. They fail to make their presence apparent, in spite of regularly being surrounded by people and being a part of school assemblies, staff and parent teacher meetings, conversing with governing bodies, local communities and students. They do not succeed in making an overall impact on the school system.  We have a dearth of dynamic leaders, who take lead in activities, come in the notice of the people surrounding them or make an effort to get feedback on their drawbacks or strong points.

Current Scenario 

The most pressing issues that need to be addressed to improve Indian education system is school leadership. There are no structured and reliable ways of developing accountability systems and practices for school leadership (other than the narrowly defined Board Exam results). Lack of opportunities of professional learning in educational leadership has resulted in poorly defined relationships between school leaders, education administrators, and policy makers.  Routine activities assume greater importance at the block or district level in education leadership. Duties of administrative nature like; data entry, monitoring of schedules, report writing, testing etc. are more importance than pedagogical guidance, mentoring, management and knowledge development of teachers and school leaders.

There is a need to establish linkages, (developmental needs and school curriculum etc.) and making stakeholders aware of inter and intraorganisational roles. There are not many organisations that can help bring development and empowerment among the school leaders. The National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA) in partnership with UK (UKIERI) and the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) with the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) have proposed to develop school standards for leadership. In this line they have organised workshops for capacity building of school leaders for effective practices in school leadership and school improvement. These initiatives seem to be good for school leaders but not enough.  The nature of these programs is short term and do not prove sufficient for achieving the goal of continuous development of school leaders. The current scenario endorses some concrete mechanisms from the government. Mechanisms that include both the concrete Indian ideas supported by best practices from international leadership development models.

Success Story

Even though it is mandatory for all the states of India to bring qualitative changes in their school systems yet the speed with which it is achieved vary greatly across Indian states. Let me present before you case of Gujarat state in India, where efforts are made to bring changes in school systems and its leadership. The state of Gujarat, is one of the first states to institute a comprehensive school leader selection policy that favours merit over seniority and has introduced a screening and an entry bar for head masters. Interestingly, the policy has put in place an age limit (of 36 years) for teacher candidates coming through the direct recruitment route, consequently bringing in a significantly younger cadre motivated to become heads of schools. The state government of Gujarat (since 2012) has been recruiting school leaders in government schools through Principal Aptitude Test.

The examination covers general knowledge, administrative management, education policy, pedagogical concepts and the school curriculum. School leaders are selected on the basis of their performance in the Principal Aptitude Test, their academic qualifications as well as teaching experience. The Department of Education in Gujarat has brought out a resolution articulating the duties to be performed by school leaders. This resolution put forward the administrative and instructional responsibilities of a school leader. Another progressive step by the government of Gujarat is initiating reforms in induction training for newly recruited school leaders, the newly appointed candidate’s attend three-week orientation training program to prepare them for their administrative and instructional roles.

Challenges Ahead

School leaders are faced with the challenge to implement new policies of the government. The other challenges with which school leaders have to deal specially in the government schools are; dealing with teachers with varying levels of knowledge of content and pedagogy, rise in pupil population, advanced technology and ageing teachers (inflexible to adapt changes).  In keeping with changing expectations of quality and performance, educational leaders will increasingly need to examine and debate the merits and demerits of standardization practices versus the possibility of developing locally relevant ‘layered standards’ (Sergiovanni 2001).

School leaders have very limited flexibility and opportunity to create structures appropriate to their instincts or local needs. This is because they have to follow guidelines that are developed at the national and state level. They have to deal with issues like school dropouts and bringing out of school children back to school. They are supposed to handle all incentive schemes of government and be accountable for it. Multi-grade teaching is another situations (prevalent in government schools) for leaders to deal with. Therefore it is very clear that school leaders are left with very little freedom to innovate or try new strategies or implement their creative ideas. They are completely caught up with activities like achieving gender parity (a challenge in rural areas and urban slums), supervising mid-day meal programme on a daily basis and dealing with issue of equity.

Last Word

The above discussion indicates that there is a need of paradigm shift within the education system. Education Policies spell out the need for innovative leaders in the schools. To enable this change education policy makers and administrators need to take some concerted action to strengthen the quality of leadership and education administration in India. They must review and reflect on their efforts to improve the practices that support teaching and learning. We require leaders who are passionate about their commitment to school improvement, who set high expectations for learning; provide clarity of jobs and work to build mechanisms for improving the quality of student learning throughout the school.

Though altering traditional mindsets in school practice is not easy and sustaining change is even more challenging, the greatest challenge for an educational leader is to develop viable components of culturally relevant standards of learning. Through research, professional exchange and policy analyses, educational leaders can prepare for changing curricular and evaluation practices, and social inclusion policies.

Dr. Swaleha Sindhi is Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Administration, the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, India. Dr. Sindhi is a frequent columnist on related topics, too. She is the Vice President of Indian Ocean Comparative Education Society (IOCES). She can be contacted at swalehasindhi@gmail.com 

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