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Daan Utsav Developing Middle Managers In Indias Education System

Piramal Foundation
April 20, 2018

Daan Utsav celebrates acts of giving, from October 2 to October 8. Bloomberg Quint brings you on-ground stories of change, from social sector leaders shaping them.

Shaukat Ahmed, a senior education official in the district of Bandipora, Jammu & Kashmir, had never really thought about the concept of 'self'. After thorough training sessions and on-field support to equip him with leadership competencies, he is a transformed man. Earlier, he would lash out at colleagues on small matters, exert authority at every go. Now, he thinks about how he interacts with his colleagues, family, and friends on a daily basis, acting with empathy to get his work done, personally and professionally.

Government education officials like Shaukat Ahmed manage and support one of the largest and most complex education systems in the world, with 26 crore students and 80 lakh teachers in 15 lakh schools. There are pre-primary, primary, secondary schools along with colleges and technical education institutes. While the private sector is a huge contributor, the Government of India has the maximum access and resources for providing quality education. However, in the 70 years since independence, India's education system is still facing myriad obstacles across its value chain to build a demographic dividend and create globally relevant resources.

If we play the numbers game to analyse our education system, the picture painted is extremely grim.

  • 27% of students are not attending pre-school

  • 26% of grade-5 students can do basic math

  • 48% of grade-5 students can read the grade-2 level text

  • 86% youth drop out at the secondary level

  • Only 20% of teachers are academically qualified for secondary level

  • 15% of graduates are employable

  • There is a faculty shortage of 54% with a pupil-teacher ratio of 1:24

  • Only 2 of the workforce has formal training

  • 40% of graduates find jobs or are self-employed

How does a deficit of leadership capabilities impact the delivery of education services? With every delay of textbooks reaching the classroom, when the teacher receives no coaching on how to improve her pedagogy in the classroom, this gap is experienced. With ineffective training for headmasters and teachers, burdening them with piles of administrative work, this gap pinches even more. These are but a few of the many examples of how government systems in education function with an absence of specialised focus on building leadership skills of officials at the block, district, and state levels.

"Each education leader is somewhat like the chief executive officer of a company - focusing on driving results and numbers, specific learning outcomes, building a culture, and ensuring a collaborative space for innovation.

Our work with government officials across 12 states has exposed us to some recurring patterns. At every level, from selection, induction and role orientation to career progression, performance management, learning, and development, officials experience hindrances of different kinds. While the need of the hour is to create avenues for our education leaders to develop these critical management skills and improve systemic processes, how seriously do we focus on training education officials?

Are all the government officials of our country as self-aware as Shaukat, working on honing the gaps in their leadership capabilities? Surprisingly, even though the corporate world has long directed attention to creating experts in management through acclaimed management degrees, the same level of focus is absent in the public sector. Education system practitioners across the country are grappling with fundamental issues on how to bring change in institutions. However, there are individuals like Sanjay Sharma, a teacher training facilitator from Jhunjhunu in Rajasthan, who attended our leadership workshop on creating a learning environment and understanding a teacher’s need. After the workshop, he built a learning relationship with teachers by using over a hundred teachers’ classroom videos, changing his lecture-based training style. He realised that there is a need to change the way he manages and leads his workshops. While Sanjay Sharma was able to experience this transformation, most officials continue to favour administrative responsibilities, attending to routine tasks. The major challenge, therefore, is to guide them to move beyond administrative functions towards leadership development. Middle management is the crucial cog in the wheel in India’s education system. Leadership development is the oil critical to improving the skills and competencies of our education leaders, which will lead to improving students’ learning outcomes. Without a doubt, an impressive academic support system has been built up at the national and state level to provide technical support and guidance to the education system. Every education policy, ranging from the Right to Education, to the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, has specified the importance of building our government mechanisms and resources. Many government institutions like District Institutes of Education and Training, State Council Educational Research and Training, State Institutes of Educational Management and Training, and the National University of Educational Planning and Administration have been set up to build capabilities of government officials. However, where is the focus on building the skills of the faculty in these institutions? Developing leadership capabilities in individuals like Shaukat Ahmed and Sanjay Sharma through intensive programs and experiential on-the-job learning is the answer to these pertinent questions. Change is possible. By completely revamping how we select, induct, focus on continuous professional development, redefine roles and responsibilities, share feedback, conduct assessment reviews and define career tracks and progression for education officials, we can transform education. As we build more tangible leadership skills, the hope is that it will steady the ship of education, impacting all aspects of operations – individuals, teams, departments, the organisation as a whole – and the community and society around us. Our current education system is experiencing rapid growth in terms of scale and if we do not maintain the quality of education, it will be extremely difficult to build and secure a competitive edge. We need to build our demographic dividend into globally relevant leaders – to drive meaningful change, innovation, and growth in our economy. Aditya Natraj is the founder and chief executive officer of Kaivalya Education Foundation.
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