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Pick top-quality leaders for our schools to build India’s future: Azim Premji, Chairman, Wipro


The Economic Times
March 20, 2013

By Azim Premji
Chairman, Wipro

There are multiple research studies across the world, including India, which attempt to identify schools where learning is genuinely happening, and to understand the factors that influence these outcomes. There are usually a few common factors that are characteristic of those schools where learning really happens. One of the most significant and consistent of these factors is the quality of school leadership.

Where the school leadership (principal, head teacher, etc) is good, the school is often good. I am sure this conclusion doesn’t surprise most of us.

Before we go any further, let me briefly touch upon what I think is good education.

In my view, good education is one that enables the growth and development of the child in multiple dimensions, so that she is able to fulfill and expand her potential, as also to become an active, contributing and concerned citizen of the world.

These multiple dimensions of development of the child that I referred to are cognitive, social, emotional, physical and ethical.

Humans, not just Students

While it’s implicit in what I have stated, let me still point out that good education is not rote memorisation and getting good grades, it’s about developing a good human being and an active citizen, so that we have a better society.

This understanding of good education that I have shared is certainly not new. It’s there in our national policy documents, in the writings of scores of educationists and in our curricular goals.

In the context of this broader and deeper purpose of education, the role of a school leader becomes even more important. Let me share a few thoughts in this regard.

First, I think it’s important that the school leader be the visible custodian of the purpose of education in her school. Else, it is very easy for us to slip into the ritualistic, rote-based, marks-driven education that we see all around us. Being a custodian is not easy — it will require battling many forces and continually convincing many people — but that I think is the natural task of any leader.

Second, education of this nature requires capable and confident teachers. For this, school leaders need to create an enabling environment where teachers can grow and develop. This requires a culture of trust, experimentation and openness.

Lead from the Front

Third, the kind of education that we have talked about is not merely an outcome of classroom instruction. It’s significantly driven by school culture. And the school leader has the most determining role in shaping the school culture. Let’s discuss five specific examples in this regard.

If we want our children to grow up with democratic values, then our schools must have democratic values. This means that the school leader must be able to foster a culture where there is reasoned discussion about everything, and things are not determined by hierarchy. In such a culture, the merit of each view and argument is the important factor, not who has expressed that view.

If we want our children to grow up with a scientific temper and intense curiosity, then the school culture must be that of rigorous inquiry and debate. Questioning must be encouraged, along with coaching for reasoning.

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If we want our children to grow up emotionally stable and in a state of well-being, then the school culture must be supportive, encouraging and accepting of the child. The school culture must not be that of fear and punishment. It must help the child discover her interests and abilities, not label them as “good” or “bad”.

If we want our children to grow and develop with a deep sense of honesty and integrity, then they must see that the school practices integrity and honesty. In a society where integrity and honesty are eroding, schools and school leaders can play an anchoring role. For this, the school leader will have to build a culture of integrity in the school, which is visible in the relationships between children and teachers, within the teachers and school staff, and with the school leader.

Finally, if we want our children to grow up with social sensitivity and responsibility, then our schools have to be socially sensitive. A school being socially sensitive is reflected in the issues that are discussed in the school, in the language that these issues are discussed, and also in the kind of things that the school may engage in with the society around.

But social sensitivity is reflected even more visibly in schools in another way, which children learn from every day: in the way the school treats each individual, especially the powerless. If the school treats the children and the housekeeping staff — the most powerless in a school environment — with respect, dignity and care, that is what the children will learn.

A Better Society

I have tried to emphasise that education that develops a good human being and a good citizen needs a lot more than classroom instruction. This is why school leadership must be a critical area of work and investment across the country. And good education is one of the most important methods of building a better society.


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