In the government system, typically heads of schools are appointed based on seniority and not aptitude.
Global research shows that principals account for 25 per cent of a student’s learning outcomes and play an indispensable role in creating institutions of excellence. Yet, in India, we are just beginning to invest in this role. In the government system, typically heads of schools are appointed based on seniority and not aptitude. There is limited training for principals before they take charge of schools, and almost no continuing professional development.
Several efforts need to be made in India to build a new generation of principals:
1. Reimagine the role of the principal: We must reimagine our principals as “school leaders” and their role as instructional leaders, rather than administrative heads. They should be responsible for creating a culture of excellence, orienting their schools to outcomes, developing teachers, ensuring efficient operations and setting a personal leadership example for their communities. We must hold them accountable for children’s learning through a results-oriented evaluation process that affects their annual appraisal and career progression.
2. Merit-based selection: There is a need to shift from seniority-based to merit-based selection of school leaders. We would not imagine a company where the CEO is appointed purely on the basis of seniority and not merit. Similarly, we need to appoint leaders who possess the vision, motivation, aptitude, skills and experience to transform their schools. Gujarat is one of the pioneering states that has taken the lead by introducing the head teacher aptitude test for selection of its principals, resulting in a younger and motivated cadre of school leaders. The centre should mandate that all states institute some element of merit-based selection by 2018.
3. Capacity building: Training and development of school leaders must prepare them for leadership. The Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya National Mission on Teacher Training aims to set up five centres for academic leadership and education management. These must be tightly integrated with the National Centre for School Leadership established by NUEPA. The central government should support these centres with resources that can help them become the IIM-equivalent for developing educational leadership in the country.
NGOs such as Kaivalya Education Foundation, Creatnet Education and the India School Leadership Institute (ISLI) are working with our current school leaders to ensure that they acquire the required skills such as personal, people, instructional and operational leadership. With such training, principals can lead their schools to success, and increase their ownership, motivation, connection with teachers and children, and alignment with larger purpose of education.
We recognise the importance of leadership in our society and schools should be no different. Countries such as United Kingdom, Singapore and China have recognised school leaders as the highest point of leverage in systemic reform and invested in their development. If we act now to develop the quality of our seven lakh existing school leaders, imagine the impact that we will have on improving our children’s learning.