If you want to measure the economic development of a country then start by looking into its classrooms. President Pranab Mukherjee, in November 2013, spoke at a public forum about how if we were “to attain a growth rate of 9% per year…we must put in place enabling factors, most prominent of which is the quality of higher education”.
Since the 1950s, India has spent on an average 3-7% of its GDP annually on education. The education system has received significant aid and attention, and yet reading levels continue to be a cause for serious concern. The Annual State of Education Report (Aser) 2013 states that more than half of all children in Class 5 are at least three grade levels behind where they should be.
India’s strength has been its ‘demographic dividend’. China and India together will contribute to around 57% of the new workforce between now and 2030. Yet, what is the level of skill that we are imparting? Are we growing a large class of low- to medium-skilled workers? The education system has failed over 350 million people across India who are now part of the adult workforce and have little or no schooling.
The principal is the top-most leader in the periphery of a school and has the ability to influence change in the quality of education. With the right leadership training, the individual needs to be equipped with the skills to manage the institution. Apart from the pedagogy, the teacher’s attitude in the classroom is key to the quality of education imparted.
Singapore has developed a unique Enhance Performance Management System. The teachers earn monetary and other distinction, continuing through three career tracks: teaching, leadership and content specialist. At the end of each academic year, they take up a self-assessment process.
Now, if you compare that to public schools in India, we lack ‘educational leadership’ programmes. We appoint government school principals on the basis of seniority. The transition from a teacher to a principal is not aided through any formal education programme unlike our international counterparts. This is a lack of ‘educational leadership’ and the government has acknowledged it at a national level. They have moved towards setting up a National Centre for School Leadership (NCSL), along with the National University of Education Planning and Administration (NUEPA) for imparting leadership training in schools.
The government has set a target of adding 82 million school seats by 2016, but, according to a McKinsey 2012 report, we would need to add 34 million secondary school seats and double the number of secondary school teachers hired every year to reach the target. How does one possibly reach that goal when in fact, principals in government schools do not have the authority to even appoint or dismiss teachers based on their performance?
When it comes to school leadership we need to ensure that principals undergo a training programme that typically should include at least the following four leadership skill levels — personal, organisational, instructional and social.
With over half the population of India under the age of 25, the road to economic recovery starts at our schools. The Indian industry needs to aid the government and its school principals in helping build a nation of educated and skilled people. Eighty-two million school seats, and an educated and skilled workforce is a great target — it will require a lot reimagining, rethinking and role-reversal as we start to educate the educator. We need to aim for deeper innovation when it comes to curricula, student pedagogy, teacher training, headmaster training and industry support.
Ajay Piramal is chairman of Piramal Group
The views expressed by the author are personal