Shahid Anwar |
As the saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” It sounds really true about the higher education of Pakistan in general and that of the Punjab in particular. Despite an abundance of good intentions and some best individual efforts, the public sector colleges are still not doing well. On paper, the organizational goals and compliance reports may paint a rosy picture, however, ground realities don’t conform to the official portrayal.
The ‘sarkar’ appears to believe that it can exclusively and arbitrarily dispose of everything. The teaching community doesn’t see itself even as a proposed since there is no mechanism to get their feedback or input.
The very dichotomy of reality and self-identity is at the heart of the problem. Two major components of the department, i.e. the administration and teaching community, have quite separate and conflicting concepts about their respective identities and realities. The administration sees itself as an infallible ‘competent authority’ (a vernacular term ‘sarkar’ express the sense more accurately). So, the ‘sarkar’ appears to believe that it can exclusively and arbitrarily dispose of everything. The teaching community doesn’t see itself even as a proposer, since there is no mechanism to get their feedback or input.
The ‘sarkar’ is the source of everything: vision, academic calendar, lesson plan, class tests, exam, and sports schedule. It tries to micromanage colleges through executive orders from the center notwithstanding the local conditions. But, honestly, it is not working simply because it can’t work. At best, it is getting fake compliance while both sides live happily in split realities.
Condition of education in Punjab
About 750 colleges in the public sector of Punjab, except for a few good examples, have turned into an academic wasteland. All the activities associated with campus life are dying, the student-teacher relationship has transformed, and developing an understanding of the subject is no more the objective of teaching. Of course, there are a few good examples but overall, these institutions have become unable to inculcate the basic skills. The administration continues to behave like a proverbial man with a hammer who thinks everything is a nail and tries to fix it accordingly. It can’t work.
Hence, the question is: What can work? Let me suggest, just one simple and doable thing that can amazingly change the academic environment of these institutions within a year. There is no radical change suggested here but quite practical and doable ones while staying within the existing system.
Leadership: A missing fragment in our education system
The fact remains that we are mostly getting an incompetent, visionless, and power-seeking lot selected as institutional leaders (without leadership qualities).
It is generally observed that in our socio-cultural context, a college’s performance largely depends on the quality of leadership (Principal). If a principal is visionary, the institution booms, otherwise, it dooms. This explains why some of our institutions are working relatively much better, under the same general conditions. Lucky are those few institutions which, by chance, get good leaders.
Why most of the institutions remain unlucky to get a dynamic leader? The present seniority-based criterion for appointment of principal is the simple answer. It can be argued that the principle of seniority is sacrosanct and thus it makes appropriate merit-criterion for the appointment of Principals. However, the fact remains that we are mostly getting an incompetent, visionless, and power-seeking lot selected as institutional leaders (without leadership qualities). Unable to lead, guide, and motivate their colleagues, they fall back upon survival formula — providing on paper compliance to the high ups and letting the institutional situation distort.
The above observation regarding lack of leadership qualities may sound quite uncharitable and one may be disinclined to accept it. However, my personal experience of working with many principals in different colleges and shared observations of many colleagues corroborate that rarely a college gets a good leader. Even if these observations are not convincing enough, a simple independent survey can establish the fact that present mechanism of selection of principals is unable to select capable institutional leaders.
The principle of selection
In order to make a mechanism to pick up the right person can solve this problem. In this connection, the precise proposal is that a separate cadre for Principals should be created on the following lines.
- The purpose is to select the best leaders for educational institutions.
- Eligibility: Teachers working in BPS-18 onward can apply for the position of Principal.
- Selection Procedure: All applicants need to appear in a written exam specially designed to test: basic communication skills, psychological test, and interview to assess emotional stability, aptitude, and leadership skills.
- Rigorous Training: Those selected must undergo a rigorous training for six to nine months. The training modules can be designed by the experts on educational leadership.
- Pay &Perks: They should be given reasonable pay and perks, like residence at campus and conveyance.
- Devolving powers: The principles should be given enough room so that they can at least make some necessary adjustments according to the local conditions.
A genuine educational leader knows what to do
The chain of command virtually breaks at the level of principal, he has to receive all administrative fuss from above but he can’t pass it ‘down’ to his colleagues. If he does so he kills the spirit of cooperation.
There may be no foolproof procedure to ensure hundred percent results but even if we are able to get close to a ninety percent, it will be a big leap forward. Presently, I am not sure if we are lucky enough to get only ten percent capable leaders as principals. Bringing in true leaders can improve the academic environment many folds within one academic session.
A genuine educational leader is supposed to know the spirit of education and importance of collegial governance. Both right now are badly missing in most of the colleges for two reasons. Firstly, the bureaucratic top layer of administration needs to be trained to think and act in terms of hierarchy. They find it hard to overcome their orientation and learn that education is a different ball game. So they keep operating in command and compliance model.
The chain of command virtually breaks at the level of principal, he has to receive all administrative fuss from above but he can’t pass it ‘down’ to his colleagues. If he does so he kills the spirit of cooperation. If he doesn’t he needs a bigger stature. Here, the second reason comes into play. Since overall an incompetent lot is installed through a flawed process they have no guts to understand that buck stops at their table. Instead, they try to ape a typical bureaucrat, they consider a model and thus fail to deliver except for the fake compliance reports. My personal experience of working as principal tells that if you treat your faculty members as “subordinates” you lose their pro-active cooperation.
Cultivating culture at campus
There are indeed some great examples of leadership, commitment, and hard work. Despite constraints, they did give their best to the institutions they lead.
Besides resolving this governance dilemma, any true educational leader would know the importance of the cultivation of a culture of CCAs at campuses through the generation of genuine activities with the pro-active participation of students and teachers. In every institution, there are (at least) a few faculty members who’re not only brilliant and bright but also eager to contribute something meaningful for the institution. However, mainly uninspiring leadership doesn’t let them do anything productive, so, they become a part of dull campus routine or focus on personal pursuits. A true leader would simply unleash this creative core.
Towards the conclusion, good selection of educational leaders can amazingly change the academic landscape. Surely, it will not resolve all the educational issues related curriculum, textbooks, training of the teachers, examination system, and so on. However, competent leaders of the institutions can still turn intellectual wastelands into seats of learning. There are indeed some great examples of leadership, commitment, and hard work. Despite constraints, they did give their best to the institutions they lead. They earned respect and left their mark. The role of the department is to find such leaders and also to let them work.
Shahid Anwar is a social and political analyst based in Islamabad. He has been writing for Dawn, The Nation, The News, and Weekly Cutting Edge The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.