Good heads make good schools

More than 150 educationists attended a three-day seminar this week to examine our education system. Participants agreed on a range of problems frustrating education in our country ranging from inadequate infrastructure to ineffective teaching methodologies.

The seminar was an excellent idea. And recommendations were good. But nothing is new. Education workshops and seminars have time and again identified the same problems and agreed on similar strategies to improve education. Why? Because no matter how many times we met, we hardly ever followed through on the important decisions. So the quality of education, let’s face it, remains poor.

It wasn’t always so. In the early 1980s, some schools were widely regarded as education powerhouses. Punakha, Yangchuenphug and Khaling were the dominant schools at that time – they produced some of the finest students, many of who have gone on to do well in life.

Today, I’m afraid, it is difficult to point out any school that performs consistently well. All our schools seem to be equally mediocre, at best. What’s going on? Why have even our top schools gone bad? The problems and their cures have been extensively catalogued through countless seminars and workshops, but we are yet to see a noticeable improvement in the education system.

So while we wait for across the board improvements, consider Punakha, Khaling and Yangchenphug. Can we improve these three schools at least? Or for that matter any three schools? And make them into centres of education excellence?

True, a lot of work would need to done. Even for just three schools. But think about what Punakha, Khaling and Yangchenphug had in common in the 80’s. All three had very good principals – Father Coffey in Punakha; Father Mackey in Khaling, and Mr Tyson in Yangchuenphug. Some say that those principals were good because they had a lot of power. And that’s the point. Good principals need authority and autonomy to do a good job.

So can we identify three capable principals? Or a dozen, perhaps? And give them the challenge of improving their respective schools? They’ll need some amount of power and autonomy to get the job done. But they will succeed, even with minimal extra support.

Difficult, you say? I agree. We’ve corrupted our system so much that it’s difficult to spot potential, ability and commitment. That’s why all our good principals go unnoticed. When we do, its difficult to acknowledge, cultivate and reward them. That’s why our good principals don’t feel appreciated. Most importantly, we find it extrememly diffcicult to devolve real power and authority to schools. And that’s why our principals find it so hard to deliver.

But that’s no reason for inaction. Our children’s future is at stake.


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  1. think the prominence of some schools also had to do with the countable number of high schools…and as for the ppl who have gone to do possible reason for that is …lots of opportunity with very few educated people..i am reminded of times

  2. I agree that ‘good heads make good schools.’ That’s perhaps the very reason our education system has taken a snail’s qualitative paces in the past decades with ‘not so good’ ‘heads’ (literally). We don’t tire of coming back to the same issue of our quality of education being poor year on and year end.

    I remember my school times when we had great teachers (all non national and serious about their business); the best facilities (particularly the lab, the hostels); and adequate resources (the library, for instance). Those were golden times in the old era of educational history. The Principals were Jesuit Fathers (very action oriented), and girls (mostly shy) were taken care of by nuns (highly moral character conscious and rigid).

    Life was difficult, having to wake up in the early hours for morning study and then some gardening before breakfast and again some gardening in the evenings if not games. Hostel cleaning was students’ own responsibility, on top of carrying of firewood and washing of the dining hall during the weekend being the responsibility of girls. But, it wasn’t just outdoor work. There was indoors needle-pulling-thread (embroidery) and wool-over-needle (knitting) and other art and crafts works (such as, making painted cards) that girls especially engaged in for the fete day when the products would be exhibited and sold as well. Games were played by both girls (net ball and throw ball) and boys (football) almost every evening. Gymnastics among boys was promoted personally by Rev. Fr. Mackey.

    Then there was the almost perfect annual concert that constituted a variety of items from across the globe, with preparations taking the whole year. It felt good to pretend to be somebody from another country, singing and dancing in merriment in the right outfit. A splendidly acted out Shakespeare Play would also be awaited anxiously almost every year. Anything that was done was done with excellence and it was all due to the passionate involvement of the teachers themselves and the truly good leadership of a strong school system. Well, did they enjoy any reward or incentives or did they just do it out of passion is something that may be debated. (Today, we talk mostly of incentives.)

    Reflecting back on those days, it makes me wonder if we did actually have a ‘wholesome education’ that we talk about today but see no signs of wholesome development in individuals. Education those days built character as much as it accumulated academic merit. What we did not, however, learn was to anticipate the cut throat world where you could live a decent life only if you exhibited the skills that went against all good values that were inherent in the Buddha nature of education. Do we then say, “Education was not farsighted”? Or, that “Education has been wronged by humanity”?

    Of our education system today, do we say “a losing battle” or “lost hope”?

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