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By G. Balasubramanian

The objective of Disruptive Leadership

Disruptive leadership is not a destructive leadership. It is a leadership that challenges the status quo, the routines, the linear thinking and the way a system operates so that some amount of re-engineering is done to make the system more productive, more effective, more economic more meaningful and simpler. In trying to do so, the disruptive leadership shakes the system sending its signals all along the system, keeping all the stakeholders on their toes so that they are able to reinvent their lost energy to engage with the system for better goals.

The features of Disruptive Leadership

Some general features for disruptive leadership are:

1. The disruptive leaders generally tend to break the rules and established and accepted practices.

2. They always come with challenging questions which have answers that demand insight.

3. They believe in collaborative leadership and engage across the structural design of the organization testing the validity of its fundamentals.

4. They are decisive about their path and aggressively impact people for transformation than change

5. They do not hesitate to ‘clean up’ processes, people and production line to ensure focused results.

6. They are willing to outwit the resistance and prove their point to people to make them partners in progress:

Why Indian Education needs Disruptive Leadership?

Given the above meaning and purpose for the disruptive leadership, I think the time is ripe for a disruptive leadership in education for the Indian eco-system. There is no denial of the fact that the current system of education is experiencing certain amount of lethargy, purposelessness, lack of goal orientation, irrelevance to the emerging contexts, arbitrariness, chaos, leave alone the much-desired quality orientation. I can vouch I am no pessimist, but the narrations at the town hall are quite loud and audible. While there could be several reasons that have contributed to this state of affairs, one major factor is that the destiny of education in this country has been designed more in the political corridors rather than academic platforms. Leave alone, the lack of adequate allocation for education in this country, given its vastness, diversity and a long history of negligence, quality has never been a priority in this arena. Compromises of several kinds have been made to accommodate political concerns at the cost of quality. At this juncture, when the country and its education system is expected to compete with global competitors, any further negligence would have a retrograde effect both on its growth and its sustainability in an emerging global competition in the knowledge economy. The words of Peter Drucker should be a cause of concern to many heads of nations: “The knowledge society will inevitably become far more competitive than any society we have yet known for the simple reason that with knowledge being universally accessible there are no excuses for non-performance. There will be no poor countries. There will only be ignorant countries.”

Looking Back

Looking at the history of disruptions in our education system, one may consider the following relevant:

a. The Macaulay Model of Education – which demolished the traditional Indian educational architecture subscribing to individual growth, yet did contribute in modernising the system.

b. Basic Education model proposed by Mahatma Gandhi – relevant to Indian context, but lacked strategies to meet the challenges articulated by the Industrial society.

c. The Kothari Commission Report – the design of the 10+2+3 pattern of education with an affirmation for divergence of education after the secondary school system – failed to achieve its purpose of vocationalising education.

d. The 1986 Education Policy – an engine to accelerate the dynamics of education, but built castles in the air in the absence of adequate resources.

Some successful interventions are establishment of Kendriya Vidyalayas and Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas – with reasonable amount of success for their purpose and delivery. The establishment of open learning systems like NIOS, IGNOU which helped in enabling access but inadequate inputs of quality into the processes made them more existential rather than leaders.

Some Leadership Issues

Agencies mentoring education both at the school level like NCERT and NCTE and those at the higher level like UGC got trapped with mediocrity syndromes fulfilling their budgetary obligations rather than pursuing or guiding excellence. The quality of research in school education has been at its lowest ebb for a few decades now lacking relevance either to current requirements or its futuristic. The design, the control and the quality of teacher education has been a subject of debate in most platforms, as concerns of the managing agencies were more with non-academic norms rather than pursuit of effective indigenous pedagogical constructs. Though private initiatives have put in their best to provide some quality initiatives to education both at the school level as well as at the university level, too much of regimentation and license raj has created roadblocks at every step. At one end, massive structures for professional and management courses at every nook across the country has been allowed, the absence of quality even at forbidding costs forced their failure. With many private players just playing with educational quality without any proven accountability and engaging faculty with mediocrity at low salaries disappointed a large number of clienteles. These institutions continuously face survival issues.

There is a case for disruptive leadership in education, which will restore the pride, the dignity and the excellence in education which the country celebrated for several centuries prior to Macaulay. In all our conflicts with the system, we have marginalized the needs of the learners.

How could it happen?

It appears that the disruptions to education would happen more through the impact of high-voltage informal world rather than the formal world which celebrates obedience of directions rather than freedom of expressions. The formal system will find it difficult either to stop their impact or to respond with the speed it deserves to be met. A disruptive leader acts like a sensor to the future and sets his priorities to ensure the system survives the onslaught of the future. Our education system has to meet this challenge and purpose.

What kind of disruptions our system needs to engage with at its preliminary level?

1. We have gone too far with the Macaulay model of ‘preparing clerks’ in a glorified manner in such a way that ‘white collar jobs’ are celebrated against the ones that involve the squeezing of muscles and nerves. An impression is created even in high end technology institutions that management and consultancies are expressions of ‘intellectual dominance’ defining the high-end professional cadre. However true or not, the focus on developing ‘work force’ with skills suffers a psychological onslaught and is a reflection of an imbalance in the education system. Though initiatives on skill development has gained momentum, there is lack of synergy between operating skills and institutionally delivered skills. The gap is widening day in and day out. This needs to be reversed

2. While we have adopted ‘the British Model’ of school education, and of late ‘the spices of some other countries’ because it opens more avenues for education business – it is important to restore the pride of the roots of Indian education – which gave limitless opportunities for personalized education spanning different fields. Mass production of learners for undefined goals need to be stopped. Native culture and heritage have to be the forerunner and medium for basic learning.

3. “Education” is far more a serious business than preparing learners for certification. The myth of certificates has to be demolished and the consequent competition of playing one learner against another has to be stopped, letting each learner celebrate ‘his own genius’. The concept of schools needs to be reconstructed – moving it away from structures complying with audit norms to those who engage with creativity and innovation – both at the local level and at the global level. We need to remember Aurobindo’s message: “Learning has to happen from near to far.”

4. While the mantra of ‘equity’ has to be worshipped, it should have a rhythmic correlation with ‘excellence’; Playing with numbers is not an indication of performance.

5. Accountability and respectability have to be ensured with public institutions; huge investments on public institutions has not really delivered the basic returns. Performance has to be apprised not in terms of numerical numbers as success indicators but progressive engagement with quality initiatives.

6. Learning is indeed a highly personalized engagement of the learner. Curricular flexibilities need to be put in place and rigid top-down approaches of curricular implementation and resource development like text-books or other educational resources has to be done on a more collaborative basis with equal participation from private initiatives.

7. Talent search, acquisition and nurturing has to be done extensively and nation-wide efforts to support them with financial support systems has to be put in place.

8. Technology-interface has to be strengthened with better support to developing education-technology interfaces through liberal private entrepreneurial support.

9. Professional competency development for educators and educational leaders has to be on-going process and leadership in this area has to be on exclusive merit.

10. Strict rules to liberate children from the menace of competitive coaching has to be laid down, giving the learners age-appropriate stress-free environment.

Education is a reflection of a society’s philosophical, sociological, psychological and scientific thinking. It calls for a highly sensitive leadership that understands the course and the dynamics of the above both at the local and at the global level. Any one can be a positional leader – but the question is: “Does a country want only positional leaders for its growth and future? What are the alternatives?” It is a moot point to consider.

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