A global view on education and responsible leadership

The need for responsible leadership is prevalent in just about every domain of life. Unfortunately, this is not the lived experience in many sectors and areas of the world. From the prolific failures of governments in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic - including UK leaders’ complete disregard for the safety restrictions that they themselves made law - to billionaire corporation CEOs getting ever wealthier while their companies’ employees suffer complete disrespect for their rights as workers and as human beings.

The global impact of irresponsible leadership in the education sector is equally worrying, both with respect to the pandemic and overall. French President Macron recently hinted at a future removal of free or affordable access to higher education, a potential step back in the face of the UN’s fourth SDG of ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education for all.

Around the world, responsible leadership - at government level as well as in classrooms - has the potential to transform education for the better and in turn shape the living of ethics and values in society. With this in mind, regional programme executives have shared their own experience and insights on the situation of education and the need for responsible leadership in India and Kenya respectively.

In India, Dr. John Methuselah, Adikavi Nannaya University and Ms. Rajula V, India National Officer explain, a major shift in the education system can be observed between pre- and post-British rule. Initially, children were educated in Gurukuls [guru-led schools] which was later modified when the modern education system was introduced. After India became independent, the constitution committed six fundamental rights, of which one was the Right to Education. It allowed free education for every child up between the age of 6 and 14 years.

With that said, the education system in India still faces major challenges, particularly in terms of funding, infrastructure, and the quality of education including student-teacher ratio. In the past few years, many beneficial steps have been taken to allocate adequate budget for education services. With the government focusing on digital education, there is a pressing need to equip schools, especially in rural areas, with the necessary infrastructure. If responsible leadership continues to favour the education system in terms of investment, India may soon overcome the current challenges, predict Rajula and John.

The number of students in search of proper education in India is much larger than the teachers and faculty available. Thus, qualified teachers must be appointed to impart knowledge to the future of the country. With the New Education Policy 2020 in place, political leaders have put their focus on recruiting and skilling teachers, as well as implementing student-centred experiential deployable learning. Through vocational and skills-based training to help drive students towards their desired career, Rajula and John believe higher education in India could become more purposeful and ethical.

By improving the quality of education in terms of infrastructure, funding, student-teacher ratio, and prioritising students’ skills, ideas and creativity, significant steps will be made to encourage students to stay in India for their education rather than studying abroad. In turn, these students will empower the country through their knowledge and eventually sustain the cycle of responsible leadership.

Similar challenges and opportunities face the education system in Kenya, explains Herbert Makinda, Programme Executive for Eastern Africa. Higher education institutions, particularly universities, traditionally have a threefold function. Namely, teaching, research and community service. Universities in Kenya endeavour to achieve these functions amid a myriad of challenges. Some of these challenges have been present for a long time, yet others have been triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, globally, 20 years of progress in education was wiped out by the pandemic.

At an institutional level, leadership issues include understaffing and recruitment, mismanagement of resources, management of online teaching and credible online assessment of learning. The issue of understaffing has a huge impact on the education system. Increased class sizes place strain on the few teaching staff who remain, so institutions resort to employing teaching staff on a part-time basis to supplement the shortfall. However, this does not solve the situation entirely. Students are often unable to reach their part-time teachers for consultation and are hence denied the much-needed teacher-student interaction in the learning process.

Academic staff concentrating more on the teaching function of the institution also comes at the expense of the research that is so needed to solve new and existing problems in society and to foster innovation for sustainable development.

Mismanagement of institutional resources and poor accountability practices or lack thereof also have a profound effect on the education system. In some cases, this has even led to institutions being unable to meet obligations, particularly in terms of finance.

While institutions try as much as possible to follow the criteria laid down for recruitment and promotion, these processes are often not carried out transparently, leading to skewed regional representation at times.

The COVID-19 situation has also brought on board its own fair share of challenges. Many institutions found themselves unprepared for online and distance learning which became the only alternative during the lockdown period. A lack of technology facilitating online lessons hindered many students from participating in the learning process at the time.

Similarly, there was the issue of confidence on the part of students and staff to shift to the new normal. Institutions tried to set up platforms for online learning, training both the teachers and students on how to engage, but further challenges emerged in regard to attendance and participation especially where large groups were involved.

Online assessment also posed a big challenge. With the relaxing of lockdown restrictions, institutions are adopting a blended model of teaching and learning where a certain percentage of lectures are taken online and others face to face.

Solving the challenges facing higher education institutions in Kenya would require action-oriented scientific educational research to inform educational policy and legislation, suggests Herbert. Similarly, conferences and courses on ethics and other topics affecting educational leadership can play a big role in bringing out these issues for discussion and further engagement. Deliberate efforts should be made to continuously train and induct academic staff on various subjects relevant to their work.

Universities should also revise their curriculum to respond to the needs of society and focus on innovation in the areas of information communication and technology, as well as fostering collaborations with industries and the government, Herbert concludes.

In each of the above cases detailing the education situation in India and Kenya respectively, it is clear that responsible leadership would go a long way in resolving the issues that schools and universities are experiencing. With that said, the questions of what responsible leadership means and entails, and how leaders should lead, remain pertinent. It is against the backdrop of these key questions that the Academy’s Responsible Leadership course is set. Learners - be it teaching staff, institutional directors, or government officials - are invited to develop critical thinking on the theory and practice of leadership. The twelve online modules encourage an understanding of leadership in the context of the ethics and values in democratic societies and of the management of differences within and across cultures.

Through ongoing training on subjects such as ethics, responsibility and accountability, leaders in education systems will be empowered to make informed ethical judgements about existing norms and rules, for example, in the recruitment of new teachers. They will feel confident engaging in long-term thinking and aspire to positive change, for example, in driving innovation through research and curriculum. Finally, they will participate in effective communication and collective problem-solving, for example, in fostering a student-centred education system, as in India.

While there is still a long way to go globally until the UN SDG #4 is achieved, ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education for all, the opportunities for positive change detailed by our regional programme stakeholders around the world give great hope. At, we strive to create a world in which people, and especially leaders, are educated in, informed by and act according to ethical values and thus contribute to building sustainable, just and peaceful societies. We strongly believe that an education system founded on ethical values and driven by responsible leaders is a key way to achieve this world.

With many thanks to Dr. John Methuselah, Ms. Rajula V and Herbert Makinda for their contributions to this global view of education.

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