IT’S been said that there is nothing called darkness; it’s just the absence of light.
Similarly, there is nothing called a problem; it’s just the absence of solutions.
In the same vein, decadence and poverty result from the lack of concern to move limbs to act on common sense solutions to improve on one’s conditions.
I’ve often suggested that Chapter 13, “Greening Singapore” (from Lee Kuan Yew’s book, “From Third World to First”, published in 2000) should be a required reading for ministers, parliamentarians, assembly men, key public servants, students and school managers across the board.
In that chapter, Yew recounted how he had visited almost 50 countries and stayed in nearly as many official guest houses.
He said, “What impressed me was not the size of their buildings but the standard of their maintenance.
I knew when a country and its administrators were demoralised from the way the buildings had been neglected – wash basins cracked, taps leaking, water closets not functioning, a general dilapidation and inevitably, unkempt gardens.”
He noted that foreign visitors and important investors would judge Singapore the same way.
He said, “We kept down flies and mosquitoes and cleaned up smelly drains and canals … Perseverance and stamina were needed to fight old habits: People walked over plants, trampled on grass, despoiled flowerbeds.
And it was not just the poorer people who were the offenders …”
Schools as oases of excellence
The key challenges were in overcoming the initial indifference of the public, to go beyond their “rough and ready” ways, to stop the littering, noise nuisance, the rudeness and so on.
So Yew targeted the schools with what he called the “clean and green” movement.
He wrote: “we educated their children in schools by getting them to plant trees, care for them and grow gardens. They brought the message back to their parents.
We had all other schools and sports fields and stadia similarly treated.
The bare patches around the goal posts with sparse, tired-looking yellow grass were soon carpeted green. Gradually, the whole city greened up.”
Management of public schools in Ghana
Teaching is an important profession as it is supposed to hold educators to high professional standards, especially in the “soft skills” or “affective” areas of cleanliness, punctuality, preparation, empathy, love and respect for the other, personal organisation, grooming, etc.
What is missing with a good many heads in our public school system is the indifference or dispirited attitude, especially the qualities mentioned above.
A culture of order, safety and cleanliness can be developed in everyone.
So the questions arise: Who should manage the public schools to the highest professional standards?
Or conversely, what must the roles of the school heads be to align with best practices?
It helps a great deal for heads to have evolved from the school system.
But these days, effective school heads must have been trained intentionally in management skills for the top job.
Teaching experiences, of course, will help with knowledge of the landscape, but that alone will not suffice in this day and age.
Involvement with public relations, community engagement, fund raising and digital expertise to connect with the schools’ alumni are key considerations.
Leaders must choose a path in management and grow their careers to become professional managers
Another key role is the connections with the business communities to benefit from their Corporate Social Responsibilities – CSRs; for example, “adopt a school programme” where businesses donate and help to manage relevant teaching and learning equipment.
Again, with the advent of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), for example, school heads must be trained with the expertise for the writing of local corporate or international grants.
The three key assistants
Principals and assistants tend to evolve out of the teaching experience, but they must then specialise for administrative roles appropriate for each position.
The heads must be assisted by three key assistants or the three key pillars to perform their critical functions and show results.
The heads must, of course, be quite visible in their role of supervising the assistants but must be weaned from the excessively mundane activities.
First assistant: Instruction, training teachers, monitoring and evaluation. Not just any assistant but one with a strong teaching experience to handle instruction or pedagogy and mentor teachers, etc.
Second assistant: School administration including finance, attendance, payroll, students and parents affairs, etc.
Third assistant: Clean environment, repairs and maintenance of buildings and equipment, school gardens, domestic needs including dining, water, toilets, general sanitation, etc.
People are quick to want to grab positions, but can they perform? Mediocrity in a good many of our public schools does not just happen, they are caused by those entrusted with positions which they clearly can’t manage properly or hesitant to manage to the best of their abilities.
One can understand the discomfort some may have about the true picture on the ground, but there's no choice to save the public schools from apathy and neglect.
The naked truth is that even a cursory walk into most of our public schools – especially the basic schools – reveal the environmental filth, dust, broken doors, windows, chairs and desks – piled on top of one another – reflecting the lack of leadership and administrative discipline.
The author is a teacher of teachers, leadership coach and quality education advocate.