Dare to be righteous

8th July 2005 at 01:00
School heads should lead by example in teaching the world's children about community values leadership experts Jonathan Jansen and Peter Hullah tell Yojana Sharma

Leadership is in crisis. The Catholic church appears rudderless in the wake of child-sex scandals. Business leadership is losing integrity following major scandals such as Enron. And few people nowadays take their lead from politicians.

So school leaders have their work cut out to inspire and communicate values.

So says Jonathan Jansen, dean of education at the University of Pretoria, who with the Rt Reverend Peter Hullah, Bishop of Ramsbury, in Wiltshire, and a former headteacher, will this week be calling on school leaders to step into the breach.

"There is no such thing as value-free education. The values a school chooses to highlight affect the values the community chooses to develop. So schools take a lead in shaping the community," says Mr Hullah. "Schools can be courageous in teaching character and how to be better citizens."

He adds: "You can teach children about justice and they will want to grow up in a community which is just."

Professor Jansen agrees that school leaders must take on a broader moral leadership role. "Children in schools are learning how to know but not how to live together," he says. He refers to poverty-stricken black children in rural areas of South Africa and immigrant children in British and European inner cities as not being included in the community.

Both Professor Jansen and Mr Hullah are giving keynote speeches at the International Conference of Principals in Cape Town this week on ethics and values in education. And they both draw on their experiences in rural Africa for examples of leadership which reaches out to entire communities, even though these heads are, in Professor Jansen's words, "quite ordinary people".

"There are many examples of how, in a very poor, highly rural area, you can develop an effective leadership style," says Mr Hullah. Important attributes include the ability to see problems as challenges rather than obstacles, he says. He cites Thiong Aquei, of Renk secondary school in Sudan, who broke taboos to bring a mixture of Christians and Muslims into his church secondary. Last year more than 40 teenagers from his 200-pupil school went on to higher education. In most schools none would go.

Mr Hullah worked in rural Kenya as a teacher, then attended Makerere university in Kampala, Uganda, before becoming head of King's school in Canterbury and running Sevenoaks school's international centre. In recent years he has visited schools in East Africa, South Africa and Western Australia and has found many examples of the way schools integrate in a community and lead it.

"It can be in rural Sudan, a multicultural school in inner-city London, or a prestigious religious school in Western Australia," he says."Community leadership can be anywhere."

For example, a Cape Town secondary provides basic accommodation to orphans.

"From that they realise that school is a very important place to be," Mr Hullah says. Or a Ugandan school, Trinity college in Nabbingo, near Kampala, which worked hard to ensure girls were given opportunities for education. It imparts the idea that sexism is wrong.

As the first black dean of a white university in South Africa, Professor Jansen knows what it is to lead in an unequal society.

"But problems of race and gender cannot be resolved by taking up a self-help book. It is not about theories, but how to do it," he says. This can be achieved by emulating good leadership. "Values resonate powerfully if leaders are fairly ordinary people."

No head should be exempt. "It is about your own character. If you insist leadership should be transferred to the government, the local education authority or whoever you want to blame, then you fail the children and you fail the community."

Professor Jansen was born in Montague, a small town in rural Cape Province, designated a black town under apartheid. He grew up in Cape Town and was one of the first black people to go to university in 1976 - the year of the Soweto uprising.

"I attended the University of the Western Cape, it was very difficult, very racist and very far - I needed five different modes of transport to get there," he says.

Later he taught in rural areas, then won a Bishop Tutu bursary for blacks with a South African degree to study overseas. That led to a Masters in science education from Cornell university and a doctorate from Stanford in international development education.

He now runs workshops on leadership and values in rural parts of South Africa. He starts by getting white headteachers in white-dominated schools to reform their admissions policies so they do not exclude blacks. He also encourages white heads in black-dominated schools - black heads are still in the minority -to include the cultural background of the majority of his pupils on the curriculum. "Everyone must feel part of the project. You can only reconcile people on the assumption that both sides are starting from the same place," he says. "A school must work just as well for the black personality as the white personality, the girl or the boy, the rich or the poor."

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