A Karmayogi retires from government service


A Karmayogi retires from government service

Mr. Mohammed Najibulla Baig ('Baigsaab') joined the Karnataka Education Services (KES) as an 'Additional Educational Officer' (AEO) in Gundlupet taluka in the then undivided Mysore district in 1978, and retired on April 30 as Director RMSA after a rich and distinguished service of around 35 years. This is a brief and selective exploration of that journey.

Nali Kali

As an Education Officer of Mysore district, in 1995, Baigsaab led a group of teachers to the Rishi Valley school1, Madanapalli to study their teaching-learning processes. From this exposure, the group evolved the 'Nali Kali' (joyful learning) methodology of teaching-learning, requiring the child to participate actively in classroom transaction, emphasising peer learning as well as individual learner support by the teacher, recognising the existence of multi-grade classrooms, and the movement of each learner from one level to the next within one class. In the government school system, curriculum design and material development are firmly within the locus of the state level institutions. The definition and contextualisation of these processes in the 'Nali Kali' programme in all schools in HD Kote was an extraordinary attempt. The spirit of collaboration and agency that Nali Kali triggered amongst the HD Kote teachers and their whole-hearted participation in making this programme effective made Baigsaab a hero in the national education scene. Baigsaab was no typical 'hero', but instead a good exemplar of a 'servant leader2 '.

Servant leader

Having worked in the corporate sector for nearly two decades before moving to the development sector, I have been able to first hand appreciate the far greater challenges in leading public institutions. While leaders in the business sector do face dynamic and complex environments, the challenges faced by public institutions are far more complex3; the need to help create a clear and coherent vision amongst a very large set of actors, the ability to put aside ones egoistic or selfish pursuits and adopting a 'selfless service' mentality, as well as negotiating conflicting pulls and pressures from multiple sources all make a public institutional leaders' job nearly impossible. We often see the wrong models – the autocratic 'know-all' leader, the 'good leader who takes no decisions or avoids initiative', the leader who instrumentalises/ rents his role/ position. In this challenging environment, Baigsaab was an amazing embodiment of servant leadership - dedicated, humble, self-less, reticent to an extreme, focussed on the primary task of the department; for education to be a true empowering process for children.

He was a true Karma Yogi – focusing all his energies on what mattered most, working very hard, expecting his team to do likewise (not by pushing them or being aggressive but in a gentle matter-of-fact manner), in whatever role he was assigned – whether in DSERT (curriculum design, material development and teacher education), or in the examination board (assessments) or in RMSA (project mode), or even in a NGO (Azim Premji Foundation). Yet he was like a duck, calm above the water and furiously paddling beneath, not getting upset when the efforts did not lead to the desired results. He was therefore rarely 'down'. Even if he may have had frustrations in engaging with a huge and complex system, it never showed in his countenance, which was always one of a gentle smile on his lips and a naughty twinkle in his eyes. He lived the most famous stanza of the Bhagavad Geeta – 'Your right is only to action, not to the fruits thereof. Let not the fruit of action be your motive, nor should you be attached to inaction'.

Pedagogical leadership

Baigsaab also was cast in the mould of the 'pedagogical leader'4. Understanding educational administration to merely provide support for its primary academic priorities, he would attempt in the roles he performed, to spend significant time in delving into the design of teacher training programmes, or in providing inputs into curriculum design and development. Even as director RMSA, where there would be thousands of administrative priorities to attend to, he would give lot of time to the design of the STF (Subject Teacher Forum programme). Several times, he held day long meetings with the RMSA and IT for Change (ITfC) teams; these would begin around 11 am and go late into the evening, even up to 8 pm, with no break at all for coffee/tea or even lunch!

Pedagogical leadership as a director of DSERT is far more complex, and his initiative in encouraging and facilitating DIET faculty to share the tasks of designing curriculum and creating materials in a collaborative manner was much appreciated. Smt. Geetha, DIET Principal Chikballapur says, “He was able to encourage the DIETs to collaborate and share responsibilities in preparation of the Chatuvatike Khajane (Activity Bank) covering all classes and subjects, which was extremely useful to teachers. This helped also in the capacity and confidence building of the DIET faculty”

He was given several additional responsibilities, a recognition of the trust reposed in him by his seniors in the department. As Director RMSA, he presented the SSA plan to MHRD, provided oversight to the RTE cell, double acted as Director Secondary Education etc. He was also highly skilled in administration, “able to easily and quickly identify solutions to the most knotty problems”, as Smt. Manjula, SADPI, who earlier worked with him at DSERT, puts it.

Subject Teacher Forum (STF)

From his initial fame with the Nali Kali programme, his final and fine achievement was perhaps the STF, a RMSA programme to integrate Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), to pioneer a new model of teacher-education, that was peer-learning based, continuous, self-directed along the lines discussed in the National Curricular Framework on Teacher-education, 2010. As he says in a small film (prepared for UNESCO, a partner in the STF programme and available on www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-kgSW_o9z8&feature=youtu.be), “If teachers are able to make use of the educational tools available free of cost with Ubuntu, and adapt them in their own learning and in their classroom transactions, it would be a great move forward. Looking at the way teachers have been able to access digital resources, interact on the website and on the mailing lists, and develop activities (using ICTs) I am totally enthused.”

He can justly be called the father of the STF programme (which combined physical workshops of teachers with on-line methods such as email lists and web portal based interactions for continuous learning) – with his clear and continuous support to its design and implementation. Apart from driving its basic conceptualisation, he actively participated in many of the (over 50) state level workshops to develop master resource persons, speaking first hand with these teachers to share his ideas and to listen to their suggestions as well as issues and problems. As was his trademark, he would never trivialise any complaint, nor would he take easy recourse to clichéd responses (which those who are unable to grapple with the complexities of the huge government system sometimes do – such as asking for 'motivation' of teachers as the solution to all problems!). He would attentively listen and provide his thoughts on possible resolutions, all within the ambit of the procedures and norms of the system, but interpreting these in their best spirit.

Apart from such participation in Bangalore, he also visited the cascade workshops at the districts and also participated by video-conferencing from his own laptop using video-conferencing freeware, encouraging resource persons and teachers with his insights of this blended model of teacher-education. He also regularly responded to teachers on the mailing lists, sharing relevant web-links, encouraging teachers who had evolved as academic leaders in the forum, providing his perspectives on administrative issues relating to the programme etc. The STF programme perhaps re-kindled his faith in collaboration as a primary method in education and in the public system. While Nali Kali approach supported the agency and development of primary school teachers, the STF was a similar attempt for high school teachers.

My interactions with Baigsaab

I was fortunate to interact with Baigsaab over an entire decade from 2004 till 2013. When I left the corporate sector to join an NGO - the Azim Premji Foundation (APF) - around the same time, he was deputed from the Karnataka Education department into APF5. He initially worked in the 'Academics and Pedagogy' team, providing academic oversight to the CAL (Computer Aided Learning) programme, but soon shifted to Surpur, one of the most socio-economically and educationally backward talukas of Karnataka, to lead the 'Child Friendly School' (CFS) programme, for more than three years. Even as he was promoted from the cadre of Senior Assistant Director of Public Instruction (SADPI) to Deputy Director and to Joint Director within the department during this period, he concentrated his efforts in a single block, happy interacting first hand with teachers, when his peers went on to lead district and divisional educational geographies (as deputy and joint directors). 

On being promoted to the position of Director, he was chosen to lead DSERT, the apex academic institution in the education department, responsible for teacher-education and curriculum, where guided the up scaling of Nali Kali programme across the entire state for classes 1 and 2, investing huge efforts on training teachers through the cascade mode, ensuring that classroom layout was changed to meet its needs (establishing learning corners etc.), development of suitable materials for supporting as well as monitoring, the learning of each child.

Given the intensity of the Nali Kali methodology, this was no mean effort, as it required a very large number of teachers working with class 1 and 2 children to adopt new transaction methodologies and a new way of understanding children's learning processes (moving from passive reception and memorisation of facts to active engagement with material and process).

Public software

Baigsaab was comfortable in using office suite applications during his stint with the Azim Premji Foundation. When I moved to IT for Change (from APF) and he became Director DSERT, I went to discuss with him a design for a teacher-education programme using free and open source applications. My passionate and ardent pleas for OpenOffice left him bemused – he saw me as a marketing agent for OpenOffice who needed to be dealt with carefully as any agent of Microsoft Office! After several meetings and rounds of explanations, he accepted the Free and Open Source arguments and philosophy, though as the leader of the very large government school system, it was the 'free of cost' feature of FOSS that he liked the most. He replaced his own laptop operating system with Ubuntu, and began exploring educational tools that were bundled in the 'Kalpavriksha' custom Ubuntu distribution. In his interactions with teachers in the STF workshops, he would emphasise the benefits of FOSS – free for teachers to use and share for their development and explaining that 'user comfort and convenience' came from simply using these FOSS applications.

Retired life – intense action in continued calm

Though the article is in the past tense, speaking of Baigsaab as an ex-government servant, I am hopeful (and expect) that Baigsaab will spend his 'calm retired life' in a manner similar to his work life – by engaging seriously and actively with efforts for quality education in Karnataka. With the constraints and limitations (as well as positional power) of government service removed, his personal abilities and skills would undoubtedly flow much more in the years and decades to come. In his retirement speech, in his tongue-in-cheek manner, Baigsaab said that he looked forward to a retired life and had no concerns about finances etc, since he had been incapable of spending his entire salary, while in service, and was hopeful of being able to spend fully his pension post retirement! Baigsaab - it is not only about spending your income post retirement, but also your inexhaustible energies and ideas on universalising education of an equitable quality in our country”

Gurumurthy Kasinathan, Director, IT for Change

1  School of the Krishnamurti Foundation, whose basic approach is to help each child develop as a thinker and learner in a secure and fearless environment

3   and those in education system even more so where there is an additional basic tension between bureaucratic/administrative and developmental/academic approaches and priorities

4  Thomas J. Sergiovanni - Leadership as pedagogy, capital development and school effectiveness

5  I was deputed by APF into the Policy Planning Unit, a collaboration of APF with the Education department, located at DSERT and later office of the Commissioner, where I worked for four years, around the same time he was in Surpur, on deputation to APF from the government