Bangladesh is experiencing a revolutionary emergence in the education sector since the government of Bangladesh started implementation work on the United Nations (UN) ‘Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)’ where quality of education has been given top priority. Hence, apart from primary, secondary, higher secondary education and their equivalents, higher education is also prioritised equally.
At present, higher education is provided by degree colleges, university colleges, universities and other specialised professional institutions in the country. Among these institutions, the tertiary colleges affiliated with National University (NU) receive prominent attention from the Department of Education to perform the momentous responsibility in transforming the youths into skilled manpower.To fulfil the SDG vision in tertiary education, ‘Head of the Department’ (HoD) plays an important role in the ongoing well-being of academic life. The leadership role of the Head of the Department (HoD) is fundamental to the effective progress of academic environment. The HoD as the instructional leader, generally provides direction, manages resources, supports lecturers and students and ensures a sound climate for academic activities.
They coordinate, assist and evaluate learning and research programs, organise in-service trainings for teachers. Besides, they help teachers to identify, analyse and solve learning problems, provide timely and constructive feedback, identify strengths and weakness to guide teachers for more effective and efficient performance. They also increase teacher’s decision-making responsibilities, support teacher autonomy, take risk, observe classrooms and protect instructional time.
Moreover, the HoDs monitor student progress, recognise and celebrate student and staff achievements, develop professional opportunities with recourse, create a common vision for improving students’ learning. They should set goal to boost students’ achievement, organise and coordinate effective and efficient outcome, maintain good relationships to create collaboration and commitment among teachers. In fact, instructional leadership of the HoD aims at achieving academic excellence within the particular subject area.
In Bangladesh, the department-based academic and administrative activities at tertiary colleges are done by the direct instruction and supervision of HoDs. In this situation, the HoDs at the tertiary colleges of Bangladesh are, by default, in challenging positions to effectuate efficacious leadership in realising effective education. While their accomplished decisions and guidance shape the overall success of the tertiary institutions, and as such have significant impact on higher education.
The HoDs at tertiary colleges of Bangladesh constantly encounter multifaceted challenges arising from specific political and social situations, traditional methods of teaching and other human and non-human factors which they need to deal with conspicuously. Higher authorities pay little attention to the preparation of HoDs. Indeed, most of the HoDs have no clear understanding of their job responsibilities.
In addition, they have very little recognition, power or authority to enforce compliance, reward good work or ensure cooperation. On the contrary, in many cases, they lack the training to conceptualise leadership as their role has not undergone much scrutiny or clarification.Many HoDs do not feel comfortable taking a supervisory role and do not feel that they have the authority to enforce administrative decisions and manage teachers. The HoDs have both administrative and teaching responsibilities but they are often conflicted as to which role to occupy. Role conflict and role ambiguity cause emotional distress and job dissatisfaction. There seems to be some disparity between how the role is viewed by the administrators and the HoDs themselves. Nothing can affect instructional improvement more than lack of leaders’ will, vision and courage.
Besides, economic, political, social or technological variations, lack of skills, trainings and cooperation from superiors and community, inadequate amount of time and resources, etc., are challenges to the effectiveness of HoDs. Negative attitudes, ambiguous beliefs, fragmented or unclear concepts of education, lack of resources and inadequate preparation of teachers are challenges in implementing effective education.
Moreover, although the tertiary colleges are affiliated with NU, the instructional leaders, teachers and staff are governed by the Ministry of Education (MoE). So, the gap between NU and MoE in academic management and operations prevents a healthy and effective learning atmosphere as well as potential instructional leadership practice.
According to a report of Ministry of Education, Bangladesh (2010), lack of leadership knowledge and administrative skills, scarcity of educational materials and finance, insufficient incentive for teachers, problems with promotions, poor infrastructure, inadequate technical support, lack of commitment, insufficient posts, high workload, unwillingness to use modern technology and scarce support or acknowledgement are the common challenges faced by the HoDs in Bangladesh.
In addition, other challenges faced by the HoDs include disconnection with departmental subcultures, norms for teacher autonomy, inadequate preparation of teachers and insufficient training opportunities. The HoDs can offer support and facilitate change but how and why, is a matter of debate.
So what are the after effects? Challenges faced by the HoDs at tertiary colleges in Bangladesh undoubtedly affect the success of their role and responsibilities.
More precisely, role ambiguity, uncongenial working environment, insufficient professional development and resources, insufficient pre-service preparation, absence of passable mutual trust amongst the colleagues, rigid educational framework, scarce knowledge on pedagogical contents, teacher absentee-ism, etc., are accountable for the managerial ineffectiveness of an academic HoD. Besides, their effectiveness as instructional leaders is reduced by the lack of willingness to assess staff and organise the community, as well as courage to undertake challenges and reluctance to devote more time for instructional issues.
However, our study has made some recommendations about removing the challenges of the HoDs as the instructional leaders. These recommendations are particularly related to policy-makers, principals and the HoDs. For sustainable development in instructional leadership practice, the main components of HoDs (mind, knowledge and strategy) should be developed.
Since negativity of mind cannot be controlled without mentoring and spirituality, instructional leaders should be given spiritual training (demonstration on building a free mind through proper handling of ego, greed, jealousy, anger, self-centredness, etc.) and mentoring by spiritual mentors. In middle age, this type of training was given to make highly wise and positive minded leaders at Paharpur and Mainamati in Bangladesh. Thus, re-establishment of mentoring system can be a solution.
Our study also reveals that most of the HoDs at tertiary colleges in Bangladesh do not have proper training on leadership and guidelines regarding administration. As a result, they are not aware of their roles and responsibilities. Therefore, the pre-service and in-service training of department heads should be ensured.
Besides, orientation programme for the new HoDs with the involvement of experienced HoDs is also suggested. Above all, to avoid role ambiguity, letters of appointment to the HoDs should include detailed specification of roles and responsibilities.
To ensure the effectiveness of their instructional leadership, existing promotion system might be revised as it does not encourage professional development. Promotion based on research experience and publication of articles in journal should be initiated immediately at tertiary colleges and the HoDs should be chosen based on their management skills.
More importantly, the HoDs should be properly empowered to perform to the best of their ability to improve departmental success and accordingly provided with training on the use of ICT tools and facilities to ensure a supportive learning environment for the students in order to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
(This article is an abridged version of a research paper published in the IOSR Journal of Humanities and Social Science)
Md. Robiul Islam is Assistant Professor and Head, Department of English, Ishwardi Government College, Pabna, Bangladesh;
Protiva Rani Karmaker is Associate Professor and Director, Institute of Modern Languages, Jagannath University, Dhaka, Bangladesh;
Ashim Kumar Paul is Lecturer, Department of English, Ishwardi Government College, Pabna, Bangladesh