Interview with Doon School Headmaster
By ARUN PRATAP SINGH
DEHRADUN, 8 Jul: Eminent academician with over 30 years of teaching and administrative experience at top schools of the country, Dr Jagpreet Singh has recently joined as the eleventh Headmaster of the most famous of Dehradun schools, The Doon School. He was appointed after a thorough selection process by a search committee appointed by the governing board of the school after the headmaster’s post fell vacant as then incumbent Matthew Raggett had to leave office in order to join his family in Germany.
Singh was at Mayo College for over two decades as the Vice Principal and last served Punjab Public School, Nabha, (Punjab) as Headmaster before joining The Doon School. He holds a Master’s Degree in History, has an MPhil in Education and has done his B.Ed. from Ajmer University. He was conferred the Derozio Award for Education and Human Enrichment by the Council of Indian School Certificate Examination in 2014. He also received the Best Teacher’s Award from the Chief Justice of Rajasthan in 2003. He was conferred the Best Principal Performance Award by Global Achievers’ Foundation in 2014. He took out time to speak exclusively to Garhwal Post on various issues. Some excerpts:
You have joined The Doon School as Headmaster in very challenging times when the schools are closed the world over due to the COVID-19 pandemic. How do you plan to take up these very special challenges?
Yes, there are challenges due to COVID-19! It is indeed disappointing to not to find any students in the school when one joins as headmaster. The biggest challenge will be when the students return to the school. Certain SOPs and all possible safety protocols would be in place to make the school the safest place for the students, yes, even safer than their homes. We are preparing for that and we are waiting for the guidelines in this respect from the State and Union Governments. There were challenges that many other schools faced but we did not face and are not going to face in respect of online transfer of knowledge. The Doon School is very well equipped to meet any special demands of these circumstances such as online classes. The school is, I must say, very rich in terms of blended education. Initially, we were not online, but the transition to be fully online has been very smooth for the school! We are fully geared up and if the guidelines are suddenly issued that the schools may open in a fortnight, we can do so! Our medical requirements and setup, as well as the security protocols are in place.
When do you foresee the possibility of residential schools in the country reopening for the students?
We have to wait for the guidelines from the Centre and the state regarding this. For me, it is just a matter of one school and I may be seeing a narrow picture, but the HRD, Ministry of Home Affairs and the Health Departments of the Centre and the state have to take a much larger picture into account. We, therefore, need to go along with the guidelines whenever they are issued. But as far as The Doon School is concerned, as the headmaster and on behalf of my team I can say that we are ready to welcome the students with the confidence to make it totally safe for them here.
As you know, extracurricular activities like sports are also a compulsory element of a school’s life. How would you manage sports and such activities under these special circumstances?
I don’t see students not playing when they come back. Yes, close physical contact might have to be avoided. Instead of 12 a side, it could be six a side in football or cricket or other field events. Some indoor events or games could be avoided for the time being. We might stagger the sports timings!
You have been a highly acclaimed academician and now that you have joined The Doon School, what will be your priorities as the headmaster? And has the Governing Board listed any special priorities for you, as you have come through an intense selection process?
The Doon School is a very special school, I must say. What I would like to see in the Doon School boys is that they pass out as gentlemen who, apart from being confident, can also inspire others. They ought to imbibe correct values and, apart from being fine scholars and sportsmen, they should have holistic personalities with a high value system as global citizens. Their aura should be strong enough to make people ask them if they are from The Doon School! The Doon School has been quite successful in producing very responsible citizens for society. I don’t feel that I need to make big changes here. I believe very much that the objectives and motto of the school have been very clear in this respect as described by the first headmaster, Arthur Foot, “Our boys will join an aristocracy, but it’ll be an aristocracy of service, not one of wealth, privilege or position.” I am here to give a fresh impetus and momentum to carry this forward!
The Doon School is generally perceived as an elitist school perhaps due to the financial and aristocratic background of the students. How do you perceive it?
This is not correct. It is certainly an elite school but not elitist. We have students from every geographical part of the country and a very diverse background, and we are committed to catering to every segment of society with the right value based education. You may be aware that, every year, we also admit children of defence personnel and grant their wards 50 percent scholarship.
Certain education boards like CBSE have announced a reduction in course curriculum by 30 percent for the current and coming sessions. How do you see it? Is it a wise and prudent decision in your opinion?
The decision has its pros and cons! I beg to differ with the decision of the Board. If you ask me, I would say that, if 30 or whatever percentage of the course could be truncated due to Covid, which you may consider as irrelevant, why was it part of the curriculum in the first place? Shortening the course in my opinion will not benefit anyone. The teachers would also not be happy with the incomplete course and the students might have to learn this truncated curriculum later on while appearing for professional education or career competitions, even for connecting to the next class!
Since you have been a history teacher, I need to ask you about this perception which is growing in the country that history has been distorted. There are controversies on many events such as the Aryan invasion. What do you have to say about this?
Well, none of us lived in those times. Even when we look at Mughal history for example, most of what is taught was written by courtiers and, hence, is biased to an extent but when we look at the accounts given by foreign travellers in those times, their version or their observations were different from what had been written by the courtiers. Validation of historical events is very difficult. What is more important from the students’ perspective is the chronology of events. They do get a fair idea of chronology from their study of the subject.
Many of the headmasters here have been foreigners but you are Indian! How different do you expect your tenure to be from theirs?
I can’t say anything about them. Basically, all contributed to what the school is today. As far as I am concerned, I am hardcore Indian and my entire teaching career has been in India.