Learning to lead

Four principles for ministers of education to survive and succeed in government.

Sunny Varkey, Founder, Varkey Foundation

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Learning to lead: Four principles for ministers of education to survive and succeed in government

In October 2017, a distinguished group of former education ministers and heads of government gathered in London for a two-day summit on the role of political leadership in education. This was the inaugural meeting of the Atlantis Group, a unique body which today consists of 25 members from across six continents with over 70 years of combined experience in managing public education systems at the highest level of government.

The purpose of the Atlantis Group is to leverage that collective knowledge and experience and use it to address global challenges in education around the world. The group has a very simple vision: that effective political leadership is the key to delivering education for all.

That vision is desperately needed in the face of today’s global education crisis. The UN’s education agency, UNESCO, has warned that the world is likely to miss its Sustainable Development Goal of delivering quality and inclusive education for all by 2030 unless there is concerted action by the international community. Today, millions of children all around the world are leaving primary school without basic proficiencies in key skills like reading, writing and mathematics, while millions more will never set foot in a classroom.

The Atlantis Group believes that this crisis will not be solved without effective leadership from ministers of education, who manage the world’s public education systems and are directly responsible for the education of the vast majority of the world’s children. Through its members’ extensive discussions, research and reflections on their time in office, the group has identified four broad principles that underpin such leadership.

These are:

  • Respect: A minister will achieve nothing in public office if they don’t have the confidence of their government and command the respect of other key political figures, public bodies and stakeholders.
  • Conviction: A minister will only succeed if they believe in their programme and succeeds in making education an overall priority for their government.
  • Resilience: A successful minister must be able to lead their ministry through systemic challenges and endure unexpected crises.
  • Reform: An effective minister must work to build the capacity of the education system as a whole by fostering leadership, accountability, evaluation and innovationIn this report the Atlantis Group offers its reflections on each principle and addresses a series of recommendations on effective political leadership to serving ministers of education. The group offers the experience, expertise and insight of its members to ministers of education around the world.