Shomie Das, a history in education, and the impact of story-telling

It was an enormous privilege to meet, talk with, and then hear speak, one of the great old Headmasters of our age, Shomie Das, at the World Leading Schools Conference in Prague recently. What a life he has led! And what lessons we can learn from it!

From a highly educated family, steeped in the educational development of the nation – his grandfather founded one of India’s top schools for boys, The Doon School, in 1935 – Shomie did not in fact attend school until he was 11, benefiting from a rigorous and in-depth home education which grounded him in his home language of Bengali as well as in an understanding of the wider world. His subsequent education at The Doon School led him to the University of Cambridge, and thence into a career in teaching, first at Gordonstoun, where he taught Physics to the young Prince Charles, and then back to India, where he was Head of no fewer than 3 schools, and has set up and continues – still, at the grand age of 84 – to set up schools across the Indian subcontinent. He has made a major impact in the world – without any doubt at all.

Shomie Das in conversation with Tony Little at the WLSA conference, 2019

An impressively agile mind, with a sharp intelligence and a gift for telling irreverent stories, Shomie shared honest, genuinely human, insights into his world view, and he described compellingly his fears and understanding of the dangers of a school education which drives inexorably towards the self-imposed, inwardly-focused, goal of ‘school certification’, which is of itself only a certificate to access the next layer of formal education, and which in no way indicates that the holder is able to do anything meaningful or useful in the world, or to have the skills to be able to earn a wage, either now or in the future. This resonates powerfully …

The central message that I heard from Shomie Das, which he communicated through his story, was this: become as educated as you can in the real world, go out and experience the world, making the most of what the world has to offer – don’t be afraid of risk and adventure – and then share this accumulated experience with the next generation, so they can benefit from your learnings. He did, though, pose one central question to us all … ‘can you answer the question of why we are doing what we are doing …?’. If not, then – as educators especially – we need to work out the answer, challenge what we are doing, and readjust our direction. A highly pertinent question for us all …

I was hugely inspired by hearing the life story and insights of one of the world’s Greats … thank you, Shomie Das, for the honour you afforded us.

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