LESS IS MORE: Empowering schools requires a reassessment of the need for external intervention
THE move by the Ministry of Education (MOE) to set targets, publicly, for the first 100 days of the new school year is a refreshing change in reporting accountability.
The MOE reported that the tracking of school progress through its school improvement programmes was top priority in its effort to bring about better education for all.
Studies on success-challenged schools in the world show almost an identical profile as those found within the national education system -- under-resourced, poor school managers, poor student attendance, low parental and community support, and changing policies. Schools at risk are more often found in rural, remote areas and in urban disadvantaged areas.
In 2011, the ministry reports that from 7,709 primary schools, 5,582 primary schools are classified as located in rural areas, and 1,119 secondary schools from 2,271 are in rural location.
At greater risk are indigenous children where only 61 perc ent pass the core subjects at primary level and 30 per cent complete secondary-level education. The National Key Result Area Education Team under the Government Transformation Plan has established a banding of school progress since 2010. Unsurprisingly, primary schools that have literacy and numeracy issues, are ranked at the bottom.
By narrowing the literacy inequality gap in schools in Western Cape, South Africa, for instance, a significant improvement in achievement was reported.
It will be an interesting 2013 for the ministry to be able to report that all children from the first Linus cohort who are in Year 4 now, are able to read, write and comprehend, particularly indigenous children who were way below the national average in 2010.
The ministry has publicly targeted the critical factors for a high performing school system as school leadership and the establishment of a learning culture in the schools. Intervention programmes to turn around schools into successful learning communities are both generic, yet specific to the school.
The ministry may recommend as many policies and programmes for improving school performance, but throughout the world again, the right school leaders will bring about the right change for the children, and the teachers.
The head teacher in the national education system is well placed to engage in participative leadership with the appointment of more middle managers in the school, such as the head of co-curriculum, in constructing a vision of a successful school.
In addition, the system of professional engagement and discourse with personnel from high performing schools within the same geographical cluster empowers school leaders to make operational decisions to meet needs specific for the school, thereby increasing the accountability of school success, to the school.
High performing schools have been successful in navigating around the maze of numerous policies that obstruct, and found those that empower them to establish a successful learning community.
Empowering schools requires a reassessment of the need for external intervention from the district and centre -- a situation where perhaps less is more effective.
In this way, the limited resources at the district office may be better served in developing a mechanism to report accountability by the schools, thus reinforcing the practice of empowerment and accountability to the school leadership.
Disengaging the district office from the operations in schools is a way of detaching school success or failure of school academic performance to the performance of the district office.
This practice may need to be relooked in the broader context as it is not indicative of the true performance of the district office particularly those that are disadvantaged by locality and socio-economic levels of the community within the district.
Besides, it would work against the ministry's strategy to have schools make independent and right decisions for the school and by the school. Putting into place a culture of accountability one school at a time is a long and tedious process. But it is the right thing to do in the long run.
Datuk Dr Siti Zaleha Abdullah Sani | email@example.com The New Straits Times Online 19/03/2013