Making schools count

To be effective, school principals need not only the necessary qualifications and technical expertise to manage schools but also autonomy and space. This means subjecting school leaders to a continuous professional training regimen cannot on its own help them find the silver bullet.

The system can pride itself in having invested a lot of money into the professional development of school managers but alas with no return on investment. The long and the short of it is that having a trained manger is important but that does not guarantee improved learning outcomes. School principals understand that their core business is to provide an exciting, lively and rich learning environment.

This is an enabling environment permitting both teachers and learners to unleash their best selves and potential. However, the one constraining factor especially in our jurisdiction is lack of space, freedom and autonomy. Ours is a centralised system. There are rules to follow. Over the years, our system built and nurtured a dependency syndrome which deprived school managers of the opportunity to plan, execute and explore possibilities for improvement without external influence. In other words, school managers are not empowered. The control over a creation of a rich learning environment lies elsewhere. Only the courageous ones can break a few protocols to get things done for the good of their schools. But planning and executing what is good for learning requires complete control over resources.

Control over finances is important in the process of teaching and learning. Once they have received their annual budget allocations, it is ideal school principals to enjoy the power to align and realign resources to their school turnaround strategy.

They should have the latitude to transfer money from less promising tasks to what they consider critical for teaching and learning. In his study on low attainment levels in our senior secondary schools, Professor Jaap Kuiper argued that finances play very little role in facilitating principals to assume complete control of their institutions and the learning process. Sadly, he said school finances are Inefficient, Irrelevant, Ill-considered.” He raised a query with the system of allocating money to schools through the vote system. “The School Grant comes with so-called ‘Votes’ (i.e. for ‘Food’ or for ‘Books/Library’ etc.), which have pre-determined allocations and schools are not allowed to subvent any funds from vote to another (unless special circumstances can be argued for)”.

This is a rigid financial system which does not entertain flexibility. Of course, during the course of the financial year, the system opens a window for virements, where transfer of funds from one vote to another is permissible. But the opportunity for movements of funds is rare and can come a little too late in the academic year and even if transfer is finally done it may not have the desired impact on learning outcomes. It is also worth noting that the power to move funds from a less important task to a more critical one lies outside the school. There are many instances where a school X has money in excess in votes, which do not have immediate impact on teaching and learning. Kuiper noted that “this is indication that schools do not feel they own the means to raise their own education quality. They have little or nothing in the way of school-based long-term plans: the budgeting and school grant process does not seem to have any room nor establishes any need for such planning. The central government is seen to be thinking for and dictating to the schools. Schools themselves are merely executing instructions within the rather strict confines of the one-size-fits-all grant received.

This represents a serious weakness in the school system.” Owing to competing national priorities, there are times when money allocated to schools is withdrawn by the central ministry to cater for emergencies elsewhere. While there is always a good reason for this unexpected withdrawal, this can drive a school‘s turnaround strategy off the rails. Finally Kuiper suggests a reset of the system. That is if schools get a larger financial allocation in one go, they could lodge this with their banks and obtain interest. Keeping their allocations in commercial banks can give schools greater autonomy and room to align resources with their strategy for improving learning outcomes.

Editor's Comment
More resources needed to fight crime

The Fight Crime Gaborone Facebook page is always filled with sad complaints of hard working Batswana who were robbed at knife point at some traffic lights or at their home gates when trying to get inside.These thugs have no mercy; they do not just threaten victims, they are always ready to use knives, and sadly, they damage car windows. While this happens at different traffic lights, there are those where such incidents happen more frequently...

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