Unleashing potential of every arm

The business of the education sector can go forward if deliberate and calculated efforts are made to unleash the potential of every arm of the system from the policy developer at the centre to implementing agencies at the Region and schools.

Accorded space and respect, every organ of the system can play its role in redressing the worrying achievement gaps and moving the system much closer towards the desired goal of raising student learning outcomes and elimination of a culture of underachievement.

To achieve this end, all capable hands should be on deck. However, there is a challenge as Professor Jaap Kupier observed to “develop a clear de-centralisation policy, ensuring that there is an appropriate balance of responsibilities between the Regions and the Central Office” and this should also include appropriate staffing, training and resourcing. The system, in terms of power distribution and resource endowment, is heavy on top and weak and fragile at the basement. There is no balance. Power is at the centre of the challenges that presently dog the education sector and the system should wake up from its slumber and become fully conscious of the fact that power shared/dispersed is power increased. The big problem bedevilling the education system relates to how power is distributed and exercised. Depending on how it is handled, power can either be an enabler or disabler.

Presently, distribution of power is skewed in favour of the centre (Central office and Region) to the detriment of outposts responsible for implementation of the curriculum across the length and breadth of the country. What makes matters worse is not only a lack of a semblance of balance of responsibilities but also a drought of clarity of roles. Lack of clarity of roles is evidenced by a propensity by organs responsible for policy development to overlap and overshoot the runaway and delve into operational matters, which are supposed to be the preserve of the implementing agencies. For instance, procurement of chairs and desks should be carried out by implementers not policy makers. Demonstrating how powers are skewed towards apex structures, Kuiper had this to say: ‘’School managers clearly have very little say over the finances they require to generate a high-quality and rich Learning Environment”.

The finance procedures are tightly held, and finances come and go in almost a magical and often unpredictable manner. Schools are not really supported by the Region to excel in their endeavours.

The Region merely functions as a post-office for requests, and as an inspector when examination results are out.” Many schools to date are struggling to get the right quantities of books. This is partly due to insufficient funds but the bigger challenge is that there are too many hands involved in the procurement of books from the central office, regions, subs and schools. The system used to work well and faster when schools got their book budget allocation and directly secured books without the involvement of apex bodies. Involvement of too many cooks while enhancing transparency spoils the broth and compromises timely delivery of books as the process of procurement becomes long winded.

Power therefore remains a stumbling block to progress rather than a facilitator of growth. The organs at the central office and regions pride themselves in wielding total and overbearing power and influence resulting in emasculation and marginalisation of outposts. The management of human resources and other critical teaching and learning inputs remains a grey area requiring remedial actions. Hitherto, outposts such as schools and sub regional structures exercise little control over human resources. Responsibilities over matters of deployment, promotions, transfers and dismissals are shared between the central office and regional offices.

Yes, the schools and sub regions have some role to play in the management of human capital but it is a role that is little more than that of a postal service. Staff movement can be initiated at the school level or sub regions but in the main, movements are orchestrated by the central office and regions. These structures enjoy sweeping and unfettered powers over human resource matters and their word is final. Of course those aggrieved have a right to natural justice, the right to be heard. A school can begin a process of staff deployment by depositing its requests and wishes with the sub regions. The sub regions do not have powers to move staff but are duty bound to channel the recommendations of schools to senior structures at the region or headquarters. Apex structures in the system do not have any obligation to honour the requests made by lower structures. To top it all, even staff movements within the sub region is externally managed by external senior structures. Effectively, the management of human resource matters is done by remote control by externally based structures often based on data supplied by structures on the ground. But sometimes apex structures have the prerogative to initiate movement of staff with or without the input of schools or sub regions. Whether the movement is good or bad, schools or sub regions have to live with the decision.

Management by remote control has its own benefits and weaknesses. Outsiders are considered neutral and objective since they know very little about people they are dealing with. They act like judges relying on data presented before them. However, remote control of human resource can be problematic too. Decisions can be faulty when based on insufficient data and as such this can lead to inappropriate deployment of staff resulting in poor service delivery. External bodies know very little about people they are dealing with many not accommodate the human element. For example, sometimes an elderly employee with incessant health problems can be moved to an area where access to medical care will be difficult. If devolution of power is not possible, it is advisable for external structures to collect as much data as possible about staff before contemplating any movements. Queries surrounding staff movements can compromise teaching and learning. It is important to ensure that the process of moving staff from one area to the other is water tight and problem free.

An important part of the support for learning comes from textbooks. It appears that schools often struggle to get the right number of textbooks so that all students have a textbook for each subject. Schools also find it difficult to get such books on time.

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