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There is today a national consensus for fundamental reforms in the education sector. Educational reform is a key strategy by which governments attempt to influence the processes and outcomes of schooling. As a secondary school education officer teaching Biology in a private grant aided school since two years, my personal input will be to analyse the role of teachers in educational reforms. Our critical study group (CSG) has decided to focus on the two last educational reforms namely:
Ending the rat race in primary education and breaking the admission bottleneck at secondary level ( May 2001) and
Towards a quality curriculum, Strategy for reform (November 2006).
These reforms will be addressed as reform one and two respectively. Furthermore, teaching and learning in Mauritius will be highlighted with respect to equal educational practices for all.
Key words: Educational reform, democratic, teaching and learning.
2.0My school context
The Ambassador College is a Private Secondary School which is under the Supervision of the Private Secondary School Authority (PSSA). It was founded in January 1968 by the current manager. The school population is 387 presently, and it offers classes up to school certificate (SC). Currently, students with relatively poor CPE results make the bulk of the school intake at form I level. As a consequence, each year staff has to make considerable effort to attract new students, failing which the population might go below the threshold level acceptable by the ministry and might therefore, be forced to close down.
The building is partly made f corrugated iron sheet and partly of concrete walls. All the classes have got wooden partitions and some have wooden floor. However, there is proper lighting and aeration. The premises of the school are not owned by the manager. Every year he has to pay the rents to the land owners and he has little flexibility in modifying the structure of the building.
Since the opening of the school the institution has been managed by one person. At first he acted both as the manager and the principal. Some thirteen years back, he had to retire as principal but opted to remain as manager. He chose the most suitable education officer according to him from the school itself who was a chemistry teacher having a degree and a post graduate certificate in education. So currently the top management of the school is the manager and seconded by the rector. The activities and responsibilities of managers and rectors of private secondary schools are provided in appendix A. The organizational hierarchy of the institution is shown in appendix C.
The manager is a 73 year old person who is very experienced in the educational sector. He is a person who is traditionally against major changes in his institution and nobody dares challenge him for fear of not being in his good books. He has a very authoritative approach as a manager. However, he has at heart the welfare of his students and is very much concerned that the school does not close down despite the dwindling pupil population. An important fact to take note is that the daughter of the manager is presently working at the school. The exercise of promotion to become a manager is not made in a democratic, competence based criteria and there is a high degree of suspicion among staff that the manager is keeping his seat warm until his daughter is eligible to step into the shoes of the rector on his retirement. This is a source of frustration among certain senior staff who feel that they are more competent and ought to be promoted when the times comes.
Despite that, the manager does show a lot of dedication and professionalism in his day to day work. He is endowed with a natural charismatic trait which greatly helps him in his leadership and managerial role.
The rector on the other hand is someone who is situational in his leadership style. The fact that he is now the superior of his ex colleagues is a matter of concern for him. I have been working at the school for the last three and a half years and from my experience I have witnessed that new members of staff and senior ones behave differently with him. Moreover, some senior members still treat him as their colleague and fail to realize or intentionally prefer not to realize that he is their boss. Consequently, there is some degree of confusion on his leadership approach because for different people there is different treatment.
A very intriguing thing for me is the office of the rector and the manager which consists of one room which does not have any privacy. Teachers go through the office at all times as the staff room is next to the office. without knocking The situation is the same for the teaching and non teaching staff. At times some senior education officers can be seen sitting in the office talking to the rector for no apparent reason. As a result of this 'laissez faire' attitude it is extremely difficult for the rector to maintain a dignified working relationship with some colleagues as they take him for granted. All this adds to a low morale of some colleagues who joined the school lately as very distinct groups of senior and junior colleagues are apparent at school. They even prefer to have separate staff rooms for themselves.
In my professional context I believe that neither the rector nor the manager have the required level of leadership qualities within the context of the school. According to Stogdill in Bush and Burnham organizations are linked with the existence of leadership:
The concept of organisation,... with its implications for the differentiation of responsibility roles, does permit the study of leadership as an aspect of the relationships between members who are co-ordinating their efforts for the achievement of common goals.
(Stogdill , 1969; cited in Bush and Burnham,1994).
As there is hardly any formal authority between the rector and members of staff, there is a poor relationship and most of the times it leads to unfavorable situations for the rector. The school organization is directly impacted and the progress of the school in the right direction is put into jeopardy.
The ultimate objective of any educational enterprise is to improve student achievement so that individuals may fulfil their personal aspirations and become contributing members of society. When I searched the aims and objectives of the school for the purpose of this assignment, I was surprised to know that there was none. Through an informal interview with the rector, I questioned why this was so, even though in the list of the activities of the rector and manager it was clearly stated that "the manager, with the help of the principal and other members of staff, should formulate the overall aims and objectives of the school" (Appendix A). He replied that though there was no official paper concerning the aims and objectives of the school it was easy to write down one by myself because it was obvious that it should concern the overall wellbeing of the students! This was a good point but it failed to conceal the fact that both the rector and the nanager had not correctly performed their own duty.
In my school the management is top down. There is a hierarchical authority structure which is often vertical with the members staff being accountable to their super ordinate in the hierarchy ( Bush T and Bell L., 2002, eds., chapman publishing, )pg 14.
2.1Problem: Rationale for selection of issue and actual management technique
As mentioned earlier, there have been few instances in my school where change has been brought in. However, one of the major changes brought to the school since it opened its doors is the introduction of "The new partnership for Africa's development (NEPAD) project".
This project started about four years back. It is in line with the government policy to make use of ICT in teaching all subjects of the curriculum. It is a joint venture of the Mauritian Government, Cisco Consortium, Microsoft Consortium, and NEPAD e-Africa Commission. The launch, which covers six schools across the country, makes Mauritius the eighth country to launch the project after Uganda, Ghana , Lesotho, Kenya, Rwanda, Egypt and South Africa. Our school was chosen to be among the five other schools in this pilot project because of the poor results and infrastructure.
In the inaugural speech of the project the prime minister of Mauritius said:
In Mauritius, we started the initiative to make this country a 'Cyber Island'. The NEPAD e-Schools project is therefore very welcome as it fits very well with my government's vision to propagate an ICT culture and facilitate the emergence of an information and knowledge-based society, and to reduce the digital divide.
(Boyjonauth S., 2008, p.8 ).
The vision of the NEPAD e-schools is:
to make all learners in African schools ICT literate by installing ICT equipment in these schools,
connecting the schools to the Internet,
training pre-service and in-service teachers in the use of ICT,
supporting efficiently managed schools by training school administrators in the use of ICT,
contributing to the acquisition and exchange of educational content across our continent,
And equipping each school with a health point to serve as a source of health information as well as undertake specific health interventions as may be required. ( The New Partnership for Africa's Development,The Journey So Far,By WL Nkuhlu, Chief Executive,NEPAD Secretariat,June 2005)
When the school was chosen, the manager gave his approval because it was a golden opportunity to take part in a prestigious project and furthermore, the end result was to improve students learning.
All teachers working with the upper forms were called for a staff meeting where they were informed about the future implementation of the project. They also had to take part in different workshops organized jointly by the Ministry of education and Mauritius institute of education. The teachers were trained during a few days about the use of ICT in all subjects and how to make use of all the resources made available to us such as internet facilities, 25 computers, printer, television, video, projector and a smart board. The value of all the equipment given at our institution was worth around ten millions.
When the project started at our school, the rector chose the computer studies teacher as the team leader. However, everyone was accountable to the rector as he is the person in charge for the internal organization, efficient administration and supervision of the school. One of the major hurdles faced at first was that there was a lot of resistance to change from the senior members of staff. Some were computer illiterate and they found it impossible to prepare their lesson plans and all classes using the resources in the laboratory. That new way of teaching was extremely time consuming and many said that it was too difficult for them (data in Appendix B). Though the team leader proposed to help some teachers during lunch so that they become familiar with computers they hardly participated. There was reflections about how could math's, art and design classes etc be conducted using only ICT. Many failed to understand the true purpose of the project and preferred to say that they will be retiring soon ad this project is meant rather for young educators who are IT literate! The prevailing situation was known to both the rector and the manager who hardly did anything to remedy the situation.
After a few months, the computer studies teacher got another job and the rector arbitrarily chose the English teacher to be the team leader without any voting system or discussion with other team members. She was one of the youngest members participating in the project and the senior teachers did not like that change at all. There were already many conflicts between her and some senior members and this further aggravated the situation. Many dropped the project as they refused to work under her leadership. Furthermore, the school decided to make all teachers take part in the project and the new leader was asked to conduct extension classes with colleagues to familiarize them with know how needed to do the work efficiently. Although the management was aware of the situation, they could hardly make the members of the group work as a team.
Today, the situation is such that out of 22 educators there are only five teachers who use the NEPAD lab each week for teaching and students learning. Appendix B shows the informal interviews of members of staff and rector's views on the success of the NEPAD project. According to me that have been so much of a laissez faire attitude that hardly anyone is working in a team to make the project work and ameliorate students learning, that was the ultimate objective. Many colleagues know that the NEPAD project is a golden opportunity for our students to learn and consequently be an integral part of the Cyber Island as the leaders of the country foresee. Our students are mostly from impoverished backgrounds and do not have access to computers at home.
I believe that all educators should keep in mind that the end result of conflict amongst themselves will ultimately affect students learning with respect to the NEPAD project. There needs to be a good leadership and management style.
According to Armstrong, "leadership can be defined as the ability to persuade others willingly to behave differently. The function of team leaders therefore, is to achieve the task set for them with the help of the group. Leaders and their groups are therefore interdependent" (2001, p 199).
As Adair (1973) pointed out in Armstrongreference, in fulfilling their roles leaders have to satisfy the following needs:
The group exists to achieve a common purpose or task.
The leader's job is to build up and maintain team spirit and morale.
The leader's task is to be aware of individual needs so that where necessary they can take steps to harmonize them with the needs of the task and the group.
In the case of my institution the above is clearly lacking. There is so much conflict and back biting between members of staff and interest groups at school that a lot of micro politics are evident. Micro politics stress the prevalence of conflict in organisations.
As Ball (1987) cited in Bush and Bell (2002) say:
I take schoolsâ€¦.. to be riven with actual or potential conflict between members;to be poorly co-ordinated, to be ideologically diverseâ€¦..if we are to understand the nature of schools as organisations, we must achieve some understanding of these conflicts .
(Ball , 1987; cited in Bush and Bell,2002).
3.0Changing practice and solving the problem
Discussions in our CSG have led us towards thinking that change itself is problematic. There is a large disparity between what is planned and what actually happens at the classroom level. Evidence suggests that attempts to change rarely have a profound impact on life in classrooms. This observation is in line with the following author who states that:
[T]he lived experience of legislated changes by those forced to implement them often bears little resemblance to the outcomes anticipated by policy- makers. Thus in terms of definition, the intention of reform may be fairly readily settled, but the process of impplementation is not.
(Schweisfurth , 2002, pp 1-11).
The teacher's role is one which is driven by extremely personal ideologies. My own professional setting today has led me to believe that to be effective, a teacher should be motivated by own ideals, particular attitudes and characteristics. Therefore, many teachers work in considerable isolation because their job holds the highest value concerning their own individuality, though the current global trend is towards more collaboration among teachers even from different countries.
Concerning the introduction of NEPAD project at my institution, I believe that it was a very good initiative. In order to introduce a change at level of a secondary school it is crucial to make all stakeholders involved to share the vision, aims and objectives of the project. This should also be in line with those of the school at large. Teacher resistance to externally imposed change acts as a manifestation of conflict and consequently to demotivation. In order to improve the achievement of all students it is imperative to improve the quality of teaching they receive. This is a universal truth and all teachers in my institution agree with this. The key issues having hindered the project's successful implementation are listed below:
Change is radical from chalk and talk method to technologically advanced information technology techniques.
The group in charge of the project had a lot of micro politics and individual needs cropped up more than the needs of the group
There is a lot of conflict between members of staff over the efficient running of the project.
Many pupils and teachers themselves are computer illiterate and it is very difficult for them to take fully part in the project.
In order to make the project run effectively, first of all the rector must change his 'laissez faire' attitude and be more professional. According to Spillane et alâ€¦ " school leadership involves mobilizing school personnel and clients to notice, face, and take-on the task of changing instruction as well as harnessing and mobilizing the resources needed to support this process..(Distributed Leadership: Toward a Theory of School Leadership Practice, James P. Spillane.,Richard Halverson.,John B. Diamond. The rector depends a lot on his own personal experience to deal with his ex-colleagues and this leads to frustration and demotivation among the staff members as a whole.