Accountability or Blame in Education

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By Rosco Misika Lukubwe

Introduction and Background
The following account might sound too old and quite irrelevant to many readers. The 24th of February 2003 remains an unforgettable day in my career as an educator, especially as an educational manager, following my 01 August 2002 appointment as the Social Science Head of Department at Mumbwenge Combined School.

On that Monday afternoon, the principal read a short one-page letter to all teachers in a hastily convened meeting. The letter was dated 13 February 2003 and was captioned “Expression of Our Disappointment in Your 2002 Examination Result” and it read: “I am writing to express our immeasurable disappointment in your November 2002 Junior Secondary Examinations. Your performance has been pathetic, to say the least. We are well aware of the limited resources and trying circumstances under which you operate, but these are hardly enough reasons for under-performance.

“There are other schools in your own neighbourhood with similar conditions and resources as yourself, but they are trying to achieve. You are encouraged to do likewise, and move away form this non-performing status, seriously! Thank you, and May God bless.” (MBESC-Ondangwa East Region 2003:1)
As a relatively new staff member I felt I had nothing to do with the disappointing results. When I was still holding onto my feelings of distancing myself from the results, an invitation was made to principals of all 2002 poorly performed schools for a meeting at the Regional Office on 13 June 2003.

I was asked by the principal to accompany her to the meeting. In his thunderous speech, the former Director of Education, Mr Johanness Kandombo, authoritatively stated: “You either shape up or you ship out.” He went on to say he needed an answer in a week’s time on “how many learners should a principal fail in order to have him or her removed.”

Mr Nicodemus Natangwe Uugwanga, a nimble, trustworthy, dedicated, committed, loyal and apt Inspector of Education, reminded the principals of the Director of Education’s 13th June 2003 expressed question in the 20th June 2003 monthly principals’ meeting.

Onathinge North CS, Oshilulu CS, Iikokola CS and many other schools share my relayed 2003 experience. As a first year (in 2003) University of South Africa, Master of Education student in Education Management, I quickly understood that the calls, challenges and threats made by those in authority were what education management experts call accountability in education.

As background, this exposition serves to present views of what is likely to be a very contentious ETSIP policy aspect, namely accountability in our education system.

For education management scholars in our education system, accountability is no longer a theory theorized in books of experts but a reality already in the house.

ETSIP indicates that 2008 is the kick-off of the introduction of the accountability measures (GRN 2007:24).

Before delving into the exposition, this article covers aspects such arguments for accountability, an abbreviated critical policy analysis of ETSIP envisaged accountability, accountability or blame in education: current cursors and future implications, schools’ unethical practices in response to accountability and academic suggestions on accountability.

Arguments for Accountability

In order to understand the arguments for accountability in our education system one must first be able to answer the following questions.

Firstly, who is accountable and to whom is accountability due? In any education system there are various stakeholders such as individual pupils, parents, teachers, employers, bureaucrats, resource providers, trade unions, the general public and many others.

Among these listed stakeholders, three stakeholders stand out prominent in accountability, namely: bureaucrats, teachers/principals and parents. It is worthy repeating the question as to who is accountable and to whom. It goes without any hasty conclusions that teachers/principals are accountable to bureaucrats as if they are the employers. Such form of accountability will be explored later under accountability or blame in our education system.

Secondly, why should those in the education system be held accountable? An answer to this question requires an investment comprehension or perspective. Any investor expects returns upon any investment made. It has to be good returns and nothing less.

Likewise, education is perceived by many people as an investment into human capital.

Hence, educators do not take the application [spending] of money into education as an expenditure.

Given these educational investment perceptions, it would not be surprising that the Namibian Government expresses demands for better returns for its considerable investment made in education.

Equally, parents spend their hard-earned income on their children’s general education in the form of school development funds and tuition fees with the expectation of good returns.

Undoubtedly, the expressed good or better returns have reference to quality educational outcomes, commonly called quality education. As the Head of the Namibian Government, His Excellency, President Hifikepunye Pohamba, indirectly called schools to prove their mettle by calling on education officers to spare no effort to produce an above 90% pass rate in Grade 10 (Tjaronda 2007:1)

The bottom line is that educational outcomes should reflect and be commensurate with the combined government and parental spending.
ETSIP’s Envisaged Accountability

As an education policy analyst, I purposefully chose to employ two of some of De Clercg’s (2000:9) key questions used in critical policy analysis to analyze the envisaged accountability.

Question 1. What are the issues that constitute the focus of the policy? To contextualize the question one will then ask what are the issues that constitute the focus of accountability as one of the aspects of ETSIP?

Before I delve into what constitutes the focus of accountability, I find it judicious to mention that our education system has never been a responsive or delivering system. Given the status quo of our education system, Vision 2030 may become one of those programs that will one day be in the chronicled history of failed programs.

It is premised that a weak general education system cannot sustain or accelerate the realization of a Knowledge Based Economy (KBE) (GRN 2007:2). Given such assumption, education system adjustments are imperative. It is envisaged that various forms of accountability will help to ensure that education becomes results driven.

Having pointed out the above, the focus of accountability, as entailed in ETSIP, is that schools should be held accountable for their results. Schools, in this respect, have reference to teachers and principals. Symbols A-D are the quality education outcomes that schools should produce.

As one of the ways to realize these desirable symbols, teachers and principals will be subjected to a host of the only heard of accountability practices if not theories. One of the accountability measures for Principals and Heads of Departments, as school managers, will be that they will be employed on a contract basis, a practice that is observed in public and private organizations.

They will further be directly held responsible for the overall performance of the school as from 2010 (GRN 2007:27).

Teachers, as the deliverers of the subject matter, will see the teaching practice requiring a licence to do so. The teaching licences will be subject to possible renewal. Performance targets for teachers will be set and monitored but no indication as to whether they will be held directly responsible for the outcomes in their specific subjects.

The National Institute for Educational Development (NIED) is tasked with the task of creating all the accountability yardsticks. Woe to the weak performers because they are condemned to feel the full brunt of the Public Service Act (Act No 13 of 1995). Joy is for the symbol A-D producers because the appraisal system will handsomely reward them.

Question 2. Whose interests are being served? The fact that ETSIP represents the education sector’s response to the ambitious call of Vision 2030 makes one to quickly believe that the policy serves the interests of all.

On the contrary, the fact that there are various actors in the policy process shades a different light of whose interests are being served. Applying Harman (1984:18) classification of policy actors one can see that there are legitimate (formal) and illegitimate (informal) actors in the policy process.

Critical policy analysts and researchers such as Taylor, Rizvi, Lingard and Henry (1997:24.) observe that various policy actors have different values and access to power or authority. In the same manner, the ETSIP document discerns the upheld educational values, interests, approaches to policy and authority of bureaucrats. Accountability, as one aspect of ETSIP, further reveals as to where power or authority lies in the education system.

I strongly argue that accountability, as envisaged in ETSIP, demonstrates more of politicians and bureaucrats’ interests served than that of any other stakeholder in the education system.

It is all about being in authority and not being an authority in carrying out educational responsibilities. The readers may have problems comprehending my advanced argument. Take a minute or two and think over the following questions.

How many stakeholders are involved in the education system? How many of these stakeholders are accountable in the education system? The answer to the latter question is that only the teachers and the principals are accountable in the education sector.

Given that only teachers and principals are accountable in the entire education system it implies that the two stakeholders [teachers and principals] are the ones that fail the education system. One cannot but stop to ask the question, is this accountability or blame?

The second implication is that, based on the MoE structure, anyone occupying a position from the school board to the Minister of Education is immune to accountability. They are the masters to whom service is due and thus teachers and principals are accountable to them.

Given that only teachers and principals are accountable in general education, one can clearly see that policy aspects such as accountability carry direct and indirect personal interests. These indirect and direct personal interests are presented below.

Personal/Bureaucratic Interests

The statement that “the MoE does not require formal management training as a pre-condition for promoting teachers to become principals and Heads of Department”, (GRN 2007:26) is purely a personal/bureaucratic interest and not an educational interest. My understanding is that people make careers. Given the career perspective if one aspires to be an economist one will have to formally study economics.

On the contrary, teachers in our education system study teaching and end up being appointed as heads of departments or principals without formal management training. I have observed historians, psychologists, mathematicians, linguists and so on being appointed as educational managers without prior or supplementary training in education management.

It does not surprise me seeing some HoDs and principals struggling in developing schools’ strategic plans and tactical plans, or a candidate for an HoD or principal’s post still defining management as planning, organizing, leading and control: a definition level befitting Grade 10 learners.

Since such candidates are not authorities in educational management they fail to see a school as an organization with a vision and mission. Since it is a trend of appointing teachers to education management positions without formal management training in our educational system, one is then compelled to ask as to what are the job specifications such people have met when such recommendations and appointments are made.

A situation in general education where there are educational managers by virtue of position (being in authority) and not by line of training (being an authority) is being propagated and such a situation best suits personal interests and not general education interest.

It is my conviction, as a member of the learning society, that being an authority in a profession precedes being in authority. Furthermore, being an authority in a profession is a sound basis for the elevation into the position of authority.

Given this conviction, I personally do not buy the ETSIP advanced argument that “at present, opportunities for professional staff development of managers are insufficient.” (GRN 2007:26) If one, for example, has stayed in education employment with an entry teacher’s qualification for over 10 years and has gone from promotion to promotion while the MoE maintains that there is a lack of professional staff development, one can only say that it is an encouragement not to professionally develop and a lack of accountability on the part of bureaucracy.

Political Interest

One does not need to be like the Namibian-born and South African-based academic heavyweight, Joseph Diescho, to understand that political office-bearers’ employment heavily hinges upon appeasing the electorate.

Our short history has shown that Education Ministers came and went and so did the Permanent Secretaries. Last year, we witnessed Permanent Secretaries reshuffled like political office-bearers.

In order to survive in a political world, timing is a crucial strategy. The failed retrenchment of under-qualified teachers, of which none of the bureaucrats have taken accountability for the failure, and the revision of appointment requirements of school managers, probably after 2010, all tell the political interests that have to be attained first. Most of the accountability measures are to be implemented after 2009, a significant year in the political arena. In terms of Vision 2030, the 2007 failed retrenchment of under-qualified teachers will resuscitate just after the 2009 elections so that by 2010 we do not have under-qualified teachers (GRN 2004:87).

As of now it is taken to be fine that children are taught by teachers, some of which have woeful education which is as low as Standard 6 (Grade 8 presently). I remain wondering as an educator as who will, in the final analysis, be accountable for the perpetual education predicament.

Current Cursors and Future Implications

Henry (1996:85-86) observes two forms of accountability in the education systems, namely: high-stakes and community accountability. The earlier form of accountability has reference to accountability towards government and has two approaches. The first approach is top down approach and the second one is top down/bottom up approach. According to the author, Henry, the top down approach uses learners’ results and other systematically gathered data to make an overall judgment of the school performance. They author further states that the top down accountability system employs threats as a way of improving school performance. The system is focused on the lower rungs of performance. The second approach, top down/bottom up approach encourages local participation in the process of accountability by collecting and reporting data on educational issues.

Having presented the above accountability views, I will then present insights and views of how accountability is approached in our educational system. On 15 March 2007, in the National Assembly, Honourable Nangolo Mbumba presented a statement to the August House with great focus on the 2006 education outcomes. He thanked Oshikoto Region for outperforming the other regions as well as thanking Schuckmannsburg Combined School, a rural school in Caprivi Region, for the great leap made from 415th position to 18th position on national ranking (Mbumba 2007:3).

A change of tone in the Minister’s statement on the education outcomes is observed when he stated: “However, Honourable Speaker, it is also an unfortunate fact that Namibia has far too many schools that are performing poorly. In some cases the results are so poor that I am tempted to consider closing these dysfunctional schools, removing the principal and the staff, and starting up with a new and better team.” (Mbumba 2007:3)
Other authoritative statements prompted by educational outcomes include the introductory and background letter to this article and the Oshikoto Education Region’s Regional Circular 1 of 2007. Honourable Clemens Kashuupulwa’s opinion piece in New Era, 25 February 2008, is another expression with its genesis in the 2007 educational outcomes.

Before I present my analysis on the core subject (accountability or blame in education) of this article, may I point out and stress here that I do not mean to imply any cynicism to individuals or corporate references in this article. My intention is to enlighten readers on the perceptions and approaches on one of the essential educational aspects that will help, if not induce, our schools as organizations to become outcomes driven.

Accountability in our education system is and will be propelled and justified by educational outcomes as compared to ETSIP indicators: well management of schools. This is so because ETSIP advances that “school academic performance is highly correlated with the abilities of the school manager” (GRN 2007:26).

Any an authority or expert in education management will not dispute the argument. However, the ability of the school manager in steering the schools is influenced by a number of internal and external factors such as appropriate resource allocation (human, financial and physical resources), being an authority in educational management as a result of a professional career, external professional support from the region and head office and many others. These factors influence the outcomes that teachers and principal are to account for.

Given that accountability is due to educational outcomes, principals and teachers of lower rungs of performance are the targets by those in authority.

The tones from such authority are heart piercing since they are judgmental in nature. Statements such as “in some cases the results are so poor that I am tempted to consider closing dysfunctional schools” (Mbumba 2007), “your performance has been pathetic, to say the least” (MBESC-Ondangwa East 2003) and “the worst scenario schools” (MoE-Oshikoto Region) are flashing cursors or indicators of judgmental stance taken and will likely to be taken by those in authority.

Before passing judgments, as authorities, have we taken time to analyze factors or situations that preceded and brought about the results that are being used to judge schools? Have we, as authorities, had any part in the predicament in which many schools find themselves in today?

For example, we expect Grade 10 learners to be being taught by some teachers who have never passed Grade 9, we have learners being taught by misplaced teachers and school managers, we have learners without or sharing textbooks. Have we fairly taken corrective steps, if any, to rectify the situations that have been created in schools?

I ask these questions because all I see is the analysis of the results and not what led to the results. I am well aware of the School Self Evaluation (SSE) instrument but the question remains: are our current demands realistic given the situation?

I am convinced, as an educator and educational manager, that there is no and there will not be accountability in the education system but accountability in schools. As well expressed earlier by the author Henry, what we are likely to see is high stake accountability which I persona

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