Need for new ways to run schools

By Jameson Timba


THERE is need for a paradigm shift in the management of schools in Zimbabwe if our experience of the last 25 years is anything to go by.


The

corporate governance structures in schools can be divided into two management models. Private and mission schools are managed by boards of governors while public schools are managed by school development associations (SDA) who elect a school development committee (SDC) from the parents of pupils attending the school.


The experience of the two models to date calls for a re-look at the structures if the schools are to continue to grow and develop in a changing global environment.


In private schools, boards of governors are appointed on the basis of the constitutions of the schools. The constitutions are inspired by the origins of given schools; whether they were church-initiated, individual or company-initiated. Thus for church-initiated schools, some of the governors come from church structures, while for company-initiated schools, some of the governors are seconded employees of the said company.


For those which were initiated by a group of individuals, the constitutions provide for the appointment of new trustees by the existing trustees as others retire.


The appointment to the boards in all cases is based on merit since governors have to provide guidance to a commercial albeit non-profit entity. In this respect, the boards are made up of professionals in various fields eg accounting, economics, business, law and education.


The source of the professionals is mostly former parents or pupils who have the will, skill and time to serve for no financial gain. Statements that these boards are led by people who have no intimate knowledge of a given school are therefore not based on fact.


Public schools on the other hand are managed by the parent body and the government through the head of the school.


The government has over the years devolved power to parents’ bodies to take responsibility of maintaining the physical infrastructures of the school through levies raised by the SDCs. School fees have however continued to be paid directly to the exchequer.


The SDCs have assumed more responsibilities at schools beyond maintenance, including the purchase of furniture and books and in some instances employing additional teachers outside the prescribed teacher/pupil ratio of the Ministry of Education because the grant which the government gives to schools is inadequate. The ministry for instance extended a grant of $35 000 per pupil enrolled in the year 2005.


This grant is less than the price of a single textbook — at best it can buy one pen per pupil.


While the SDCs are empowered to levy parents, the statutory instrument requires that the levies be approved by the secretary for education irrespective of what the parents have approved. Unfortunately, the secretary has in the majority of cases not approved what the parents have determined to be the requirements of the school.


This fee or levy fixed below economic levels has thus hampered the development of the schools to the detriment of the pupils who attend them. One would expect that if the secretary was to fix a levy below what the parents have agreed, purportedly in the interests of the parents, then he should put his money where his mouth is, by covering the gap through subsidies.


The second challenge that has been faced by parent-managed public schools is that of relevant management skills. This has been particularly prevalent in rural schools.


It is my view that the problem is not that of the absence of skilled people within the parent body but the method of selection of those who serve on the committees. The empowering statutory instrument requires that the SDCs must be elected. There is no guarantee that an election process will necessarily produce the people with the requisite skills. Therein lies the problem — getting the right skills mix from people who have never known each other professionally.


Examples of the failure of the SDA is best exemplified by the approach that was made to the Catholic Church by groups of parents in about 20 schools which the church had handed over to government in the early eighties. The parents are now appealing to the Catholic Church to regain management of the schools, which have now literally collapsed.


In spite of the growing body of evidence that the School Development Association model has not worked very well for us, it is disturbing that the Minister of Education Aeneas Chigwedere, in his Education Amendment Bill which is before parliament, is proposing to extend this management model to all schools in the country. The minister wants to repeal Section 36 of the Education Act and substitute it with the following:


l The responsible authority of every school shall establish a school parents’ assembly consisting of all parents whose children attend the school;


l A parents’ assembly shall elect a school development committee which shall be vested with the control and management of the financial affairs of the school;


l The powers, functions and duties of school parents’ assemblies and powers, functions, duties and composition of school development committees shall be as prescribed.


It is difficult to understand why we want to perpetuate problems in our education system by continuing to do things we know do not work but expect to get a different result.


First, the proposal to extend the SDC management model to private and mission schools is unconstitutional. The effect of the repeal is a violation of Section 16 (7) of our constitution as it relates to property rights. The minister is expropriating private property by removing the financial control of schools from the owners and transferring it to their clients — the parents. This also violates Article 17 (2) of the Universal Declaration of Rights which states that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property”.


Second, the minister’s proposal violates Section 20(3) of our constitution in that if the responsible authority of a private school is denied its right to manage its finances, then there is no way that it can exercise its constitutional right to maintain its school as provided for in Section 20 subsection 3 of the constitution.


Third, subsection 1 of the proposed Section 36 of the Education Amendment Bill compels parents at a private or public school to be members of a school assembly. This is unconstitutional in that parents have freedom of association and cannot be compelled to join an association. This provision also violates the United Nations Universal Declaration of Rights which is the Magna Carta for all humanity, in particular Article 20 (2) which states that “no one may be compelled to belong to an association”.


Notwithstanding the fact that his proposals are unconstitutional in the case of private and mission schools, it is my considered view that the Minister of Education needs to rethink and relook at this model in so far as our public schools are concerned. Is it the right thing to do for our education system? Why are we going where everyone is coming from in terms of good corporate governance of any institution, schools included?


There is need to consider an alternative management model based on community-managed schools rather than parent managed schools with respect to public schools. The community management model would work on the basis of a voluntary school assembly made up of the parents plus the members of the community where that school is located. The Ministry of Education might consider creating the “boundaries of the community” for each school based on the current zoning system. Furthermore, the constitutions of various school assemblies can then be drafted in such a way that the method of selection of office bearers is geared towards identifying skilled people within and outside the parent body who are civic minded to assist in the management of the school.


With respect to private and mission schools, the minister should just leave the corporate governance structures as they are. The management structures have been tried and tested and are working. There is an adage that “If it ain’t broken don’t fix it.”


* Jameson Timba is Chairman of the Association of Trust Schools.