A conceptual framework for enhancing accountability in public schooling
Seakamela, Mponana Abednego
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The notion of accountability assumes different meanings and emphasis in different contexts depending on the purpose for which it is used. In essence, accountability has to do with the demand for improved services, operations and products. In the public sector in particular, the spread of democratization has led to growing public demand for improved and better services and standards. This demand led many governments to introduce administrative reforms to bring about the desired changes in the delivery of services to the general public. Education, as a public service, and against the backdrop ofpoor learning outcomes, has over the years been subjected to intensive public scrutiny leading to increased demand for education accountability. The huge expectations imposed on educational establishments have led to a significant change in the nature and scale of education accountability. Equally, the lack of confidence in public schools to meet the educational needs of society is a further justification for the demand for accountability in education. Education accountability, in the final analysis, has as its primary goal, the need to improve learning outcomes. This study is about the development of a conceptual framework to enhance accountability in public schooling. Existing accountability processes and practises fall far too short of making public education accountable. Partly because approaches to accountability are not grounded on fundamental values and principles. Accountability in general and education accountability in particular, must be underpinned by sound values and principles to be effective and developmental. This study takes as its point of departure, the view that education accountability is both necessary and desirable if the growing educational needs of communities, particularly the poor, are to be met. To that effect, the conceptual framework has to afford every learning institution, regardless of its unique characteristics and circumstances, the opportunity to meet its accountability obligations. In this study, the quantitative and qualitative designs were employed to gather information relating to accountability processes and practises in the N orth-West education system and schools in particular. A survey questionnaire (quantitative) was used to compile data regarding the views and perspectives of principals on education accountability. Focus group interviews (qualitative) were conducted with both district officials and teacher unions to solicit their views and perspectives on the processes and practises of accountability in the North-West education department. The sample involved 222 principals from both primary and secondary schools in the province. Nine (9) union representatives drawn from the three major unions in the province participated in the focused group interviews. In addition, 7 district officials, drawn from the four education districts in the province also participated in the focus group interviews. The research, as stipulated above, yielded the following results: • Most of the principals surveyed managed schools that are located in rural and generally poor areas. These demographic challenges imposed serious limitations on the capacity of principals to manage effectively since rural schools are often geographically dispersed and poorly resourced. Consequently, accountability processes and practises must be sensitive to the context within which these schools operate. • Most of the principals sampled have the requisite qualifications and managerial experience suggesting that they are reasonably equipped to do their work. There is also evidence that provision is made for in-service training in management. It could therefore be concluded that if experience and qualifications alone were taken as key determinants in securing effective management, many of the sampled schools would be performing reasonably well. This finding however, is inconsistent with the widespread school level dysfunctionality that characterise the North-West schooling system. Effective accountability would therefore go beyond the principal to find answers to this incongruecy. • Teacher quality and teacher professionalism were identified as key levers of educational quality and school level accountability • There is a clear and direct link between an accountable school and the role of the principal. The characteristic features of an accountable school tended to overlap with the roles and responsibilities of the principals. • The role ofstakeholders in enhancing education accountability was supported by most respondents, suggesting therefore that schools must strive to develop healthy relationships with all stakeholders, both internal and externaL • Collaboration and networking among principals were seen as important in providing principals with opportunities to share ideas and thereby enhance their own capabilities • Accountability was seen by most respondents in a positive light, however, participants maintained that accountability processes and practises were poorly understood and implemented in the North-West education system. • There was general concern that the various parties to the accountability relationship did not understand their respective roles and responsibilities and thus diluting instead ofenhancing accountability. • The views of participants on the importance of performance agreements as a way of enhancing accountability were generally negative. Fear was expressed that these agreements would be abused. This finding is consistent with the finding that accountability practises were poorly understood and implemented. The general conclusion from this study is that education accountability is both necessary and desirable. However, the complex contexts within which education is delivered must be fully appreciated if accountability practices and processes are to be effective.
- Education