The scope and applicability of total quality management (TQM) to the public schooling system.
Total Quality Management (TQM) is an industrial or manufacturing theory that has greatly assisted business to transform to become more competitive in the global market. The South African public education system is currently facing various challenges and obstacles that must be overcome in order to cater for the demands of the 21 51 century. Much of the focus thus far has been on addressing the imbalances and inequities of the past. Now that the battle for equality is slowly being won, the focus is changing to quality in education provision. Total Quality Management offers an opportunity to attain quality in the education sector. Many writers abroad have adapted the principles of TQM to the education environment. Case studies in the United States of America and United Kingdom in particular, point to the success of TQM. Given the South African education scenario, this study explores the scope and applicability of Total Quality Management to the South African public schooling system. In February 2000, President Thabo Mbeki expressed the need to pay special attention to the improvement of the quality of management of our schools. The practice of TQM offers an opportunity to improve the quality of management in our schools. In addition, there has been much discussion and debate around whether schools are preparing learners for the real world. It is the express desire of the Minister of Education, Professor Kader Asmal, to create an education system for the 21 51 century. One of the cardinal principles of TQM is giving the customer what the customer needs- the customer in this case being the learner, the parent, tertiary institutions, commerce and industry and society at large. Currently there is ample evidence to suggest that there is a huge gap between what society expects and what schools and tertiary institutions are providing. Today, it is becoming increasingly evident that customer choice and customer perception of quality is of paramount importance. Therefore, schools that can offer quality in terms of product and customer service will survive and prosper. TQM is about meeting and exceeding customer expectations of service. There is ample evidence to suggest that TQM has carried the burden of being responsible in many cases for improving quality and productivity. Schools are constantly faced with rising costs. Parents are being called upon to pay increasingly more for the education of their children. Schools are constantly searching for innovative ways of cutting costs without compromising quality. TQM helps to systematically identify sources of error, and eradicate costly waste. This study explores whether TQM can do for the public schooling system what it has done for business. The scope and applicability of TQM to the public schooling system is investigated through carefully structured questionnaires administered to school-based personnel at different ranks, working in rural and urban schools, as well as ' advantaged' and 'disadvantaged' schools. In addition, chairpersons of school governing bodies/members and departmental officials are interviewed. The research carefully examines the many concerns around implementing TQM in public schools. There is concern that the principles of industry would not find favour in an education environment. A business-like approach to education may result in many meaningful aspects of schools and schooling being compromised or lost. The study ascertains whether some of the basic ingredients for quality management are present in our schools. Despite certain concerns, the majority were optimistic that TQM can be implemented. The conclusions arrived at and the recommendations made indicate that the theory, principles and practices of TQM can be adapted and applied to the South African schooling system. The argument that the vast backlogs in education do not favour the application of quality management in education is challenged. It is concluded that TQM offers the best possible opportunity to address inferior quality learning in certain quarters. Based on the success stories, a carefully structured implementation plan for TQM is suggested. Applying TQM will ensure a high quality public education.