Negotiating roles and responsibilities in the context of decentralised school governance : case study of one cluster of schools in Zimbabwe.
On attaining independence in 1980, Zimbabwe invested heavily in its education system in order to redress the colonial inequalities and to 'grow it's own timber' in terms of the knowledge and skills desperately needed by the new nation. However, 10 years later, the heavy government expenditure on education was no longer sustainable or defensible. The rapid expansion of the education system gave rise to grave concern for economic efficiency. Critics noted the tumbling pass rates and evident decline in the quality of education, with the concomitant high unemployment rates for the school graduates. Furthermore, the highly centralised, top-down system of education governance made it difficult, if not impossible for stakeholders at the various levels of the system to participate effectively in decision-making. In response to these and other pressures, Zimbabwe adopted a decentralised system of school governance. While decentralisation of school governance and school clustering have become internationally acclaimed reforms targeted at improving the quality of educational provision, and are consistent with the notion of good governance, there remain outstanding questions regarding, among other things, how those tasked to implement such reforms understand, experience and respond to them, and the impact this has on the success or failure of these innovations. This inquiry investigates teachers', school heads' and parents' understandings and experiences of, and responses to decentralised school governance in one cluster of five primary schools in the Gutu District of Masvingo Province in Zimbabwe. Through a multi-site case study research design, involving each of the five schools in the cluster as a site, this study utilised triangulation of a questionnaire, interviews, observations and document analyses to investigate three issues: stakeholders' understanding and experiences of, and responses to decentralised school governance; their views regarding their capacity to function effectively in a decentralised school governance system; and their experiences and views of the factors that hinder and/or enable decentralised school governance in the cluster. Informed by three theoretical frameworks, namely the locus of decentralised decision-making power, policy implementation, and educational change, the findings show that decentralised school governance has developed a sense of ownership of schools on the part of stakeholders. However, a number of factors hamper the decentralisation process. These include the rigid national educational regulatory framework, the uneven distribution of power within schools, and the school and community contexts that are not conducive to decentralisation. Findings also suggest that stakeholders feel incapable of functioning effectively in a decentralised school governance system. These findings imply that there is need for capacity building on the part of all stakeholders, as well as research into how clusters can be made more effective.
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