School boards: appointment and effectiveness
According to Robert Fuderich, representative of UNICEF, in his message in the introduction to All Hands on Board (A Handbook for School Boards), "Good governance does not simply happen. It is important that we recognise that good governance requires hard work and the building of appropriate skills and competencies. There must be an investment in ensuring the responsible personnel are supported with the capacity-building and support material required."
I believe we would all agree with this perspective. Unfortunately, this is not always so. There are too many stories of board chairmen in government-owned schools who are appointed because of political influence but who do not have the required competencies or skills needed to properly provide support to the principal of the schools. The conflicts that usually ensue in such cases within the board of management or between the principal and the chairman often result in the students suffering.
The Task Force on Education Reform Report 2004's recommendations (pg. 37) to strengthen governance and management at the school level include the following:
b. The National Council on Education to cease the practice of inviting members of parliament to submit recommendations for appointment of board chairmen.
c. Board chairmen and all board members must be trained and certified in board governance.
Neither of these two recommendations has been adopted. Although the National Council on Education (NCE), which has oversight of the school boards, sought to implement the first recommendation, it was met with stern resistance by the members of parliament (MPs). Instead, the practice has developed where, in the case of government-owned primary, all-age and infant schools, the MP, the education officer and principal will send nominations for the post of board chairman and one other member to the NCE.
POLITICS TRUMPS POLICIES
In the case of government-owned high schools, the number of nominees increases to three, in addition to the board chairman. The NCE seeks to have the three nominators arrive at a consensus on these nominees. In spite of this accepted practice, it is widely known that political influence sometimes trumps in this process. This needs to be addressed.
Furthermore, although nominations to the boards of management of schools have to be proven to be 'fit and proper' persons, many times they do not have the skills or competence to advise a principal or adequately supervise a principal of a school. There are anecdotes of board chairmen who are only interested in wielding their power to authorise and sign cheques. The NCE has the mandate to "train boards of management of educational institutions". The council, however, is prevented from fulfilling this task because of a lack of resources, both human and financial.
Therefore, the council is only able to train one school per region every three years. This is woeful given that the chief inspector's report indicates that in 41 per cent of our public institutions, leadership and management are either unsatisfactory or need immediate support.
As Robert Fuderich says, "There must be an investment in ensuring the responsible personnel are supported with the capacity-building and support material required." There must be alternative ways that are introduced to facilitate the selection and training of board members that will prove effective.
In this regard, since there is a dearth of qualified and competent persons to serve on each school board, the minister should then look seriously at introducing regional boards, with subsidiary boards to run the schools. In this way, the country will see more efficient governance in our schools, thereby improving the accountability of our principals and school personnel, which, in turn, will result in the improved performance of our students.