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Perspectives on community-school relations: a study of two schools in Ghana

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posted on 2023-06-07, 15:19 authored by Ato Essuman
In 1987, the Government of Ghana embarked on a process to decentralise education management to districts throughout the country as part of a programme of wider social and democratic governance reforms. A vital element of this reform was the prescription of active community participation in the affairs of schools within their localities. The establishment of school management committees (SMCs) was to create a new school governance landscape based on community participation, as well as devolution of power to the metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies. In this regard, considerable attention has been focused on central government?s understanding of how this devolution of authority to communities and schools should work and how communities should assume responsibility for increased participation in schools. From the inception of this policy over two decades ago, there seems to have been no feedback through research findings or diagnostic policy reviews on how this new role of the community has been received, interpreted and executed in its engagement with schools, particularly in the rural poor and underserved areas. Mindful of this, this study sought to explore the multiple understandings of how community and school relations work, as well as the challenges and pressures which influence community – school relationships. The study employed the qualitative methods of interview and documentary analysis to collect data on the understanding and experiences of community – school relations from SMCs and PTAs; other members of the community; the school; and education management. The findings suggest that many of the theoretical and policy expectations about representation and participation in school improvement through the SMC and PTA concept are only evident in form and not in practice. Furthermore, in poor rural contexts, it is often the comparatively better educated and influential members of the community, including informal groups who become the new brokers of decision-making, and who through their actions close spaces for the genuine representation and participation of others. In some cases, SMCs seldom work as the de facto representatives of the community, as decisions are made and critical interactions occur outside this formal structure for community representation and engagement in school governance. This affects the visibility of SMCs and undermines their credibility and capacity to play their intended role. Moreover, the degree of community participation in schools appears to be shaped by the school fulfilling community expectations of schooling and on a „social contract? based on the principle of reciprocity. These findings support the view that the fate of schools is increasingly tied to and powerfully shaped by key players at the local level, and that this happens through more informal and traditional roles which are more trusted but not necessarily representative of the image presented by policy on community participation in school governance. The findings also highlight the threat to voluntarism, a key assumption of the policy on community participation and the importance of seeking ways in which schools can play a more active role as change agents in the community, thereby legitimising in the community?s eyes their importance in the life of the community.


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