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Policy and practice of community participation in the governance of basic education in rural Zambia

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posted on 2023-06-07, 16:24 authored by Taeko Okitsu
Since the 1990s, the Government of Zambia has pursued the decentralisation of basic education with strong emphasis on active community participation in local education governance, the aim being to increase the accountability of local education institutions to the community. The accompanying liberalisation of the basic education sector is expected to enhance the role of parents as customers with a freedom of choice in the education market; thus, leading to the greater accountability of schools through the market mechanism. This thesis investigates the extent to which these commitments are being practically realised in rural Zambia, which is a largely under-researched area. Specifically, it explores parental and community participation both in government basic schools and community schools, as well as at the district education authority level through the establishment of the District Education Board (DEB). The thesis undertakes a sociological investigation in order to understand the processes involved in parental and community participation from the viewpoints and experiences of the various local actors. Accordingly, it has employed an interpretive paradigm, utilising interviews, observations and document analysis as sources for the study. The findings of the thesis reveal a considerable gap between policy expectations and the realities at school and district levels, demonstrating that some of the underlying policy assumptions have not been met in practice. The thesis found that parents and communities in the rural setting frequently lack ability, agency and the spirit of voluntarism, factors that conspire to form a barrier to effective participation in local education affairs. These obstacles resulted in part from low cultural and economic capital, and the perception that local education matters constituted the domain of trained professionals. Furthermore, the low quality of education on offer and lack of transparency in the management of school resources also meant that parents judged the cost of participation to exceed the benefits. Thus, the policy assumption of the homogeneous, equal, willing and capable community playing a new participatory role cannot necessarily be taken for granted. Moreover, embedded micro-power relations between education professionals and laypeople, as well as amongst the latter, often influence the way different actors deliberate and negotiate in newly created participatory spaces. As a result, the voices and protests of the socially and economically disadvantaged are often poorly articulated, go unheard and lack influence. Laypeople are expected to play a larger managerial role in community schools, which should increase parental power to hold teachers accountable. In reality however, their ability to realise this was seriously constrained. In a context of chronic poverty, the community was unable to remunerate teachers sufficiently, and subsequently powerless to discipline or dismiss those frequently absent from school, given that it was virtually impossible to find other teachers willing to work for little or no remuneration. In terms of choice, parents were also compromised as customer stakeholders in both government and community schools. Many did not have the socio-economic or geographical wherewithal to exercise freedom of choice, which in any case was not adequately accompanied by either incentives or the threat of sanctions that might encourage teachers to perform better. The thesis further shows that teachers and district officials not only lack the willingness to embrace laypeople in their new governance roles but also lack the capacity and autonomy to respond to the demands of parents and communities even when they would like to; the centre still holds controls over many areas while resources allocated to the local level are grossly inadequate. Therefore, the thesis shows that the extent to which the policy of community participation in local education governance and school choice increases the accountability of local education institutions is open to question. Rather, it suggests that both micro and macro contexts play a vital role in shaping the way in which parents and communities participate in local education governance, in what form, and the consequent influence this has on accountability to the community. Thus, with the use of such a sociological framework, the thesis demonstrates the significance of context, power relations, and the differing social, cultural and economic capital that shape the way different actors participate or do not participate; a consideration that tends to be overlooked in the dominant discourse of decentralisation and community participation on the international education development agenda.


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