Cultural transformation

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AS WE bring the curtain down on the 2023/2024 academic year, many parents, children and teachers are breathing a huge sigh of relief, eagerly looking forward to the long and much needed respite from the daily stresses of schooling.

It is once again hoped that the vacation repair programme will hastily kick-in to address the myriad repairs urgently needed in the majority of the nation’s schools. But the entrenched culture of tardiness by the authorities when it comes to school repair, that has become the norm, shows no sign of transformation as we embark upon the vacation period.

To date the authorities have been unable to derive an appropriate formula to address the perennial problem of deteriorating school plant in an expeditious and effective manner.

The vacation period will also see a substantial number of teachers visiting the Ministry of Education to treat with a range of routine issues such as incremental arrears, acting allowances, medicals, appointments and upgrades.

Once again, these teachers would be greeted with a culture of indifference and excuses, notwithstanding the significant negative impact these issues continue to have on the overall effectiveness and efficiency of the system.

This culture of inefficiency and lack of accountability continues to beset the ministry, much to the consternation and chagrin of teachers whose frustrations are oftentimes exacted on TTUTA. Such frustrations cumulatively impact on teacher commitment, with attendant impacts on output and productivity.

While TTUTA diligently seeks to address these teacher concerns with the ministry, it is faced with a culture of excuses from administrative staff, who themselves are frustrated with similar problems.

The recognised majority unit for members of the teaching service continue to be challenged with a flippant and dismissive attitude from the Government via its line minister, who seems to have assigned nuisance value to the union. This is patently evident in the minimal number of meetings the minister has seen necessary to convene with the elected representatives of TTUTA. The culture of collaboration and discussions with the union has been reduced to "TTUTA will be told what it needs to know."

This culture of contempt and disdain for the union has even filtered down to the office of permanent secretary who oftentimes is represented by the deputy permanent secretary at meetings with the union. It has become a culture of "we make the decisions that affect the education system and the people who are directly impacted by these decisions are simply required to follow."

The once established culture and tradition of meaningful consultation and dialogue involving the union and the ministry hierarchy, beginning with the line minister, on critical matters affecting the education system has become a thing of the past.

Then there is the culture of resource deprivation that has become the norm at the nation’s schools. School funding and the provision of adequate resources for the delivery of curricula and facility management have become progressively worse over the last decade, forcing schools to re-establish a culture of fund-raising as an integral component of its modus operandi.

School principals have been forced to adopt a culture of constantly begging stakeholders for resources that in the past would have been provided by the State.

Between parent-teacher associations and local school boards, fundraising has become a prominent element of schools’ culture, with attendant negative impacts on curriculum delivery. Principals have been placed in the awkward position of being forced to make tough decisions, oftentimes violating provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, just to keep schools open.

We have also grown accustomed to the culture of the micromanagement of schools with principals merely reduced to clerical officers, despite the discretionary powers outlined in their job descriptions.

Routine discretionary leadership decisions regarding the daily functioning and management of schools now require "permission" from people higher up the chain of command, accompanied by an incessant request for data and reports.

These demands and instructions are enforced via a system of intimidation and subtle threats by supervisory functionaries, especially when it comes to people holding acting administrative positions.

So, when we talk about cultural transformation in the education system, these are unfortunately some of the negative cultures that ought to be addressed if meaningful change is expected. The cultural transformation ought to begin from the top, with an acknowledgement of these systemic deficiencies.

Trying to transform the negative cultures of the schools in isolation in a system that is characterised by inefficiency, contempt and disrespect is illusionary and defy management logic.

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"Cultural transformation"

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