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The findings > Thematic Studies>Community Partnerships... >Part 6
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Key Lessons
 
The lessons from experience may of course be of different levels and degrees of magnitude. Some lessons are fundamental and have broad application, while others may apply to the mechanics of different circumstances. Here, the main stress is on the key lessons for the broad picture.
 
Fundamental Approaches
 

At the most fundamental level, two lessons deserve emphasis above all others:

A. Partnerships are important. Experience before and since the 1990 Jomtien conference clearly shows the value of partnerships in the goal of education for all. Governments cannot do everything by themselves; and communities cannot do everything by themselves. When they join forces, the chances of success are much enhanced.

B. Each situation is different. Despite the general lesson that partnerships are important, each setting requires individual tailoring. What works in one situation may not work in another; and what works at one point in time may not work so well subsequently. This requires great flexibility. Approaches based on the perspective that "one size fits all" are unlikely to be successful and sustained.

 
These points might seem obvious. However, they are sometimes overlooked, and deserve emphasis because they provide part of an overall framework for policy.
 
General Principles
 
1. Partnerships need trust. This trust must be on both sides: governments must trust communities, and communities must trust governments. This is not to imply that each side should not seek guarantees and build in safeguards. Indeed such guarantees and safeguards would seem in most circumstances to be both sensible and desirable. Nevertheless, the words of President Abdou Diouf of Senegal, expressed in the context of international partnerships, could equally refer to government and community partnerships. As observed by President Diouf (1999, p.34), trust is built on:
 

mutual recognition of each partner's institutional and self-interests, expectations, problems … and cultures. It is maintained through common experience, permanent communication, and proximity, which facilitate mutual understanding.

The reality in many countries is that governments and communities do not trust each other. Governments may feel threatened by well-organized communities, and contemptuous of poorly-organized ones. Communities may feel skeptical of government promises that old bureaucratic norms have changed, and intimidated by imbalances in access to expertise and other resources. In such a situation, the partners will be unwilling to help each other to meet institutional and other goals. Positive effort is needed on both sides.
 
2. Partnerships need long-term commitment. One encouraging sign is that advocacy of partnerships, like advocacy of decentralization, has been a consistent, sustained and growing theme for over a decade. In many (though not all) countries, such advocacy has survived abrupt changes of government and economic climate. Partnerships cannot be built up overnight, not least because trust is an essential ingredient. As in other relationships, efforts to collaborate commonly bring disappointments as well as success. Only with long-term commitment can partnerships be sustained in the face of short-term set-backs.
 
3. Partnerships need clear and mutually accepted roles. Government and community partnerships do not need equal roles to be played by both sides. Indeed in most settings that would be impossible: governments can command huge financial, human and other resources, while communities can only be minor players with limited resources. However, the major and minor players can still operate well together if participants are clear about their roles and are respectful of each other. The precise nature of roles will of course vary in different settings. For example, in one setting government might pay all teachers' salaries, while in another setting the community will pay salaries. Likewise, in one setting all buildings and land might be provided by government, while in another they will be provided by the community. The most important ingredients are that in each particular setting all sides are clear about their roles, and that the partners have mutual acceptance of the roles of others.
 
4. Partners must focus on both big and small pictures. Governments are more likely than local communities to have a big picture of the patterns and directions of development. National governments of course have broader remits than regional governments, which in turn have broader remits than local governments. But communities, almost by definition, are likely to have narrower visions which focus on their own localities or religious, ethnic or other groups. Harmony on the one hand requires governments to understand the smaller pictures on which communities mainly focus, and on the other hand requires communities to understand the bigger pictures on which governments mainly focus.
 
5. Partnerships need nurturing. Skills do not develop overnight, and attitudes may take even longer to adjust. This commonly requires deliberate efforts by the actors concerned. Partnerships do not usually happen by themselves. Sometimes they are precipitated by crisis; but in those cases the bonds usually dissolve when calmer times return. Sustained partnership, like other relationships, requires the actors to take positive measures to promote the goal. Governments may need to provide training and employ other measures to enhance community capacity. At the same time, governments must listen to the expressed needs of communities. As noted in Box 3 above, such listening requires recognition of the diversity of cultures, languages, customs and resources. It also requires recognition that education begins in the home and within the community, and must be nurtured there.
 
6. Partnerships are relationships between individuals as well as institutions. Ministries, NGOs and community bodies are institutions. However, they are all composed of, and run by, individuals. As observed by Sack (1999, p.12):

At the end of the day, the nature and quality of the relationships between institutions, ministries and agencies will depend on how individuals get along and work together. It will also depend on how those individuals manage within their respective institutional constraints (deadlines, procedures, reward structures, priorities, etc.) and how they communicate their constraints to their partners working in other institutions.

One problem is that although institutions are durable and evolve slowly, individuals within those institutions may change jobs frequently. This makes the exercise of partnership more difficult. Frequent turnover of personnel can create frustration and fatigue, and militates against awareness of past decisions, strategies, accomplishments and lessons. Institutions need to be mindful of this problem, and seek ways to tackle it through good record-keeping and careful briefing of new personnel.
 
7. Genuine partnerships involve much more than mere contribution of finance. Some governments are chiefly interested in partnerships as a mechanism to secure resources and to reduce budgetary crises. In too many settings, so-called partnership simply becomes an alternative to taxation. Communities are expected to provide cash, labor and/or materials with little voice in the ways that these resources will be used. In a few settings the opposite pattern is found: governments disburse money to communities and then expect this disbursement to lead to feelings of cooperation. Neither approach can be called genuine partnership. Focus only on finance fails to secure the much deeper benefits that can be gained from shared decision-making on the substance of education.
 
The Significance of Broad Historical Legacies
 
This study has repeatedly stressed that the nature of strategies must vary according to circumstances. This includes broad historical legacies as well as more immediate economic, political and other circumstances. In some settings the soil for the development of partnerships is more fertile than in others. For example, many African and Asian societies have long traditions of community organization and self-help for social and economic purposes (King 1976; Abreu 1982; Biak Cin & Scandlen 1988; Haq & Haq 1998). These traditions can be built on, revitalized and reshaped to fit continuing and new demands in the goal of education for all. Other societies, including for example those with Soviet legacies, have weaker traditions of community self-help. This may partly be because of differing cultural factors, and partly because of a long history of centralized government provision of practically all social services.
 
Elaborating on this point, it is useful to compare cultures in such countries as Russia and Mongolia with those in the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR). In Russia and Mongolia, traditions of community self-help remain weak because of social and political factors. Following the triumph of communism in the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, the Russian authorities stressed that the state had sole responsibility and duty to provide education for its citizens. Mongolia became the world's second communist state in 1924, and for the next six and a half decades was heavily influenced by models in Russia and other parts of the Soviet Union. In addition, the fact that a large proportion of the Mongolian population was (and is) both scattered and nomadic further militated against formation of close bonds between communities and schools. The early 1990s brought collapse of communism, and both Russia and Mongolia officially became capitalist states. However, the combination of social factors and the long legacy of communism meant that community partnership was an alien concept which could not easily be fostered.
 
The PRC and Lao PDR provide instructive contrasts. Communism in those two countries survived the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. However, both countries moved to market economies; and the governments of both countries found it much easier in the 1990s to promote partnerships with communities. To some extent this was because communist government was a much more recent innovation than in Russia and Mongolia: in the PRC it dated from 1949, and in Lao PDR it dated from 1975. Other factors were that cultures were more strongly oriented towards community organization and self-help, and the communist governments of the PRC and Lao PDR had not espoused such extreme versions of state dominance in education as had their counterparts in Russia and Mongolia (Robinson 1988; Asian Development Bank 1993). Among the results has been that during the 1990s significant forms of government-community partnership could be developed with relative ease in both the PRC and the Lao PDR, even though the states remained officially socialist.
 
Nevertheless, even in countries of the former Soviet Union which had little tradition of community activity, the 1990s brought some important new initiatives. In Russia, this included advocacy of 'state-societal' schools in which the state provided no more than 49 per cent of the capital and in which other bodies, including communities or other non-governmental groups, provided the remainder (Borevskaya 1999). The balance in provision of funds was matched by a balance in the exercise of control. Likewise, communities in Azerbaijan and Albania realized that the government was no longer in a position to provide much support, and moved to self-help in an effort to retain at least some of the previous high standards of education (UNICEF 1998a, p.80). In such settings economic crisis has softened attitudes on both sides: governments have become more interested in the idea that communities can help share financial burdens, and communities have become more willing to contribute resources in order to maintain infrastructure for their children. What has started with rather narrowly-focused financial dimensions has in many cases broadened to other dimensions including planning and curriculum.
 
Decentralizing shifts have also been evident in many other parts of the world (Cummings & Riddell 1994; Lauglo 1995; Fiske 1996). Some of these shifts have simply been from higher to lower levels of government, and not all have involved partnerships with communities. Nevertheless, this study has demonstrated that a significant number of decentralizing shifts did involve such a partnership.
 

Once again, however, official policies have not always matched actual practice. In this connection, Gershberg (1999a, 1999b) has instructively contrasted patterns in Mexico and Nicaragua:

In Mexico, two reforms in the period 1978 to 1997 were officially described as decentralization. The first, between 1978 and 1992, involved the deconcentration of the federal government's ministry of education by establishing Federal Delegations in each state. The second, launched in 1992, officially transferred responsibility for direct service provision from the federal government to the states. Each school was required to form a Social Participation Council; and each municipality was expected to have a Municipal Education Council.

In Nicaragua, decentralization was a feature of the 1990s. During the period 1979 to 1990, Nicaragua was governed by the revolutionary Sandinista regime. Major changes were achieved in education, which included a far-reaching literacy campaign (Arnove 1994). These achievements, however, emanated from a highly centralized regime. In 1990, decentralization became a goal of the new, counter-revolutionary government. One part of this highly politicized movement was an Autonomous Schools Program which required establishment of school councils comparable to their counterparts in Mexico (Rivarola & Fuller 1999).

 
The contrasts in the actual operation of these reforms is striking. Gershberg (1999b, p.758) criticized the Mexican reform, and bluntly described the attempt to operate Social Participation Councils as a failure. One reason, he suggested, was that Mexico had little history of grassroots mobilization. Indeed, rather to the contrary, it had a long history of tight, centralized, single-party, state control. Further, the reform legislation gave the Social Participation Councils only advisory power over school personnel, budgets and curricula. The Nicaraguan councils, by contrast, took hold because the central government had stronger political will. Parents had a majority voting block on the councils, and they were granted significant powers in resource allocation and personnel management. Both were top-down initiatives; but the Nicaraguan example shows that major changes can be achieved even under such circumstances. Ironically, the legal basis for the change was much clearer in Mexico than in Nicaragua. But this shows that laws by themselves are inadequate tools for effecting change, and that political motivation is a more important ingredient.
 
In a very different context, lessons may also be learned from the radical reform of New Zealand's education system. Reform commenced in 1988 with a report entitled Administering for Excellence (Picot 1988). Part of the background lay in an electoral setback to the government in 1987, when 'problems in education' were found to have been a major determinant of voting patterns (Ramsay 1993, p.262). A major plank of the reforms was transfer of responsibility for running schools from the government's Education Department to teachers and trustees. This placed administration of schools in the hands of local people, and ensured decision-making at that level rather than in a distant bureaucracy.
 
Ferguson (1998, p.8) observed that the reform created "deep shock" for many who had devoted their lives to building the education system up to that point. The size and powers of the central administration were drastically reduced, and schools were forced to respond to market forces and community needs from which they had hitherto been distanced. The reform was very controversial; but Ferguson (p.47) asserted that nobody within the current education system in New Zealand would want to revert to the way things used to be. She added that:
 
There is a much stronger notion of partnership between boards of trustees and staff. With the occasional dramatic exception, most would claim improved relationship and communication between parents and teachers leading to enhanced learning.
 
The New Zealand context is of course very different from the majority of settings with which the Education for All movement is concerned. New Zealand already had a well-educated populace and strong 'human capital' which could be mobilized. However, the reform has instructive parallels with that in Nicaragua as a broadly successful, top-down, "root and branch" initiative. Taken together, the Nicaraguan and New Zealand reforms show that radical and beneficial change can be achieved in very different settings.
 
In systems which do become more decentralized, governments have to be more tolerant of diversity. The need for such tolerance may be evident in countries with relatively low enrollments, such as Mali and Pakistan, as well as in countries with high enrollments such as Azerbaijan, Albania and New Zealand.
 
Elaborating on the situation in Mali, at one level the government welcomed the schools operated by NGOs during the 1990s because they helped reach communities and children who would otherwise have been unreached. In 1997/98 schools operated by diverse NGOs served 83,400 children; and in the Koulikoro District, for instance, they had raised the enrollment rate by 10 per cent (Mali 1999, pp.7-8). However, the government felt uneasy about the nature of the model employed by some NGOs. For example, the model operated by Save the Children emphasized vernacular instruction in contrast to the French-medium mainstream system, and employed teachers on looser conditions of service compared with the government system. Indeed, despite legislation which established the Save the Children institutions as schools, key ministry representatives considered them to be 'literacy centers' rather than 'real' primary schools (Tietjen 1999, p.25); and official statistics listed the Save the Children schools separately from other institutions (Mali 1999, p.8). The government was more comfortable with other NGO models which seemed closer in structure to the mainstream public system, but had some ambivalence even about them. Some resolution to the problem was achieved when Save the Children devised a bridging program to allow children to move from its vernacular schools to French-medium schools in the public system. However, the government, while welcoming NGO initiatives because they have increased the volume of education and reached children who would otherwise have remained unreached, still had to tolerate greater diversity in the system than existed in the former, more centralized system (Esquieu & Péano 1996).
 
An alternative situation is one in which the starting point for the balance between the actors has been rather different. Thus some societies have had rather decentralized systems which have exhibited considerable diversity and had problematic features in terms of equity and coherence. In Asia, for example, the small territory of Macau until recently had a very uncoordinated collection of systems which operated independently of each other. Macau was a Portuguese territory which in 1999 was reunified with China on a model which followed the 1997 reunification of Hong Kong (Bray & Koo 1999). In 1987 the government of Macau commenced steps to strengthen the education system so that schools would be less variable in quality, and so that the public could be assured of minimum standards in education. The government did this by entering a partnership with schools, providing finance, training and guidance. The intervention of the Macau government permitted launch of a fee-free education system which aimed to improve access for the poor. Also, the strengthening of coherence within the education system meant that pupils could more easily transfer from one school to another, and could progress through the system with a wider range of options.
 
This observation leads to a broader point about the role of the state in protecting the interests of the poor. The United Nations Development Programme (1997, p.101) has pointed out that "the call for people's mobilization must not be a justification for the state to abdicate its responsibilities". It has added (p.101) the observation that a poverty eradication strategy "requires not a retreating, weak state but an active strong one". Thus, despite the widespread calls for decentralization, policy-makers should consider the limits of reform and should pay careful heed to balances. Returning to Arnstein's ladder, a strong case can be made for avoidance of extremes at both bottom and top. When education systems are operated exclusively by governments, they tend to be excessively bureaucratic and inflexible; but when they are run exclusively by communities and other non-government actors, they may be inequitable and fragmented. Partnership provides a more appropriate intermediate balance. The precise nature of this balance will of course vary in different situations. It may also need different emphases at different times (Box 11).
 

Box 11: Walking on Two Legs, or Travelling on Two Railway Lines

In the People's Republic of China, partnership between government and community takes various forms and has gone through various shifts. One important shift was a decentralization policy launched in 1980. The rationale set out in an official document (quoted by Cheng 1997, p.394) could be echoed elsewhere:

In a large country such as ours, which is heavily populated and economically under-developed, the task of universalizing primary education cannot be shouldered by the government alone.

The authorities mobilized rural communities and local enterprises to construct and operate schools. The government paid some teachers, but encouraged communities to employ additional personnel. The overall policy was known as "walking on two legs".

The basic philosophy of partnership was maintained in the 1990s, and did much to promote the quantity and quality of primary education. Over the years, however, the government has made various adjustments in the weight on each leg. For example, while the reform in 1980 increased the weight on communities, adjustment in 1986 reduced it by providing government subsidies for the salaries of community-employed teachers. The early 1990s brought a different element when private entrepreneurs were encouraged to play an increasing role; but again the government monitored and support this initiative.

Sometimes, an appropriate balance between government and community has been achieved, and steady progress can be made like a train moving with equal weight along each railway line. In other circumstances, periodic adjustment has to be made to the weightings. This is more like walking, where weight is placed first on one leg and then on the other.

 
Points of Leverage
 
Finally, it is useful to highlight some key points of leverage for initiating and extending change. Many of these have been mentioned in the preceding pages; but the major ones can be grouped together and listed together with others which might otherwise escape attention. Once again, the nature of the points of leverage will vary in different societies according to economic, political and other factors. However, the following six points deserve particular emphasis.
 

1. Promote public awareness of goals and rationales. For obvious reasons, government personnel will be much more likely to work with communities, and communities will be more likely to come forward to work with governments, if a clear statement of goals and rationales has been disseminated and agreed upon. This requires extensive and sustained commitment through discussion, documentation, television, radio, public speeches, etc.. In countries as diverse as New Zealand, Nicaragua and South Africa, advances in community partnership have evolved through far-reaching political changes. However, fundamental political change is not essential: in many settings policy-makers can achieve a great deal through existing frameworks.

2. Encourage teachers to reach out and to listen. Teachers commonly underestimate the extent to which community members can contribute solutions to educational problems. Carron & Ta Ngoc (1996, pp.171-176) have compared aspects of school-community relations in China, Guinea, India and Mexico. In China, class teachers are expected as part of their normal duties to visit the home of each student at least once a term. Data collected in Zhejiang Province in 1990 showed that many teachers did indeed fulfill these duties (Cheng 1996, p.92). In Guinea, India and Mexico, by contrast, teachers had weak knowledge of their students' homes; and when parents came to the schools, the teachers' main objectives were to remind the parents of various responsibilities in supervising children, paying fees, and repairing the buildings. Very rarely were parents involved in broader discussion about what happens in the classroom and about the major policy dilemmas facing their schools. Regrettably, developments in China during the 1990s brought weakening of old standards and practices, especially in urban areas. However, experience in many contexts shows that even parents who themselves have low levels of education are commonly both able and willing to make major contributions in these domains. Teachers can also reach out to identify ways in which the school can serve the community, as opposed to ways in which the community can serve the school. School buildings can be opened for community functions, and both students and teachers can assist with community initiatives to improve the environment, address moral or religious issues, support the elderly, etc..

3. Employ community development officers and similar personnel. Box 7, above, mentioned the role of the Community Development Officer in the Mombasa (Kenya) School Improvement Project. This individual played a major role in liaison between schools, homes and communities. Similar personnel have been successfully employed in projects in other countries (see e.g. Hyde 1999b, p.13; Bartlett 2000, p.6). In some settings a major task for such personnel is to create a sense of community in circumstances where it is lacking. Governments which are concerned about cost-effectiveness may find that the salaries of these people represent an excellent investment.

4. Form parents' associations and/or school committees. While in some countries parents' associations and school committees have long histories, in other countries they are recent innovations or do not exist at all. Experience in various settings has shown that where parents' associations have their own executive committees which are separate from the school committees, careful liaison is necessary to define roles and coordinate actions. However, the benefits of such associations and committees have been resoundingly demonstrated in a wide range of settings. Where they do not already exist, a strong case can be made for their establishment. Membership of the committees does not need to be confined to parents. In Cambodia, for example, a key role is commonly played by Buddhist monks.

5. Provide matching grants, contracts and other resource inputs. In many countries, community interest and partnership has been stimulated through matching grants of various kinds. Such grants may either be equally balanced (i.e. the government provides one dollar to match every dollar contributed by the community) or geared in some way (e.g. the government provides three dollars for every dollar contributed by the community). Gearing is a mechanism to provide extra incentives to communities which need them. Matching grants can be free-standing if desired, or can be mixed with block grants given to schools at flat rates. The government of Mauritius has provided such a mixture, with a ceiling on the funds provided in matching grants in order to permit financial planning on the government side (Mauritius 1991, p.112). In Pakistan, provincial governments have found that grants to PTAs both stimulate and empower communities to embark on stronger partnerships (Khan & Rafi 1999). The approach in Madagascar has been to establish formal contracts in which the government provides construction materials and in many cases teachers, and communities undertake the construction and agree to enroll and retain pupils (Tilahimena 1999).

6. Provide Training. Almost all innovations need capacity development of various kinds. Teachers may not be good at working with parents and other community members; and parents and other community members may not be good at working with teachers. In countries as diverse as Ethiopia, Pakistan and Fiji Islands, governments and NGOs have run workshops and provided handbooks and other materials for government officers, head teachers, and community leaders. Such training may focus on such basic skills as record-keeping and chairing of meetings. It may also call attention to issues such as transparency in decision-making, gender and socio-economic equity, curriculum and facilities planning, discipline, and employment of school leavers. In some countries, resources invested in school-level and community-level workshops have greatly improved the efficiency and effectiveness of education systems.

 
Where community self-help initiatives are already strong, the greatest need may be for harnessing and guiding initiatives rather than for stimulating them. In these cases, governments may need to provide technical and professional information, for example in building designs, accounting, and curriculum development. They may also need to insist on some controls, e.g. on registration of teachers and open enrollment for pupils of all religions, genders, socio-economic strata, etc..
 
In contrast, where self-help initiatives are weak, governments may need to find ways to stimulate them. The tactic in Azerbaijan and Albania has been to commence with the small number of groups which are responsive, in order to provide a demonstration effect to communities which might be more reluctant. This strategy risks creation or exacerbation of inequalities, and also of course demands resources from the government or other agencies. However, at least some inequalities might need to be tolerated in order to achieve broader objectives; and allocation of resources to develop partnership models might in the long run prove the best type of investment.
 
All these strategies require sensitive application. This study has emphasized that partnership has a political dimensions as well as an educational one, and reforms sometimes lead to unexpected outcomes. However, sufficient experience has accumulated to show that productive partnerships can be fostered in circumstances of almost all types.
 

Box 12: Planning for Partnerships

Discussing the goal of stronger partnerships at the school and community level, Shaeffer & Govinda (1997, p.17) highlighted the importance of planning. "Community-school partnerships do not easily happen by themselves", they stressed; "they must be planned for and trained for".

Elaborating on this statement, Shaeffer and Govinda continued (p.17):

The system as a whole needs to accept and incorporate certain structural and procedural changes that facilitate strong partnerships among the school, the community, and local education offices. The transfer of some authority (and responsibility) down to the level of the school and out to civil society is one such change. But teachers can be trained to think of themselves as "extension agents" of the ministry, working with and in the community as well as in the school; supervisors can be trained to see that one of their roles is to animate these partnerships; and community leaders can be helped to understand better the variety of support that they can offer to the school.

 
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