Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol, UK
This article will explore how the future Comparative and International Education researchers and experienced present researchers could contribute more effectively to the development and implementation of educational policy and practice with cross-cultural perspectives. In order to examine how theories could put into practice more effectively, one international development project in education is presented: The Primary School Management Project (PRISM) in Kenya. The project will be explored with more special regards to the concept of capacity building, local ownership and partnership with cross-cultural perspectives.
Keywords: Cross-cultural perspective, uncritical transfer, educational policy, international development, context matters, partnership, local ownership
Education (one of our most contrived activities) depends more on cultural inheritance and the opportunities and needs of present circumstance than almost everything else that we do. That dependence on inheritance and circumstance is the justification for a new comparative investigation of education.
(King, E.J. 2000:267)
Advantages of Comparative and International Education (CIE)
Comparative and International Education (CIE) could help not only its researchers but also politicians and practitioners to have more broad perspectives in this rapidly changing globalised world with its multidisciplinary foundations, its long-established concern with international agencies’ policies and its sensitivity towards culture and context (Crossley, 2000; Crossley & Watson, 2003). It is especially pertinent with the current international trends with knowledge based aid (King & Mcgrath, 2002; Mcgrath, 2002) that often intentionally or unintentionally lead to uncritical transfer of educational policy and practice (Crossley, 1984; Crossley, 2000; Crossley & Watson, 2003).
Thus, as a CIE researcher, it is necessary to be aware of what is going on globally and locally (Cowen, 2000) with cross-cultural perspectives. It is important to note that ‘common problems’may prevail in different countries, but ‘common model’ cannot be applied because every country has different culture/context (Crossley & Watson, 2003: 39). And the different ‘context matters’ (Crossley & Jarvis, 2001) when designing research and applying theory. Unfortunately, influential international agendas are often put into practice conflicting with local agendas (Crossley & Watson, 2003). That is the time when CIE researchers are needed the most as a medium to bridge theories, policies and practices (Crossley, 2000) with both global and local minds. In this article I will explore how the future CIE researchers and experienced present researchers could contribute more effectively to the development and implementation of educational policy and practice with cross-cultural perspectives.
In the light of cross-cultural perspectives, researchers should look more closely to examine perspectives of ‘others’ as well. The prominence of Western literature and perspective in the field has been frequently criticised (Cowen, 2000; Crossley, 2000; Crossley & Watson, 2003; Crossley & Tikly, 2004; Elliott & Gringorenko, 2007). And more equitable bridging between the North, South, East and West are required to build successful partnership and local ownership for more sustainable development and capacity building (Samnoff, 1998; Crossley, 2000; Crossley & Watson, 2003). In order to examine how theories could put into practice more effectively, one international development project in education is presented: The Primary School Management Project (PRISM) in Kenya, which was externally funded by United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID). The project will be explored with more special regards to the concept of capacity building, local ownership and partnership with cross-cultural perspectives.
Primary School Management Project (PRISM)
A Rationale for the Case Study
PRISM was started in 1996 and completed in 2000 with the purpose of mainly providing management and leadership training for primary school headteachers and deputy heads (Herriot et al, 2000; Crossley et al, 2005; Kamunde, 2010). It is regarded to be one of DFID’s successful sub-Saharan African projects (Crossley et al, 2005). PRISM was supported by the Kenyan Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MOEST), internally, and DFID, externally. The Centre for British Teachers (CfBT) managed the project jointly with the MOEST. And also the project was carefully planned and implemented through collaboration between Kenyatta University (Kenya) and the University of Bristol, Graduate School of Education (UK) (Crossley et al., 2005). The collaborative partnership facilitated local ownership by empowering local capacity, which will be discussed as an important policy.
Not long after the project has completed, Free Primary Education (FPE) policy has introduced to Kenya in 2003 with both local and global pressure. By studying PRISM’s research approach towards practice and policy and its strengths and weaknesses, we could learn how theory, practice and policy are closely related to the global and the local context. Moreover, studying the relationship between three concepts could give ideas to researchers how the field could contribute more effectively in international development in education. Especially, with the belief that we could learn more from the weaknesses than strengths, I would like to focus on the limitations of the project to gain valuable insights and lessons later on for future research.
Since the World Conference on Education for All was held in Jomtien in 1990, educational development as a way of capacity building has been globally prioritised (Crossely & Watson 2003; UNESCO, 2009). World Bank’s Knowledge for Development report (World Bank, 1998) justified this international educational policy and practice with the notion that knowledge development would accelerate sustained economic growth (McGrath, 2002). In the pursuit of disseminating knowledge, the movement of finding effective schools in Western countries, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, has been reignited. This global pressure was also reflected in PRISM (Crossley et al, 2005). To build the sustainable capacity in education, it is important to strengthen the capacity of leadership. In school effectiveness theory, the most influential figure in education is often considered to be headteachers (Sammons et al, 1995; Sammons, 2007). By focusing on headteachers’ management and leadership training, PRISM pursued an effective way to sustain and develop quality of education to keep up with the global standard.
Another global pressure which affected PRISM was the issue of decentralisation. Globalisation accelerated decentralisation and local autonomy, which gives more reasons for local cultural identities (Giddens, 1999). Sadly, poor countries might not be able to exert the local autonomy nor cope with decentralisation without external funding. Thus, it is essential for multilateral/bilateral agencies to design the research to be sustainable even after the funding phase. In the light of decentralisation, PRISM was designed to encourage schools and communities to be more responsible by empowering local ownership.
With the concept of ownership, ‘new’ strengthened partnership has been emphasised in the international co-operation arena (Bray, 2000; Higgins & Rwanyange, 2005; Crossley et al., 2005). Bray (2000: 32) highlights the joined power of donor agencies, governments and communities with more cultural sensitive perspective. PRISM’s collaborative partnership was also in the line of this international justification for more sustainable development. The question is how this globally theorised and pursued policies—capacity building, ownership and partnership—affected national context of Kenya.
Kenya’s Experience of Ownership and Partnership through PRISM
The current international trend of prioritising primary education was not the only motivation of PRISM. The urgent need for improved primary school management and leadership training was sought out within the Kenyan government (Crossley et al., 2005). Reflecting global school effectiveness theory and decentralisation, more professional headteachers with leadership and management capacity were demanded. To ensure the sustainability of the project, in-service training was recommended with Headteachers Support Groups (HTSGs) (Herriot et al., 2002; Crossley et al., 2005).
HGSGs are clusters of headteachers, local trainers and community members formed to train headteachers and to establish a network of potential ‘pockets of excellence’ (Herriot et al., 2002; 510). It is designed to impact and empower locals and community, who will eventually support headteachers efficiently. Theoretically, the pattern seems to create the circle of leadership that ultimately begets local ownership. The theory was put into practice with a strengthened cascade system in training model.
A cascade system was applied before in Kenya with The Strengthening of Primary Education (SPRED) project from 1991 to 1996 assisted by DFID (DFID, 1998). However, according to DFID (DFID, 1998), the training model was reported to dilute the quality of information with top-down system and to under-utilise local capacity. The PRISM team reinforced the training model and designed it to be more bottom-up in the hope for grass-roots level changes. By strengthening the existing model, the PRISM team showed the importance of ‘continuity’ (Crossley & Jarvis, 2000) of practice.
Herriot et al. (2002) claims HTSGs brought rippling effects of grass-roots level changes in learning process with an involvement of community and parents with their constructive feedback. The ripple effect also encouraged the concept of a learning organisation through self-help, which was considered to be valuable for sustainability in decentralised administration (Herriot et al. 2002). This decentralised system of HTSGs (Herriot et al., 2002: 514) reflects Kenyan’s efforts to keep up with global context. Kenyan communities tried to cope with this world trend, decentralisation, by enhancing local capacity coupled with headteachers’ leadership. The local experience of planning for educational change (Higgins & Rwanyange, 2005: 10) empowered local ownership with local voices. The locally grounded experience suggests the powerful effect of grass-roots level of changes.
Despite the collaborative efforts, continuing dominancy of one-way communication problem between headteachers and other stakeholders was frequently reported (Crossley et al., 2005: 82). The culture of respecting elders in Africa could have caused this problem. CIE researchers often come across this kind of sensitive culture-related issues. And handling the situation with more broad perspective is necessary not pushing the situation in the way the donor agency wants. Otherwise, the concept of partnership would be faded into less than rhetoric legitimacy with ‘dependency syndrome’ (Herriot et al., 2002: 515) threatening sustainability in education.
To avoid the ‘dependency syndrome’, constructing more insider perspective in the project is pertinent. The participatory nature of PRISM is designed to give local ownership and partnership through contribution of both insiders and outsiders. The diversity of participants means a diverse team of perspectives, which makes it possible to interpret findings of research in cross-cultural perspectives. Smith (2000) emphasises that it is necessary to involve recipient’s perspective to avoid pitfalls of depending on donor’s perspective. Smith goes on to say that the various perspectives are especially needed when we evaluate projects. Whether projects were effective or not should be weighed in both perspectives of aid agencies and beneficiaries. Thus, building research and evaluation capacity in Kenya with cross-cultural perspective became inevitable to achieve true ownership and genuine partnership.
Through the direct participation of MOEST in the process of research design, the PRISM team developed the research and evaluation capacity within the MOEST and Kenyatta University. Crossley et al (2005:70) argues that the participatory research brought an increase in the involvement of MOEST/PRISM personnel in the design, conduct and writing-up of many studies. Through this direct involvement of administration, practitioners could realise potential problems in practice by direct feedback and could handle them more flexibly. It also made administrative workers be aware of implementation issues (Crossley et al., 2005:70). The practical and direct collaboration between the government and Kenyatta University shows the possible notion for relationship between government bodies and local universities (Crossley et al., 2005). The balanced relationship between two bodies could promote research and evaluation capacity for the future researches. Thus, it could be argued that strengthening local research and evaluation capacity not only helps in practical level, such as writing reports, but also empower local ownership by bridging communities and practitioners.
Limitations and Discussions
Approach towards the Research Model: Defining the Concept
Even though PRISM project team tried hard to reflect local context with careful planning, the approach towards the role of the headteacher in education was originated from Western school effectiveness assumptions (Crossley et al., 2005). Despite the fact that headteachers’ leadership and management skills have been proved to be essential worldwide, there is a potential danger of ‘uncritical transfer’ of school effectiveness to African countries (Harber & Davies, 1997). Harber and Davies further on questions what constitutes ‘effective’ headteachers in African context. Africa is such a diverse and vast continent with many different languages co-existing even in one country. The geographic and cultural differences should be considered into the rationale of research design. In the light of this complicated context, PRISM project’s long-term sustainability could be at stake (Crossley et al., 2005).
How we define the ‘effectiveness’ could affect research design, practice and its result: success or failure. However, judging the success of a project could be related to the power game between international agencies and national governments. As mentioned earlier in this paper, Smith (2000) stressed the necessity of putting recipient’s perspective in the research design and evaluation for genuine partnership. He suggests that:
There is a need to involve other stakeholders more fully in identifying project success criteria. Although donors have made moves towards including representatives of the recipient government or host institution in project evaluation teams, the terms of reference for the evaluation may well still be those of the donor. (Smith, 2000: 217)
Thus, it is pertinent to ask what effectiveness means in the country with cross-cultural perspectives: are we talking about cost effectiveness; effective research design; how it affects international test result; getting more help from aid countries; getting the outcome that donor agencies want; how to develop human resources; how much it contributes to well-being of citizens? It is also crucial to think about ‘whose’ effectiveness we should consider. Holmes and Crossley (2004:204) critically highlight the unfairness of decisions from outsiders to define the parameters of research design. Hence, it is crucial as a researcher to look beyond the global standard of effectiveness and success. Otherwise, the ‘genuine’ partnership that we always emphasise would remain rather rhetoric.
Timing & Continuity
It takes a long time to set up true partnerships between researchers, policy-makers and practitioners (Crossley et al., 2005). However, tight budget and timetable from external agency could make cultural trust and understanding difficult to be established. The diversity of team members in PRISM project was one of great strengths, but it also required more time to build research and evaluation capacity (Crossley et al., 2005). Without the trust and bond, it could be hard to establish a genuine partnership between donor agencies and recipients.
Not long after the project was completed, Kenyan government introduced FPE policy. Even though, the government praised PRISM and wanted to apply the project in the new policy, the impact of PRISM could not be fully shown (Kamunde, 2010). For the better judgment of success of the project, it needed more time to evaluate. It is not, of course, the fault of the project itself. However, when new policy and practice meets the old one, the latter could be easily forgotten. In the light of continuity, future researchers in Kenya could consider altering and applying PRISM in the new policy with reconceptualisation. Hence, interaction between researchers is highly recommended to bridge an old project and a new one.
Continuing Financial Problem
The financial problem in Kenyan primary schools has always been a big realistic hindrance to sustainable practice and policy, especially in the poor region (Crossley et al., 2005). One of the goals of PRISM was to create the sustainable project which could continue even after the funding period. The growing importance of decentralisation has affected the design of PRISM with cost-sharing framework. By sharing cost in education, PRISM attempted to make more independent schools and communities (Herriot et al., 2002) to be prepared in the decentralised world. Consequently, this had put more burden on parents and communities in poorer regions (Crossley et al. 2005). The financial problem in developing countries is and will be a big obstacle which everybody involved in international development must tackle. Thus, researchers should be more careful with the interpretation of a concept or a theory which could affect results of policy in unintended way by applying universal policy uncritically. Paradoxically, this shows it is important for researchers to acknowledge the national context more seriously and keep pursuing the sustainable project that could maximize local capacity to manage cost efficiently.
Constant Monitoring and Evaluation of International Projects
While researching the evaluation and lessons from PRISM, I came across a few documents related to PRISM. Since it is regarded as a role model to other international projects, several documents complemented PRISM with its accomplishments and its inspirational influence on other projects (Herrioet et al., 2002; Higgins & Rwanyange, 2005; Crossley et al., 2005; Kamunde, 2010). However, there was little criticism towards the project. Considering the fact that PRISM was a very successful project, it might not be surprising to find little literature of criticism. On the other hand, for local and international researchers, especially the new and inexperienced ones like me, critical evaluation from leading scholars could provide valuable insights and lessons. Constant monitoring and evaluation of international projects could enlighten future students and researchers who are interested in the international development arena.
Case Study Conclusion
The PRISM study has shown that how well planned theories could contribute to practice and policy by empowering local researchers and strengthening research and evaluation capacity. To keep up with globalisation, it is essential to build local capacity for sustainable development (Crossley et al. 2005). More involvement of local researchers and ministries in the research created local ownership and showed possible new partnership between not only local researchers and government officers but also North and South. The broad cultural sensitive perspectives that have been flourished through collaborative partnership justified the importance of empowering local ownership.
In terms of continuity, PRISM team linked existing training cascade model to updated and more flexible one. The strengthened cascade system facilitated grass-roots level changes. And it gave more justification of local ownership. However, the lack of information and research in African effective school model was criticised. In the light of continuity, it’s pertinent to research the meaning of effective school reflected in African history and reconceptualise the historical context to modern African and global context.
TheCIE researcher’s role as a mediator is apposite to the present timing, when the United Nations (UN) Summit on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has taken place in New York in September 2010. In its action agendas, One of MDGs, achieving Universal Primary Education (UPE) is highlighted with the importance of building capacity and partnership. Education cannot be decontextualised from its local culture (Crossley & Watson, 2003). And the education policy should reflect its own national perspective with modified global perspective. The one-size-can-fit-all policy should be carefully revised with more cultural sensitive ‘context matters’ attitude. Even when we evaluate successful project like PRISM, it needs extra caution not to be transferred directly to other countries.
One of the main concerns regarding effective practice should be how to define the term, “effectiveness”. Interpreting the term with the question of ‘what constitutes effectiveness’ also should be accompanied with the questions of ‘whose’ effectiveness’. As presented in this paper, fundamental theory of PRISM project lies in Western school effectiveness. The simple transfer of Western management theory to developing countries could bring out unintended issues related to sustainability (Harber & Davies, 1997). Furthermore, historical studies regarding school effectiveness in African context and other developing countries’ context should be investigated for future studies. After all, education is ‘about tomorrow, although all its established systems were developed for a world that no longer exists.’ (King, E.J. 2000:267).
Empowering locals is emphasised for sustainability and genuine partnership between North and South. The PRISM study shows how strengthening local research capacity could bring local ownership. Bridging between insider and outsider researchers in Kenya’s case proves the advantage of cross-cultural perspective. With both inside and outside collaborators, their cultural-sensitive interpretation could expand. Through the article, I emphasised the importance of interpretation of the concept. Research design and outcome could be affected by how we interpret effective contribution. Thus, reconceptualising research and evaluation capacity through others’ perspective is necessary. This mutual and powerful interpretation is pertinent not to fall into the pitfalls of ‘uncritical transfer of education’ (Crossley, 1984; Crossley, 2000; Crossley & Watson, 2003). In order to keep up with the rapid pace of globalisation, international agencies focus on capacity building. But what they mean by capacity building is not always explicit. Often, intentionally or unintentionally researches are designed in favour of donor agencies with their own interpretation of capacity building. Hence, their mutual interpretation could benefit CIE, suggesting possible bridges between the global and the local; theory, policy and practice (Crossley, 2000) through reconceptualisation.
For the optimised development result, international agencies and CIE researchers need to cooperate more to put theories into practice. I have come across some concerns while I was reading and analysing discourses: Will all these wonderful theories and voices of researchers ever be carried out as a policy by donor agencies; how could a future researchers like me could contribute to carry out the theories? The gaps between theory, practice and policy do exist. And quite often the powerful and influential external agencies press educational research to be too applied and too direct for policy and practice in their convenience (Crossley, 2000: 328). However, as a medium between them, researchers should constantly ask how to bridge those gaps and whose effectiveness they should care to achieve quality education through partnerships between researchers and practitioners; government bodies and local researchers; international agencies and local governments.
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