Building Partnership among the Schools, Parents and Communities in Changing Educational Trends: A Policy Analysis from the Bangladeshi Perspective

Bangladesh Education Article
Bangladesh Education Article
Written by Goutam Roy


Abstract: The relationship between schools and parents are changing very fast along with the fast changing interaction between teachers and parents likely the link among schools with other civil organization. We have now more pressure (to minimize the gap) from the multilateral organizations which act as media of policy transfer such as World Bank.  From any country’s perspective it is always difficult to handle such fast track changes and tougher for a developing country like Bangladesh. However it is impossible to deny these new policies as many of them have become successful for several developing and developed countries. On the contrary any new policy needs to be contextualised first to implement in any new space which needs lots of research that we lack. In the present modern era, building partnership has become a true example of policy initiatives and Bangladesh has taken this with importance, although the question remains how to contextualise this? Who would take the lead of policy borrowing or policy transfer? How to balance this new policy with the existing policies and practices? This article has tried to put some light on some of these issues which may lead some in-depth research on policy transfer, policy borrowing, and policy re-contextualisation. The argument is structured here based on the example of an emerging policy initiative of partnership building among parents and communities for improvement.

Bangladesh is well appreciated by different national and international bodies for her successful work of creating access for children and rewarded a new mission. This is about quality education and Bangladeshi think tanks are now putting pressure on schools and trainers about school effectiveness and school improvement for quality education (Education watch report, 2008). It is well recognised that, with very few resources and a huge population it is difficult for the Bangladeshi education system to make improvements, which is why Bangladesh is now very keen to utilize its own resources for quality education concept. Therefore from the recent past Bangladesh has become very welcoming towards innovative concepts and policies which focus more on embodied resource utilization then putting in extra money for any new initiatives. For example, this may be experimenting with different leadership styles in school, creating partnerships within schools, parents and communities to make school more effective and improved. Bangladesh has welcomed the new policy of working more collaboratively with parents and communities for quality improvement which is named as partnership building among schools, parents and communities because of its modernity and wide utilization around the world for quality improvement. For developed countries, the concept of parents as consumers has changed and more focus is put on partnership building with parents. For example, this has been the case for England and Wales since 1997 (Busher and Harris, 2000). Bangladesh has fast-tracked the policy of partnership building to utilize parents for children’s literacy and school infrastructure development. This initiative has seen more from the NGO (Non-governmental organization) run schools then Government run schools. The reasons are various, for example, in NGO run schools the implementation of new policies is easier due to their flexible leadership style and lack of bureaucracy compared to the government run schools. Another reason could be that policy transfer, or policy borrowing, is easier for the NGO run schools as they work with a lot of multilateral agencies, (Jones, 1998) for example the World Bank, which are considered a good media of policy transfer.

Based on the above context in this paper we will analyse whether or not this new policy will bring some positive changes and improvements for schools. We will define the terms ‘Policy borrowing’ and ‘Policy transfer’ following the explanation of the concept of partnership building with parents and communities and then we will draw a picture of the present status of partnership building. However, Honing, (2006) argued that policy affects multiple dimensions of social welfare and recent trends in educational policy signal the importance of re-examining what we know about, what gets implemented and what works. Therefore, in this context we will analyse the context and implementation process through the lens of re-contextualisation of new policy before implementation. Finally there will be a short conclusion referring some recommendations on the context of previous analysis for a second thought.

Policy borrowing and policy transfer

In many cases different educationists have seen these two terms as synonymous. Phillips (2000) defines the term as “the most obvious consequence of learning and understanding what is happening “elsewhere” in education” (p.299). Also, later Ochs and Phillips give another definition for the term where they state that “educational policy borrowing” is one type of educational transfer, which might be conceived within an continuum of educational transfer” (as cited in Ochs, 2006 p. 601). Phillips and Och (2003) note that the term “borrowing” has often become the subject of criticism and different alternatives have often been offered by researchers; the words such as “importation”, “transfer”, “copying” and others have been used to describe the same practice; however the term “borrowing” has been one of the most prevalent in the research literature.

“A Process in which knowledge about policies, institutions and ideas developed in one time or place is used in the development of policies, institutions etc. in another time or place.” (Dolowitz, et al 2000). In the simplest of senses, there is nothing new about policy transfer than policy borrowing. Through work such as Dolowitz, Hulme Nellis and O’Neal (2000), Dolowitz and Marsh (1996), Evans and Davies (1999) frameworks have been developed which seek to take forward earlier concept about the international movement of ideas and practices in social policy which also includes educational policy.

New policy of partnership building with parents and communities

In this concept the subject teachers are encouraged to build a closer relationship with parents and community leaders, for example by getting the parents to give more support to the children with their learning. If parents can give more quality time to their children and if they do it keeping in mind that they can support their children in various ways then the children’s learning will be sustainable. Merchant and Marsh (1998: 65) mentioned that a literacy coordinator can plan a short course where parents will be taught how they can help their child in reading and writing. He also suggested that a yearly open evening can be devoted for a particular subject to develop some themes for its curriculum. Along with these, the other suggestion is that parents can come earlier to collect their children and share reading a book with his/her child before going home. In England and Wales the thrust of policy to include parents and the community is based on a broader perspective. The Standards and Framework Act 1988 has encouraged setting up Education Action Zones for many deprived urban communities in England and Wales (Busher and Harris, 2000). According to them, the focus of this is to bring different aspects of local communities together, to try to improve the student’s performance. The emphasis of building partnerships is not given only from the parent’s perspective but also from the teacher’s perspective as teachers can have a clearer picture of their students as learners outside the school and also understand particular values and attitudes (Brown and Rutherford, 1988, see also Busher 1992 cited in Busher and Harris, 2000). Now, along with ideas from the schools, different state oriented projects are also seen in action for engaging parents more with schools and students. Classroom support by parents, fund raising, teaching assistantship by parents, or helping with club activities are some of the examples of participation. Another suggested project with parents could be pairing an adult with a child for the production of a story book for younger children (The National writing project, 1990: 20). Above are some examples that give the idea that, in the developed world the concept of a teacher / parent partnership is intense and complex; day by day new and innovative projects are making this partnership stronger in terms of interaction among the teachers and the parents.

Present status of this policy in Bangladesh
As discussed earlier Bangladesh has different kinds of schooling and parents are involved with these schools by different aspects and intensity. Government schools have a solid authoritative system where parents are involved through a committee, namely SMC (School Managing Committee). In SMC a few parents (5 on average) and the teachers form the committee and discuss the school’s improvement and effectiveness. This is only the way that parents can take part in a school’s matters. However, in SMC, the parental role isn’t clearly defined in policy enough to meet the quality improvement challenge (Education watch report, 2008). According to the report, for a primary school should have an average of 8/10 people where 5/6 people are parents, which meets sits 7/8 times throughout the year to discuss the examination routine, stipend allocation, overall results of the school, student absenteeism, tree plantation and construction activities. However, non formal schools have different mechanisms to meet the parents alongside the more traditional SMC meeting, where as SMC is the only place in Government schools to meet with the parents. Save the Children USA runs more than 5000 schools by 3 different national partner organizations through Non formal educational models and they have ‘Parenting Meeting’ each week for 1 or 2 hours and the attendance rate is generally good. Therefore their discussion agenda is also the same as discussed above.
Building partnership among schools
Source: Education Watch Educational Institution Survey, 2008

The context of policy transfer and policy borrowing

Though the above two descriptions (partnership in developed countries and partnership status in Bangladesh) are short, they are enough to explain that the two situations have a huge gap between them. Developed countries are thinking of micro level partnership building with parents, whereas Bangladeshi schools are still working on some traditional meetings with only a few parents. This situation might be seen very suitable for a prospective policy borrowing or policy transfer for Bangladesh, as the situational demand and all the policy transfer medias are active in this case, for example the movements of university graduates, along with policy entrepreneurs, academics, educational consultants and multilateral agencies such as big Banks (World Bank and ADB) (Ball, 1998 and Jones, 1998). Though the channels are open and the need is crucial for the quality education, it is important to keep some concerns in mind relating to new policy borrowing/transfer.

What are the issues related with this new policy
New policy, globalization of education and economy
The question of policy transfer is always related to globalization as the context of the original policy is international. Globalization always produces some complex, risky and uncertain problems and environments which require complex knowledge and understanding to support the implementation process (Ozga and Jones, 2006). They argued that unmodified and unmanaged knowledge exchange is sometime disruptive for efficient management, which can cause risk. Being a developing country Bangladesh welcomes different international stakeholders which can transfer new policies. So it could be difficult to choose which policy should be taken and which shouldn’t as Bangladesh lacks the necessary expertise to identify the consequences of new policies. Meanwhile different stakeholders try to push their policies with their own agendas. As a result this might lead to some uncertainty, rapid change and competition which could cause individualized society where education becomes a positional good (Ranson, 1993). When education is a subject of crowding it is relative advantage for which each strives, necessarily at the expense of others (Jonathon, 1990 cited in Ranson , 1993) and there comes the question of class difference.

*This paper is, first, published in the NEAM Journal on vol. 07, Issue 14, Januanry 2012. We are replenishing this upon permission from the authors in order to circulate this important research article to the wider audience. – Editor

MOHAMMAD TAREQUE RAHMAN: Senior Research Associate, Research and Evaluation Division, BRAC, Dhaka, Bangladesh; BISHNU KUMAR ADHIKARY: Lecturer, Institute of Education and Research, University of Rajshahi, Rajshahi, Bangladesh and DEBADAS HALDER: Lecturer, Institute of Education and Research, University of Dhaka, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

About the author

Goutam Roy

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