This article examines the state of principal recruitment in Hong Kong and Singapore. Whereas there is no discernible shortage of people willing to serve as principals in either society, there are serious concerns about the quality of both incumbent and future principals. The reasons behind these interrelated phenomena, however, are very different in each society and relate to a unique mixture of political, structural and cultural factors. For example, the extreme centralisation of the political and structural systems in Singapore explains the steady supply of new principals. By contrast, the much more disconnected nature of education governance in Hong Kong accounts for the ready supply of available new principals. The article focuses on analysing how and why the configurations of each system affect principal supply and principalship quality.
Despite widespread recognition throughout Southeast and East Asia that principalship is undergoing substantial and often painful transition, there is little indication of any shortage of people willing to step into formal leadership positions. There is, however, mounting concern about the quality of both those who are and those who will become principals, and whether the selection structures and cultures in which they work and are trained prepare them adequately for future school leadership. Given recent concerns in a number of western societies about the shortages of people willing to become principals, this article explores reasons why there is no parallel trend in two education systems in the Asia Pacific Region, namely Singapore and Hong Kong. The article also discusses why these systems are more concerned about leadership quality than quantity.
The reasons for the absence of any shortage are very different in each site and connect quite explicitly to the formal and informal aspects of the educational architecture of the two systems. Despite the availability of leadership candidates, there are growing concerns about their quality. This disquiet is inextricably tied to constant reforming and the shape and shared meanings of the systems within which principals work.
In referring to the context, we mean that which comprises the interconnected elements of the structure, culture and politics of the respective education systems. By structure, we mean the more formal and common aspects of system governance and organisation. Culture relates to the shared norms, values and patterns of understanding that appear relatively common across a society and so influence individual and group behaviour at all levels. Although adopting this definition, we acknowledge the ongoing debates about the meaning of culture and the contention that numerous sub-cultures may operate within any larger cultural pillow (Walker & Dimmock, 2002b). Politics refers to both the macro and micro aspects of policy intention, policy decree and policy implementation. Although we may discuss issues of principal selection, recruitment and development within any one of the three elements, each is the key in an ongoing iterative relationship that helps define the context of education and society, and thus the principalship.
We do not suggest that our analysis holds for other societies in South East Asia and East Asia. We selected Hong Kong and Singapore, not only because of our affiliations, but also because, despite their similar colonial and cultural heritage, they have developed very differently across a spectrum of social, political, educational and cultural areas. Examining both societies around the same issue provides interesting contrasts of how the two societies perceive, select and value their principals.
The first section of the article explains why there is no apparent shortage of principals. The second section discusses why there is a growing concern for quality. Both sections attempt to comment on how politics, structure and culture interact to influence the status quo and the current debate on principal selection. …