Understanding Educational Decentralization in Post-Apartheid South Africa

Article excerpt

This article examines the discourses of educational decentralization in the South African context. It considers the shifting and contested definitions of the concept as it relates to three broad dimensions of the policy: administrative, political, and ideological. Further, it discusses understandings of educational decentralization as they are being evidenced in current policy development in South Africa. It also critically examines notions of educational decentralization embedded in recent legislation and the tensions and contradictions contained therein. Last, it highlights a particular manifestation of educational decentralization in the South African context: the tension between national and provincial educational competencies and decision making.

INTRODUCTION

Decentralization is currently the stated policy of most educational systems throughout the world and is the central plank of major international efforts aimed at restructuring education systems. The thrust toward decentralization is evident in the 1988 Education Reform Act (ERA) of England and Wales (Bash & Coulby, 1991; Bowe, Ball, & Gold, 1992). It is also evident in the "Tomorrow's Schools" report of the Australian government and in the changes effected as a result of that report (Gordon, 1992; Lauder & Wylie, 1990). It can be seen as well in the changes made to the Dutch educational system since 1982 (Sleegers & Wesselingh, 1993); in Brazilian education since the 1980s (dos Santos Filhos, 1993); and in current South African policy texts (Republic of South Africa Department of Education [RSADE], 1996). Additionally, educational decentralization is supported by international agencies such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (Bloomer, 1991; Prawda, 1993).

This article examines the discourses of decentralization in the South African educational context. It begins by reviewing the literature on educational decentralization and highlighting the shifting and contested definitions of the concept as it relates to three broad dimensions of the policy: administrative, political, and ideological. Section two discusses understandings of educational decentralization as they are being evidenced in current policy development in South Africa. This discussion extends the author's previous research on the topic before the 1996 elections (Sayed, 1995), with a specific focus on the impact of the South African Schools Act of 1996 (SASA).' The third section critically examines notions of educational decentralization embedded in the SASA legislation and the tensions and contradictions contained therein. The final section highlights a particular manifestation of educational decentralization in the South African context: the tension between national and provincial educational competencies and decision making.

THE NOTION OF EDUCATIONAL DECENTRALIZATION

The Administrative Dimension

Most publicly justified claims for educational decentralization are based on the administrative dimension. Advocates focusing on structural issues related to a given educational system are principally concerned with the ways in which educational resources are distributed, managed, and utilized. The key questions in this regard are (a) how can education be most efficiently and effectively provided, and (b) what are the most responsive and flexible structures for meeting local and recipient needs (Prawda, 1993; Rodinelli, McCullought, & Johnson, 1987)? These questions point out that administrative decentralization has more to do with the implementation of educational policies and priorities than with their identification and development.

Spatial and territorial redistribution of control over these aspects tells very little, however, about the power structures that exist in a particular educational system. In a decentralized system, control over key policy decisions may still be retained at the administrative center. …

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