August 20, 2016

Key stakeholders matter most for speedy improvement of education sector

Myo Myint

The success of any endeavour depends on many factors, especially, when it concerns the whole nation. Upgrading education is one such endeavour.  There is no doubt that in order to be able to provide students with useful knowledge and skills, and training to be good citizens, quality programmes, up-to-date teaching and learning materials, syllabi and curricula, modern libraries, laboratories, and recreation facilities are essential.  Equally important, if not more important than money, material and method is the active participation and strong support of key stakeholders in the education sector, because they can ensure that all the knowledge, material and financial resources that are being invested are properly utilized by monitoring, assessing and giving advice on the teaching-learning process and its outcomes.  Stakeholders are, in the words of, persons or organizations that “have a stake” in the school and its students, meaning that they have personal, professional, civic, or financial interest or concern”. Since education is a lifelong learning process, and very few in society are free from its impact, every member of the society may be said to be a stakeholder. Those who can be regarded as the key stakeholders in education are parents, students, teachers, school administrators, local, regional and national education authorities, elected officials, the government, members of the community, and local as well as national industrial and business leaders as they benefit directly from it or have an impact on it.  If the key stakeholders wish to ensure the holistic development of the education sector, each has to ensure that his/her voice is heard, in order that his/her needs are reflected on the direction the education sector is taking.
It is internationally accepted that one of the parents’ main obligations towards their children is to provide them with education, and if possible, quality education.  In order to do so, the first priority of parents should be to see that there is a school in the locality to which their children can go to. If there is none, then, with the assistance of other members of their respective community, they need to work for the establishment of a school that is conveniently located for their children.  Elected officials can be of much assistance in this matter, as it is part of their responsibility to work for the development of the region they represent, and they also have the connections, and leverage to be able to do so.  On the other hand, all parents must not be totally dependent on the government to provide quality education for their children. They must take an active part in identifying the needs of the school and help provide whatever kind of support they can: moral, financial, material, or voluntary service.  Another important role that parents must fulfil is to not only monitor the progress of their children, but also the performance of the school and its teachers to ensure that the school is fulfilling its responsibilities.  In this connection, parents should actively and willing take part in the Parent-Teacher Association, and school board of trustees, always be in touch with developments in the school, ensure that there are transparency and good governance at school, ensure their voices are heard by being involved in the decision making and fulfil the school’ needs as much as they can.
Among key stakeholders, students are the most important as the education sector exist for their benefit and as they obviously form the main bulk of the stakeholders. Firstly, for the education sector to be truly successful, whether they are enrolled as primary students or university students, or whether they pursue full-time or part-time courses, students need to show complete trust and confidence in their teachers, appreciate their teaching, knowledge, sacrifice and dedication and have respect for them, so that their teachers will want to go on with their grueling work despite the small pay they earn, the huge responsibilities they have to shoulder and the little personal time they have. Next, in order to reach their potential, students must learn to move from total dependency on their teachers to independent learning and thinking.  They and their parents must also appreciate the difference between schools and tuitions, and school teachers and tuition teachers. Schools and school teachers are dedicated to providing them with all round development and nurturing good citizenship, while the intention of the majority of tuition classes and tuition teachers are to make money, keep students happy in their classes, and coach them to pass the exam using all sorts of means, including rote learning, short cuts and dishonest ways.  The intention of education is proving training to develop the whole person, physical, intellectual, emotional, moral, and cultural. Students must therefore try to make good use of their time, by taking an active part in school, class and association activities that promote creativity, thinking abilities, social skills, and all-round development.  Wherever possible, they must learn to try out subject related, social related, or health related skills imparted to them, in real life situations, and share them with friends and members of their family and community. They must promote in themselves the spirit of volunteerism, selflessness, goodwill and tolerance of differences since young, taking part in activities to keep their home, school and surroundings neat and tidy, and helping their parents, teachers, schoolmates, and other members of the community, especially the disabled and disadvantaged, in whatever way they can, as preparations to play a positive and leading role in society later on in their lives and making the world a better place.  In brief, students who are the most important stakeholders in education must demand the best from education, and also make the best use of education, whenever, and wherever possible.
Another key stakeholder is the teacher, who may be said to be the person in the driver’s seat. Teachers are highly respected in most societies, including Myanmar, because of the role they play in training young people as well as the role they play in society as trustworthy and knowledgeable persons.  It is obvious that they must have the necessary qualifications to become a teacher regarding mastery of subject matter, appropriate methodology, and child psychology.  Additional requirements are having wide general knowledge, creativity, the capacity to learn new things, patience, a pleasant personality, high moral standards, being willing to keep on learning, enjoy working as a teacher, etc. However, Myanmar education sector is facing a crisis due to lack of interest in their work and in their students by many teachers with the excuse that they do not receive adequate pay  and that students do not care very much about their teaching as they are paying more attention to what is taught at their tuitions.  To a certain extent it is true that education has now become tuition-driven, as most teachers are more interested in the additional income generated from their tuitions, and how to recruit more students for their tuition classes. It is unfortunate that naïve parents and students have become addicted to the short-term benefits derived from parrot learning, short-cuts and exam specials taught in the tuition classes and some treat their tuition teachers as lords and masters. Some parents and students do not know what real education is, or its long-term benefits. Those teachers who are more interested in making money from tuitions than in their responsibilities as mentors need to know that they are doing a great disservice not only to their students but also to the country.  Those teachers who are paying more attention to making money than to their noble profession should devote full time to their tuitions and leave the schools and students in the hands of those teachers who are genuinely interested in nurturing their students.  Corrupt teachers need not worry whether there will be enough teachers left at school, if they leave, since there are many graduates wanting, waiting and willing to become teachers.  At the same time, dedicated teachers should join hands to get the authorities to appreciate their value, understand their difficulties and provide necessary assistance, in particular, the hardship of teachers posted to remote and underdeveloped areas.  In Myanmar society, those in the teaching profession have the tradition of making huge personal sacrifices in the interest of their students, and at this very important stage in their country’s history to promote education, equality, prosperity and genuine democracy, teachers should not be reluctant to continue to be dedicated and self-sacrificing.
The fourth group of key education stakeholders are education authorities consisting of school heads, university rectors, officials in charge of inspection, and administration, elected representatives and local administrative officials. As policy makers, managers, administrators, inspectors and observers in a traditional education setting such as in Myanmar, they play a very influential role on the way allocated funds are utilized, teaching is conducted, the amount of effort teachers are exerting to improve teaching/learning, how much learning is taking placing, the way education standards are being improved, the activities conducted at the institutions, and the way academic and recreational facilities are being used. The right person with excellent problem solving and decision making skills needs to be appointed in the right place, because even minor decisions, or lack of decisions, and actions can have a huge impact on a vast number of students, teachers and support staff for a long time which may need a lot of time to redress.  For instance, at the higher education level, the establishment of a quality assurance system has been delayed for nearly a decade because the matter was not placed in the hands of a competent university administrator capable of making decisions and being familiar with establishing organizations.  In the meantime, universities in Myanmar continue to function without knowing precisely the quality of their programmes, the worth of their degree certificates and the predicament of their students and how much contribution their institutions are contributing to the development of their country.  One important quality of good administrators is being accessible to students, parents and other stakeholders, in order to know their opinions, expectations and needs, and in return to explain to them the goals and missions of their education institutions, the assistance required and the problems being faced in fulfilling the main stakeholders’ needs. They also need to be capable of networking with other stakeholders, such as, leaders of local community, business and industry and mobilizing their ideas and financial and human resources. This is vital if institutions are to develop further and remain relevant to community, business and industry needs. Another important quality of institution leaders is having the ability to lead without bias, fear, favouritism, corruption and self-aggrandizement, otherwise, they lose the respect and cooperation of their teachers and students, and their institutions become failed institutions.  Administrators must also be dynamic and innovative, willing to shed old programmes and introduce new ones demanded by the times, or else their institutions, like themselves, become obsolete, and the huge number of low quality graduates they produce annually will not have the knowledge, skills and competencies to function in this world of change, challenges and competition.  Since those serving as school heads, rectors and inspectors also have wide ranging authority, they have great influence on all aspects of their institutions, ranging from the way rubbish is collected, to the quality of teachers, how far the teachers abide by prescribed syllabi, to the quality of textbooks, programmes, facilities, student learning and how funds are utilized. In addition, they can also influence the direction their institutions take, either moving up or sliding down. Some management officials tend to replicate themselves.  This results in the blind appoints another blind to succeed him/her. If this occurs in the education sector, it will mean that the sector will never be able to climb out of the deep hole dug by successive blind managers. Consequently, those who are in charge of management must train younger persons of high calibre to succeed them, or else the vacuum will be filled by incompetent persons and because of the Myanmar tradition of arnarde, not wishing to hurt the feelings of other persons, or imposing on others, such persons remain in their position till the time of their retirement.  Unfortunately, there is much scope for corruption, nepotism and favouritism in the education sector, due to its vast scope, the huge number of people and activities involved, and the vast amount of money spent for its development each year. As is known by all, corruption hinders development, as a large amount of the money provided by the government for projects gets wasted in the form of bribes given to corrupt officials, which results in poor quality of work, and loss of trust in and respect for dishonest officials by their colleagues and the public. In the same way, nepotism and favouritism cause inefficiency, disharmony and mistrust. Due to the serious consequences, when appointing senior managers in the education sector, careful selection is needed. On their part, as stakeholders and public servants who belong to the education sector, and are highly respected and trusted by the community, they must avoid corruption and be above reproach at all cost. On the other hand, elected representatives and local and regional administrative officials must keep a careful watch on the performance of students, schools and the management within their jurisdiction and also provide assistance by making known the needs of education institutions to relevant authorities.
The final group of key education stakeholders who can provide help in the promotion of the education sector are members of the local community, and business and industrial leaders.  They are seen as having two main responsibilities to fulfil.  The first is to constantly keep in touch with education authorities, inform them of their expectations, requirements and new developments, and make them heed their advice, so that education institutions can provide human resources of the quality and quantity they need. The second is to assist education institutions with their financial, material and technical resources, so that they have alternative means of support than that of the government. On the part of education institution authorities, they must be capable of going beyond the perimeters of their institutions and form strong partnership with and learn from this group of stakeholders, to keep their programmes every fresh and their products ever relevant to society’s needs so that their graduates get jobs of their choice.
As the country is expecting profound changes from the education sector with the advent of the new government, all stakeholders should join hands to make the necessary contributions for the uplift of the education sector, in order to escape swiftly from the vicious circle of a poor country having a poor performing education system and a poor performing education system not being able to lift the country out of poverty.


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