Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Politics of Reform

I've written recently the importance of "delivery" with regards to the success of the National Education Blueprint 2006-2010. Well, Prof Joan Nelson, a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre of the Smithsonian Institution, who specialises in the politics of policy-making, policy reforms and institutional change, pretty much agrees.

Prof Nelson, who is also currently the Pok Rafeah Distinguished Chair in International Studies at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia argued that while it's "heartening" to know that we are making efforts in upgrading our education system,
"[the] history of efforts to reform and improve education is replete with cases of well-meaning, well designed measures that were implemented only partially, or were seriously diluted in the course of implementation, or were put in place but later reversed."
Hence while stakeholders recognise that better education is top priority, many of those "directly involved in the public educatino system - bureaucrats, teachers, headmasters and principals, and also much of the higher education establishment - oppose reforms that would shift control over resources, change relationships, or increase pressure to perform."

Of course, politicians adds to the already complex situation. They face a "time consistency problem" as the cost of reform is usually immediate while the benefits come much later. This has clearly been the case in Malaysia where the education reform programmes changes as frequently as the changes in Ministers.

The latest National Education Blueprint replaces the former plan by the former Minister of Education, which was also meant to stretch to 2010. At the same time, the recently appointed Minister of Higher Education, did not hesitate to dump the report completed no more than a year before his tenure to conduct a brand new study.

Hence as rightly pointed out by Prof Nelson:
...realistic and effective means of carrying out institutional change often receive much less attention than goal setting and the design of policy.

The most widespread solution is to throw more money into the system - hiring more teachers, and buyin gmore books and supplies. But money is not enough; institutional changes are crucial.
Our respective Ministers in charge of our education could do well to take heed of Prof Nelson's advice. The question then is, whether the strength of the political will required is there to make the necessary and often difficult institutional changes to ensure that our goals and targets are met.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Years of working with government has convinced me that it takes a long time to build good systems but it can be dismantled in a heartbeat with policy change.

You can't really make effective policy and THEN make the delivery system work. Either the policy become independent of the delivery system or it takes into account the poor delivery system.

Dr. M understand this very well which is why he made unilateral decisions that did not depend on delivery system. It created chaos but it got things done albeit at a unjustified price. But the default would have been not to get his policies and ideas done, not to say it would not have been a bad thing in hindsight.

That is why I believe the current crop of leadership is weak because it does not get it that suddenly they think they can improve the system went all along they have been ignoring it.

We will not come anywhere close to the objective of the national education blueprint but we cannot do worst especially since there is no real measurement to target just generalities. Hence its almost certain they will always claim victory and success no matter what the outcome is.