Staff shortages at all echelons of education system
- study says

by Gitanjali Singh
Stabroek News
January 9, 2000

An Organisational Capacity Assessment (OCA) of the Ministry of Education has said that the ministry operates under severe constraints of staff shortage at all levels.

The OCA was conducted by the United States-based Consortium for International Development (CID) from August to November last year and involved a review of documents and numerous interviews and meetings conducted with the ministry's counterparts and other key stakeholders in the sector.

The study was funded at a cost of US$400,000 under the Primary Education Improvement Project. There were a "number of challenges or organisational concerns" confronting the Education Ministry, a summary of the study said. However, generally the findings revealed that the ministry operated within the context of staff shortages at all echelons of the system, it had a salary structure that inhibited the ministry's effectiveness in attracting and retaining qualified and competent employees, especially teachers, and it had a cadre of young and inexperienced officers who had been catapulted into senior management positions without adequate orientation and preparation. Some of these young officers had been assigned roles and responsibilities beyond their present abilities.

However, the report also made the point that while a youthful work force could be perceived as a weakness, it could also be viewed on balance as positive. In this light, the CID noted that the ministry did have young and capable officers with inherent abilities to assume roles of responsibility, make sound decisions, and become effective leaders at all levels.

The CID also found officers in acting status at the most senior levels for long periods, creating low motivation for job advancement for new employees and a lack of proactive action in the current workforce. There were also ineffective communication and reporting processes and practices despite the existence of a well-designed and comprehensive system of communication and reporting, plus a management information system that was hampered by a general lack of understanding at the school level of the importance of information and its use in the policy-planning and decision-making process.

Among the concerns highlighted was an information system that did not enable the ministry's staff to respond quickly to emerging education needs or facilitate rapid or consistent response to organisational needs; the practice of making decisions with incomplete or inaccurate information, especially as it pertained to regional activity, programme planning and policy-making; and the existence of complex and cumbersome systems, operational procedures and processes that impinged adversely on the ministry's capacity to perform effectively and efficiently.

Other findings included the limited input into management decisions by parents and teachers; concerns expressed by ministry officials and education professionals that the existing structure did not enable the ministry to respond quickly to societal needs, the demands of a school population and the emerging international and regional trends; and an organisational management style that was burdened by multi-layered and complex rules and regulations, many of which had been imposed or inherited and which were obsolete.

Based on its findings, the CID said that organisationally the ministry must position itself to respond to a number of externally and internally induced changes to absorb the considerable infusion of development assistance that was expected.

The consortium said that some ministry officials recognised the need to strengthen the ministry internally to absorb both the positive infusion of development assistance and to cope with the possible shrinkage of donor assistance to education.

In spite of the challenges facing the ministry, the CID said that the study had found a number of strengths as well. A strengths diagnostic study had also been conducted, in addition to the diagnostic assessment of weaknesses.

The strengths diagnostic assessment was conducted in collaboration with the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Guyana. This assessment included the administration of a diagnostic assessment questionnaire to over 400 ministry employees.

The CID said that the results indicated that the ministry was determined to deliver quality education in Guyana.

One of the strengths which characterised the ministry was a committed workforce. In spite of incentives for Guyanese citizens to move to the private sector or abroad, the ministry had been able to retain a small cadre of senior and middle level officials who were deeply committed to the success of the country's education sector.

Other strengths included internal models of excellence. The isolated "centres of excellence" were the units or individuals that fostered a sense of inclusiveness, collaboration and worker participation and could serve as models for the ministry's restructuring.

An organisation of the size and complexity of the ministry needed to be tightly managed, and micro-management as a management style personified the ministry, the CID reported. Excessive use of its micro-management style, the report said, could have the effect of demoralising workers and inhibiting workplace creativity, risk-taking and accepting responsibility with the authority to act.

The fact that the ministry was currently implementing a number of donor-funded education projects that focused on special needs, and that senior education officials benefited from international training and support for study tours was a strength for the ministry.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples