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Between bureaucrats: school supervision and crafting commitment to education in Ghana

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Abstract:

Educational Policy Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Faculty advisor: Nancy Kendall

Ghana expanded access to education by introducing Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education in 1996. Allocating as much 10.1% of its GDP to education, Ghana spends more money on schooling than any other sector of the public service. Moreover, the Government of Ghana’s (GoG) investment in education is higher than the regional average of 5%. Ghana is perceived by the international community as a successful developing country with a longstanding commitment to increasing access to education (USAID 2009). However, despite these positive indicators, Ghana performs below other African countries in cross-national comparisons such as the Trends in International Math and Science Study. The GoG recognizes this dilemma—that its investment in and political will to reform education have not been sufficient to foment improvements in educational quality. Failures by the government to meet its educational promises threaten to undermine public trust in government and have been labeled by the media as a “disgrace to the state.” Public education, therefore, plays a critical role in terms of its connection to increased socio-economic development, but also to how people perceive and experience the state. This dissertation explores a corollary effect of expanded state investment in education for all: as access to public schooling increases in places like Ghana, thousands more people are brought into routine contact with the state, making formal education a powerful space in which the state articulates its commitment to its citizens and in turn where people come to understand and judge the government’s responsibility to individual and social welfare and development.

To investigate this phenomena, I conducted twelve months of cross-regional ethnographic research in the Ashanti and Volta Regions of Ghana, exploring how circuit supervisors (CSs), mid-level bureaucrats in the Ghana Education Service, navigate the space between government offices and school communities and influence how educators imagine and experience the relationship between education, notions of progress, and the efficacy of the state. I shadowed CSs in the routine practice of their jobs as they supervised and advised teachers about the norms of professional practice; the roles and responsibilities of the educator; and the value of commitment to quality teaching and learning. Data collection included participant observation, semi-structured and unstructured interviews, and document analysis. I have just begun data analysis, and plan to analyze and write through fall 2014, with a spring 2015 defense.

This research draws from literature on the anthropology of education (Coe, 2005), anthropology of the state (Sharma & Gupta, 2006), and research on street-level bureaucrats (Lipsky, 1980) to shape its approach to conceptualizing and working with CSs. CSs are characterized as the “foot soldiers in the implementation of educational policies” (EdQual, 2009), however, it would be incorrect to assume that CSs simply implement top-down policies. Rather, they wield a great deal of discretion in the performance of their jobs and must be understood as both state agents and citizen actors engaged in a process of socio-political negotiation.

This study asks the following questions: As state agents and citizen actors, how do CSs develop and circulate ideas about what it means to be an educated citizen? When the promises of education do not align with peoples’ lived experiences of schooling, who do CSs hold responsible for the failures of education, and what does this mean for the symbolic and practical application of policy?

Initial data analysis indicates that CSs engage with and construct multiple, not always consistent, narratives about why pupils, parents, educators, and the state should be committed to education and what roles and responsibilities these stakeholders have in realizing quality education. CSs characterize the education sector as plagued by low morale, a culture that values credentials over performance, and a place where people struggle to provide education with inadequate resources. At the same time, however, CSs have benefited from and made careers out of the fruits of their own education. Thus, despite the fact that they sympathize with the plight of teachers, CSs draw on their own struggles as evidence that hardship is no reason for failure. This feeds a moral discourse that values self-sacrifice as part of the price of being an educator and a sign of commitment to the development of self and society. This study move research about education and development beyond a focus on access and quality to more complex questions of how educators build individual and public commitment to schooling, develop a discourse about the value and meaning of education, and influence people’s perceptions of the efficacy of the state.
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Association:
Name: Comparative and International Education Society Annual Conference
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MLA Citation:

Friedson-Ridenour, Sophia. "Between bureaucrats: school supervision and crafting commitment to education in Ghana" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Comparative and International Education Society Annual Conference, Sheraton Centre Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Mar 10, 2014 <Not Available>. 2014-12-10 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p708755_index.html>

APA Citation:

Friedson-Ridenour, S. , 2014-03-10 "Between bureaucrats: school supervision and crafting commitment to education in Ghana" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Comparative and International Education Society Annual Conference, Sheraton Centre Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada <Not Available>. 2014-12-10 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p708755_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Review Method: Peer Reviewed
Abstract: Educational Policy Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Faculty advisor: Nancy Kendall

Ghana expanded access to education by introducing Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education in 1996. Allocating as much 10.1% of its GDP to education, Ghana spends more money on schooling than any other sector of the public service. Moreover, the Government of Ghana’s (GoG) investment in education is higher than the regional average of 5%. Ghana is perceived by the international community as a successful developing country with a longstanding commitment to increasing access to education (USAID 2009). However, despite these positive indicators, Ghana performs below other African countries in cross-national comparisons such as the Trends in International Math and Science Study. The GoG recognizes this dilemma—that its investment in and political will to reform education have not been sufficient to foment improvements in educational quality. Failures by the government to meet its educational promises threaten to undermine public trust in government and have been labeled by the media as a “disgrace to the state.” Public education, therefore, plays a critical role in terms of its connection to increased socio-economic development, but also to how people perceive and experience the state. This dissertation explores a corollary effect of expanded state investment in education for all: as access to public schooling increases in places like Ghana, thousands more people are brought into routine contact with the state, making formal education a powerful space in which the state articulates its commitment to its citizens and in turn where people come to understand and judge the government’s responsibility to individual and social welfare and development.

To investigate this phenomena, I conducted twelve months of cross-regional ethnographic research in the Ashanti and Volta Regions of Ghana, exploring how circuit supervisors (CSs), mid-level bureaucrats in the Ghana Education Service, navigate the space between government offices and school communities and influence how educators imagine and experience the relationship between education, notions of progress, and the efficacy of the state. I shadowed CSs in the routine practice of their jobs as they supervised and advised teachers about the norms of professional practice; the roles and responsibilities of the educator; and the value of commitment to quality teaching and learning. Data collection included participant observation, semi-structured and unstructured interviews, and document analysis. I have just begun data analysis, and plan to analyze and write through fall 2014, with a spring 2015 defense.

This research draws from literature on the anthropology of education (Coe, 2005), anthropology of the state (Sharma & Gupta, 2006), and research on street-level bureaucrats (Lipsky, 1980) to shape its approach to conceptualizing and working with CSs. CSs are characterized as the “foot soldiers in the implementation of educational policies” (EdQual, 2009), however, it would be incorrect to assume that CSs simply implement top-down policies. Rather, they wield a great deal of discretion in the performance of their jobs and must be understood as both state agents and citizen actors engaged in a process of socio-political negotiation.

This study asks the following questions: As state agents and citizen actors, how do CSs develop and circulate ideas about what it means to be an educated citizen? When the promises of education do not align with peoples’ lived experiences of schooling, who do CSs hold responsible for the failures of education, and what does this mean for the symbolic and practical application of policy?

Initial data analysis indicates that CSs engage with and construct multiple, not always consistent, narratives about why pupils, parents, educators, and the state should be committed to education and what roles and responsibilities these stakeholders have in realizing quality education. CSs characterize the education sector as plagued by low morale, a culture that values credentials over performance, and a place where people struggle to provide education with inadequate resources. At the same time, however, CSs have benefited from and made careers out of the fruits of their own education. Thus, despite the fact that they sympathize with the plight of teachers, CSs draw on their own struggles as evidence that hardship is no reason for failure. This feeds a moral discourse that values self-sacrifice as part of the price of being an educator and a sign of commitment to the development of self and society. This study move research about education and development beyond a focus on access and quality to more complex questions of how educators build individual and public commitment to schooling, develop a discourse about the value and meaning of education, and influence people’s perceptions of the efficacy of the state.


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