Mountain fire – Aburi Girls director’s case banned, educational governance
In recent days, the news of the ban on the director of the Aburi Girls, Ms. Alice Prempeh-Fordjour, has sparked sober reflection among leaders.
The case revives the dilemmas that executives are constantly faced with, choosing what is best for the institution and its clients or simply “following orders”.
The news detailed that the headmistress was facing punitive measures for charging illegal fees and asking parents to pay for government-supplied items free of charge.
While it can be argued that the motivation was to better support students and teachers, this is debatable. As “responsible”, the director was obliged to take responsibility for the decisions agreed upon by the company.
A critical appraisal of the case highlights some key lessons for all leaders, especially education leaders and those responsible for implementing flagship public policies such as the Free High School Policy (FSHS).
A few of these lessons are discussed below, however, it is hoped that these lessons and many more to follow will be validated as the story unfolds.
Public policy, interest
The case seems simple on the surface. The PTA agreed to pay extra to motivate the teachers and to cover other school expenses. Arguably, the decision was made in the best interests of the students and teachers.
Some parents thought they could support government efforts to improve the quality of services received by their wards. On the other hand, some parents clearly felt that the principles of FSHS policy, which promised free three-year secondary education for their students, were being violated.
The FSHS policy introduced in 2018 aims to absorb the costs of secondary education for qualified students who are admitted to public schools.
The policy prescribes the absorption of examination fees, entertainment, library, Student Representative Council (SRC) dues, sports, culture, science and math quizzes, information technology and communication (TIC) and extracurricular fees for day students in public SHS. Subsequently, the cost absorption was extended to boarding school students and covers food, accommodation and the provision of some basic textbooks recommended for study.
So, you can imagine what some parents will feel if they have to pay extra fees, regardless of the motivation behind such directives. Parents were dissatisfied with the payment of unauthorized fees. They felt the need to call school authorities to order, hence the school’s alleged report to the Ghana Education Service (GES).
The truth is that in the implementation of any policy there can be winners, losers, or sometimes both. Policies may not always appeal to the people they are made for.
The FSHS policy is good, however, due to several challenges associated with its implementation, some parents felt the need to provide additional support to government efforts. The introduction of the additional fee to support students on campus was good news for parents, however, not everyone liked the idea.
It is the task of a leader to ensure that in decision making the greatest number of people will benefit. Those who might not be in favor should not be victimized or feel like they are “enemies of progress”. Their opinions matter just as much as those who support the decisions.
Appropriate stakeholder engagement helps bring out dissatisfaction or disagreement and highlights ways in which management can help resolve challenges that may affect the sustainability of policies.
Leaders take responsibility
Leadership involves exercising authority and taking control. However, it also implies an invisible sense of responsibility that a leader assumes, if things don’t go as planned. It is this role of taking responsibility for all decisions, good or bad, that makes leadership intimidating. The people who run the institutions, not just the leaders, however, the responsibility for decisions rests entirely with the leaders.
In the case of the Aburi Girls, although the decision to charge additional fees was agreed at the PTA level, the director was made to take responsibility for their actions.
It is not clear whether the manager sanctioned such payments, however, in cases where things go wrong, as illustrated in this case, it is the managers who take the downfall on behalf of the other decision makers. In governance, the voice of the people is not necessarily the voice of God
This case illustrates perfectly the complex dynamics of governance. Leaders take full advantage of their positions; however, a key role is to take responsibility for the successes and failures of decisions.
A leader must therefore be proactive to sense the minds of the people and ensure that the decisions taken are defensible and do not violate any regulations or go against the ethics of the profession.
Leaders are told that when forced to make a decision on behalf of the institution, they must first consider whether they can defend the decision with confidence. Such thinking will help them to delve into the options and ensure that the best course of action is chosen.
The case also sends a clear call to all executives to tire of the fact that as much as they have the best interests of their clients at heart, there are officials with the stock exchange calling the shots and demanding compliance with their directives.
The principal obviously seems to have the success of students and teachers at heart, however, public institutions, such as Aburi Girls, operate within the limits of authority and the regulatory framework.
The GES has the regulatory mandate to ensure that policies and directives are followed with respect to them. In addition, they are empowered by law to impose penalties for non-compliance.
The imposition of additional fees, although the intentions seemed laudable, was in flagrant violation of the GHG Directive and therefore resulted in sanctions.
As leaders, it is best to seek the best interests of the institution, but always keep in mind the wishes of the appointing authority. It’s easy to go on a mission to save a crippled system with innovative and brilliant ideas, however, keep the goals of regulators and the limits of your powers in mind so you don’t go wrong.
The author is Senior Deputy Registrar at the University of Communication Technologies of Ghana / Postgraduate Student in Educational Leadership and Governance at the University of Ghana, Legon.