Diversely based school boards create principals' autocracies

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 August, 2008, 12:00am

I am sure nobody likes to see bad governance and misuse of public money.

When it happens it should be exposed. However, sometimes when taxpayers' money is squandered we overlook it. I am referring to what is known as the school-based management policy that was introduced to government-aided schools.

The purpose of this system was to delegate more responsibility to the schools.

To ensure good governance, each school is required to establish an incorporated management committee comprising principals, teachers, parents, alumni and independent community members.

It is, in effect, the board of directors to which the chief executive of the school, the principal, answers. But is this what is happening in reality? Is the system operating as it was supposed to?

I recently talked to a few teachers who among them have worked in about 20 schools. What they see in their schools is bona fide one-man rule. The principals are like kings. In the cases cited by the teachers, members of the management committee are picked by the principals.

Those who are invited to join the committee regard it as a great honour.

So, by default if not by design, the committee effectively rubber stamps the decisions of the principal.

Most committee members have no idea what is actually happening in the school.

Any information they do get comes directly from the principal. In effect, the principals wield absolute power and, as the saying goes, absolute power invariably corrupts, no matter how well respected is the profession.

With the hiring, management and promotion of staff, the practice of cronyism is not only tolerated, but blatant. It is ironic given that schools should always promote the value of meritocracy.

The ultimate victims of a dysfunctional school are the students. I do not know how many schools are being run in this way in Hong Kong, but even if the number is relatively small, all pupils and teachers in that school are being adversely affected by a principal's incompetence.

J. Y. K. Cheng, Quarry Bay