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date: 07 August 2022

Community Participation in School Management in Developing Countriesfree

Community Participation in School Management in Developing Countriesfree

  • Mikiko NishimuraMikiko NishimuraInternational Christian University


Community participation in school management has great potentials for removing mistrust and distance between people and schools by nurturing transparency of information and a culture of mutual respect and by jointly pursuing improvement of school by sharing vision, process, and results. Individual and organizational behavioral changes are critical to increase the level of participation. In countries where the administrative structures are weak, the bottom-up approach to expanding educational opportunity and quality learning may be the only option.

Nevertheless, when community participation is implemented with a top-down manner without wider consultation on its aims, processes, and expected results, the consequences are likely to be conflicts between actors, a strong sense of overwhelming obligation, fatigue, inertia, and disparity in the degree and results of community participation between communities. Political aspects of school management and socio-cultural difference among the population require caution, as they are likely to induce partial participation or nonparticipation of the community at large. Community participation in school management will result in a long-term impact only if it involves a wide range of actors who can discuss and practice the possibilities of revisiting the definition of community and the way it should be.


  • Education, Change, and Development
  • Education and Society
  • Educational Administration and Leadership

What is Community?

What is community? There is no common definition of community and its function in education of developing countries. If there is a school within a walking distance for most people, school community is likely to overlap with the geographical community. However, this is hardly the case in many developing countries. When the locality is sparsely populated, a school community may cover a wide range of geographical communities. Also, when geographical communities are divided into different cultural, ethnic, or linguistic identity groups, a school community needs rigorous coordination over the language of instruction, school events, and the membership of the school management body (e.g., school management committee, school council, and school board). The locality may have several schools based on religion, language, and other cultural backgrounds, and people from the same geographic community may belong to different cultural and school communities.

The context of community also influences its function. Community may promote social cohesion in school through various forms of collaboration within itself, but can exclude or be competitive with others over available resources. Such resources include public or private financial resource allocation to schools, assistance by donors, and access to natural resources such as water. Thus, using the term “community participation in school management” requires caution in what we mean by community and careful consideration of the social context.

In more conceptual terms, there are geographical, cultural, and school (or functional) communities. Geographical community is a group of people who reside in the same geographical boundary. Cultural community means a group of people with the same ethnic, linguistic, and/or religious backgrounds who share common norms and practices. Finally, school community denotes a group of people who gather and work for the purpose of school management, regardless of their geographic location or cultural backgrounds. School community may or may not include diversity in the socio-economic and cultural backgrounds of its members. This article assumes the functional community as the operational definition of community participation in school management.

Different social and institutional contexts of the education systems affect results in community participation differently, particularly in their roles and responsibilities, the levels of participation, representation of community members in the school management body, and the outcome of students’ learning performance and life course. For instance, the recent upsurge of decentralization devolved decision-making power to the community level in many developing countries. However, in some countries, the actual power devolved to the community is fairly limited due to scarce resources at the community level and high dependence on the guideline of usage of grants allocated to school by the government. In other countries, where community participation has a long history of compensating for the weak management of government schools, communities are actively involved in hiring teachers themselves and contributing to school in various forms. In the latter case, monitoring attendance of students and teachers, construction of classrooms and pit latrine blocks, and financial contribution to scholarships for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are likely to be in the hands of community members.

With the recognition that there are a variety of ways of involvement of community in school management in developing countries, this article examines how and in what ways community has been involved in school management in the context of developing countries and how the existing studies have documented the phenomenon with reference to the actual challenges, constraints, and possibilities. The section “Conceptual Framework of Community Participation in School Management” demonstrates the analytical framework of community participation, including historical roles of community in school management, the school-based management theory, and types and levels of participation. The section “Empirical Literature on Community Participation in School Management,” reviews the empirical literatures on the impacts of community participation on access to and quality of learning in schools as well as the constraints and driving factors for community participation in school management. The conclusion summarizes and suggests further studies on this theme.

Conceptual Framework of Community Participation in School Management

Historical Roles of Community in School Management

Who bears the cost of schooling?

Who bears the cost of schooling is a primarily important question to ask, since the education policies and international discussion on the role of community often emphasize its benefit as a means to fill the financial gap left by the government. In many developing countries, community, historically, has played an important role in educational provision. In sub-Sharan Africa (SSA), for instance, community-based providers and faith-based organizations supported educational provisions even before independence, until the 1960s and 1970s when the governments in the region exerted their own influence on educational development. During the period, some countries in the region declared primary education fee-free, resulting in a dramatic increase in the public education expenditure. Earlier attempts, however, to provide free education in SSA in the 1970s, had failed to achieve the objective owing to ineffective institutions, reduced quality of education, high informal fees, and other costs of schooling (Allison, 1983; Amutabi, 2003; Bray, 1986; Obasi, 2000; Prince, 1997; Sifuna, 2007; Somerset, 2009).

The structural adjustment programs (SAPs) adopted in many poor countries in the 1980s with the aim of overcoming the debt crisis, hampered school education with reduced government budgets and introduction of user fees for basic education, while private education expanded its presence in the provision of basic education. In many developing countries, basic education had fees until the 1990s or 2000s, and the fees varied across schools. Parents bore not only the direct and indirect costs of schooling; they also contribute to school in the form of labor (e.g., classroom construction) and in cash (i.e., contributions, even despite the fee abolition policy). However, private education was not financially sustainable in some areas and was out of reach for children from poor households. Olembo (1985) indicates, for instance, that many community-financed school projects in Kenya were abandoned because of the lack of capacity. Further, many families living in poor areas were unable to afford the non-tuition fees and other contributions at the primary school level, and many rural nongovernmental schools found it difficult to collect fees from the parents (Colclough & Lewin, 1993; UNESCO, 2007). Because of the recognition that the high cost of education hinders many poor children from going to school, the abolition of school tuition has regained popularity in developing countries since the mid-1990s (Avenstrup, Liang, & Nellemann, 2004; UNESCO, 2008).

Nevertheless, the re-introduction of fee abolition policies in many developing countries over the past 20 years did not stop the spread of private schools. In this context, it is helpful to divide private schools into two groups: (a) high-cost private schools that provide high quality education to wealthy children in urban areas, and (b) low-cost private schools that are often financially supported and managed by communities and parents (Bray & Lillis, 1988; Knight & Sabot, 1990). While some argue that the low-cost private schools are only substitutes for public schools in areas where the latter are absent, others maintain that private schools provide basic education more cost-effectively for the poor, even in areas where public schools are available (Kingdon, 2007; Phillipson, 2008; Tooley & Dixon, 2005). Thus, it is important to note that various intentions and demands for community participation in school management have led to different roles of community.

Substitute, Complementary, and Critical Roles of Community

Community can play the substitute, complementary, and critical roles in school management. The substitute role is to substitute the government’s service due to the lack of government support. James (1987, 1995) explained the phenomenon of high private expenditure on education in developing countries by the excess demand model (James, 1987, 1995). This model describes the role of the private sector in satisfying excess demand and filling in the gap, relative to the size of the age cohort, created by inadequate capacity of the public sector. Private schools driven by excess demand often offer low-cost and affordable education, while some suffer from low quality education when there is no competition with other public or private schools.

The complementary role for community is to provide alternative education to the existing education system. Contrary to the excess-demand model, the differentiated-demand model hypothesizes that the public education system is unable to meet the diverse demands of parents, especially for cognitive, religious, and linguistic education (James, 1987, 1995). When the quality of public education is attractive enough to keep pupils from different socio-economic backgrounds, there may not be the high demand for private schooling. In other words, the quality of public education determines the demand for high-quality education in private schools. There are also cases whereby cultural communities take initiative to operate non-formal schools for children and adults. Community organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) offer adult literacy programs to target those who missed the opportunity of schooling due to poverty, war, conflicts, child labor, early marriage, and so on. In such cases, community organizations take alternative pedagogical approaches to the public schools. For instance, ActionAid’s REFLECT and ACCESS programs use participatory learning methods and suggest a new role of teachers as facilitators in promoting students’ learning in school (Archer & Cottingham, 1996). The program emphasizes the linkage between education and action, whereby the educational goal is not just to master systematic knowledge and skills offered in school, but also to empower learners to solve the problems in daily life.

The community’s critical role is to be a friend of the school system and to address the issues and problems of school management from the side of the community. Let us look at educational evaluation as an example. The school-based learning assessments do not include the data on learning performance of those students who tend to be frequently absent from school or on unenrolled school-age children, thus providing a partial overview of learning output in school. Such assessments are often collected and compiled at the central level after administering the assessment in schools without school-based analysis or feedback to draw some practical implications for further pedagogical and managerial strategies at the school level. Educational evaluation tends to be regarded as a professional and policy matter, managed by central government officials and professionals such as university professors and senior teachers, leaving out other stakeholders including parents, community members, and students as sole beneficiaries.

However, since the mid-2000s, civil society organizations have emerged that challenge the closed form of educational evaluation and decision-making process on quality of education. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) in India was the pioneer in this regard and conducted the learning assessment for 700,000 children in 5,000 villages in all parts of India in 2005. Such household-based learning assessment did not aim only to assess learning achievement of school-age children but also to promote discussion on quality of education with a wide range of people at the community level for social change. Such movement was rapidly expanded to Pakistan, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Senegal, and Mali.

UWEZO, a civil society organization established in 2009 in East Africa, conducts a large-scale household-level learning assessment for the purpose of forming a civil society to take action with respect to the quality of basic education. UWEZO conducts annual household-based Grade 2-level learning assessment in math and reading for children ages 6 to 16 years in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. UWEZO uses various means, such as mobile phone’s short message services, radio, league tables, and posters for stakeholders at the household, community, and local government levels to discuss the results of the learning assessment and to demand quality education to schools and the government. UWEZO challenges the conventional norms that teachers and education specialists handle quality issues in education by opening up the forum to the public to raise multiple voices to school.

Accountability Mechanisms for Education Service Delivery

The role of community in school management attracted attention in the 1970s, when the mainstream idea, that government is the sole actor to provide educational services, was challenged, and community-led alternative education programs were proposed as more relevant and effective for providing basic education. Since the 1980s, community has become the main actor of development, not the recipient, and participatory approaches in learning, such as Participatory Learning and Action (PLA), were adopted. Furthermore, in the early 1990s, neoliberal economic theory and liberal democratic theory were jointly called a “new policy agenda,” which regarded the market and private sector as the most efficient service providers and maintained that democratization and civil society form a strong foundation for economic success. Many donor agencies shifted their targets of assistance to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society organizations (CSOs), away from inefficient and corrupt governments.

The critical role of community was further explored by the World Bank (2003), which provides an analytical framework of its accountability mechanism for the improvement of service delivery, as shown in Figure 1. There are long and short routes of accountability for schools to account for their service to the beneficiaries. The long route of accountability is for the citizens to elect the political leaders who then formulate education policies to respond to the will of the voters and to direct and supervise schools to deliver the service demanded by the citizens. With a precondition that each institution could maintain autonomy, citizens as the clients of public service utilize votes to enhance the control of central and local governments over service delivery institutions and to oversee these institutions more effectively through the direct exercise of client power.

Figure 1. Accountability framework for school management.

Source: Created by M. Nishimura, based on World Bank (2003, p. 188, Figure 10.3).

The short route of accountability is to increase client power, which is power to demand educational services that match client needs by directly raising voices and asking for explanation of schools on their services. The short route of accountability is ensured by forming a school management committee or school council that consists of representatives of parents and community members plus a head teacher to discuss the school plan and challenges facing the school to collaboratively improve quality of education. In many developing countries, it is quite difficult to ensure the long route of accountability due to corruption and mismanagement on the part of politicians and government officials and unclear election processes. Thus, much attention is being paid to enhancing client power through the short route of accountability.

There are numerous examples of using this short route of accountability. The initiatives of ASER and UWEZO in the previous section are the very challenge to enhance the short route of accountability. These household-level learning assessments are intended to initiate “client power movement” for quality improvement of basic education through sharing and analyzing information on learning at the household and community levels.

Another example can be drawn from a “School for All” Project started in Niger in 2004 and expanded to surrounding countries (i.e., Burkina Faso, Senegal, Mali, Madagascar, and Côte d’Ivoire) by Japan International Cooperation Agency. These West African countries had low enrolment rates, high levels of poverty, and serious public financial constraints, altogether inducing the lack of classrooms and of parental understanding and cooperation for schooling. Teacher absenteeism and the lack of capacity of teachers resulted in learning crises in schools. While thatched classrooms are commonly built by communities, the lack of transparency in school management increases the “distance” between community and school and results in malfunctioning of the school management committees. The School for All Project aimed at functional school management committee (SMC) and adopted the minimum package of democratic election for the SMCs, participatory planning and implementation of school improvement plans, collaborative monitoring and evaluation of school activities, and accounting through community gathering. After school management became participatory, with transparency of information, the intake rate increased from approximately 60% to almost 100%, and the gross enrolment rate of below 60% reached about 80% (Hara, 2011). The primary completion rate also gradually increased from about 40% to over 50%. Community members became more active in participating in various school activities such as classroom construction and implementation of supplementary and night classes, and purchased and procured textbooks and learning materials.

Both UWEZO and the School for All Project attempt to improve the short route of accountability for quality of education. The School for All Project puts more emphasis on the function of school management than the public movement for social change proposed by UWEZO. Nevertheless, they have common goals, to improve the quality of education by ensuring information sharing between school and community, to overcome the distrust and distance between them, and by promoting the participation of community members to collaboratively manage local schools. They also share potentials to improve accountability by linking the government, teachers, parents, community, and students to share information, to raise awareness, to dialogue, and to act together. Such bottom-up initiatives to ensure accountability seem to be key to expanding educational opportunities and improving the quality of education, especially in fragile states with weak administrative systems.

Types and Levels of Participation

It is important to note that the types of participation vary depending on the purpose of participation and the actual power devolved to the community. The categories in which power is devolved include budgeting (i.e., budget formation and allocation), personnel management (i.e., appointment and dismissal), pedagogy and educational content (i.e., curriculum development, making of class schedules and school calendar and events, selection of textbooks, etc.), school infrastructure and maintenance (i.e., improvement of buildings and other infrastructure, procurement of textbooks and scholastic materials), and monitoring and evaluation (i.e., monitoring and evaluation of teachers’ performance and students’ learning achievement).

School-Based Management (SBM), discussed in the next section, is a typical example of promoting community participation in school management under the “new policy agenda” described in the previous section. Nevertheless, various types of SBM exist in the types and levels of devolved power. Latin American countries have several examples of power devolved to the community for appointment and dismissal of teachers, while other parts of the world generally devolved power of budget formation, a certain level of pedagogical approaches and educational content, and maintenance of school infrastructure to community. Monitoring attendance of students and teachers tends to be managed at the school level, while evaluation of teachers and learning performance is often in the hands of the central government. Devolved power is dynamically re-allocated within the system among school, community, local government, and central government in various educational reforms.

There are political, economic, and historical backgrounds against diverse allocations of decision-making powers within the education systems. In theory, democratic school management intends to democratize a society. In reality, however, community often becomes responsible for school management as an alternative to the unstable government after the political turmoil. There are also countries with diverse ethnic and cultural groups where decentralization becomes an option to weaken the conflict between groups. Alternatively, highly centralized states that pursue efficient economic growth as “development states,” often seen in East and Southeast Asia in the 1960s and 1970s, restricted community participation. From the economic perspective, decentralization is often regarded as a means to utilize financial, physical, and human resources at the local level when facing the constraints of the national budget. Historically, how a school was established in the society determines the role of the community. For instance, in SSA, it was churches and communities that constructed schools during the colonial period and that kept their contributions to school after independence due to low capacity of the government. In short, community has played an important role since the origin of school education in these countries.

The degree of participation also requires attention. The ladder of participation, by Arnstein (1969), is well known to indicate the levels of participation. According to Arnstein, there are eight ladders categorized as client power (i.e., citizen control, delegated power, and partnership), tokenism (i.e., placation, consultation, and informing), and nonparticipation (i.e., therapy and manipulation). Even if the decision-making power is devolved to the community level, how power is distributed among multiple groups of community members and to what extent participation takes place need careful speculation, as we see a variety of impediments in the process later, in the section on empirical literatures.

School-Based Management Theory

The neo-liberal agenda of privatization and the recent upsurge in school-based management (SBM) both imply the importance of community participation for the efficient and effective delivery of educational services (Bruns, Filmer, & Patrinos, 2011). The underlying belief is that the closer the decision-making power is to local communities, the more relevant and efficient the consequent resolutions will be. The theory of SBM emphasizes (a) increasing poor people’s opportunity to choose schools and participate, (b) giving citizens a stronger voice, (c) making information about a school’s performance widely available, and (d) strengthening the rewards and penalty to schools based on their performance for improving learning outcome (Barrera-Osorio, Fasih, Patrinos, & Santibáñez, 2009). In more concrete terms, there are three essential components of school management in the theory of SBM, namely, autonomy, assessment, and accountability for improving the learning outcome (Barrera-Osorio et al., 2009; Demas & Arcia, 2015). School management under autonomy often gives an important role to the school management committee and its school policy formation (Yuki, Igei, & Demas, 2016).

SBM has also attracted attention due to the lack of perspectives on school management and their relation to learning outcome in the previous research. For instance, many input-output analyses based on the education production function have discussed possible factors affecting performance of students while paying less attention to how inputs are managed and interacted with at school. Inputs include attributes to students, such as age, gender, socio-economic backgrounds, and teacher and school characteristics such as the pupil-teacher ratio, the pupil-textbook ratio, qualification of teachers, and school facilities, as a proxy indicator for school inputs (Glewwe, Hanushek, Humpage, & Ravina, 2013). Outputs are measured by test scores, promotion rate, dropout rate, and so on. However, these models do not include policy environment and management of school, and they have faced criticisms that they deal with school as “a black box” and that they often lack analysis on how schools are managed and are using resources to improve learning (Hanushek, 2003; Rogers & Demas, 2013).

The researchers of the World Bank developed the System Approach for Better Education Results (SABER) tool in 2011 to overcome the limitation of the traditional input-output analysis and to examine the inside of the “black box” by looking at variables related to policy intent and implementation at the school and government levels. JICA Research Institute further contributed to developing questionnaires at the school and government levels to capture different levels of intent and implementation of an education policy, focusing on school autonomy and accountability domain. The SABER data on the school autonomy and accountability domain allows us to analyze how policy intent and implementation of school management is associated with learning achievement at the school level. Evidence is expected to accumulate in the coming years, but some of the research on Senegal and Burkina Faso indicate that school autonomy and accountability are moderately associated with educational outcomes such as access to school, learning improvement, and gender equality (Nishimura, unpublished manuscript; Yuki et al., 2016).

Empirical Literature on Community Participation in School Management

Impact of Community Participation

The impact of community participation in school management is mixed at best in the past literatures. Empirical evidence, mostly from Latin American countries, has highlighted some impacts of community participation on the increased attendance of pupils and teachers and of pupils’ learning achievements (Bruns et al., 2011). Taniguchi and Hirakawa (2016) recently suggested some indirect positive relationship between community participation and learning achievements of pupils through improved school management in rural Malawi. In Senegal, a recent study that used a randomized control trial method reports that the impact of school grants was seen on French, mathematics, and oral reading test scores of Grade 3 students, especially on girls with high ability levels at baseline (Carneiro et al., 2015). Reviewing a wide range of the past empirical literatures, Bruns et al. (2011) note that a combination of school autonomy, students’ learning assessment, and accountability to parents and other stakeholders brought better learning performance by students.

In contrast, Hanushek et al. (2013) analyzed a panel dataset from international PISA1 tests between 2000 and 2009 and found that school autonomy affects student achievement negatively in developing and low-performing countries, while its effect is positive in developed and high-performing countries. A number of other studies, based mostly on qualitative case studies, have posited the challenges of community participation in school management in terms of social structure, the social and cultural aspects of individual and organizational behaviors, and political intervention in community participation.

Impediments of Community Participation

A number of qualitative research efforts indicate that the devolution of decision-making power to school and community does not automatically result in exercise of devolved power due to social structure, attitude and culture of individuals and organizations, and political intervention in community participation. Contextual understanding of participation is of primary importance to clarify diversity in the results of community participation in school management in developing countries.

Social Structure

The past literatures suggest that structural factors that cause low accountability are two-fold, namely, the lack of autonomy of each institution and severe inequality in the society (Bruns et al., 2011). As for autonomy of institutions, many studies suggest that, unless the main actors of the local government, school, and parents/community members are independent in their decision making and control over resources, an accountability mechanism does not function well (e.g., Francis & James, 2003; Ogawa & Nishimura, 2015). When resources stem mainly from a single source characterized by insufficient information sharing and transparency, community participation is discouraged, the local government becomes unaccountable, and the central control becomes stronger (Francis & James, 2003).

Social inequality tends to reproduce unequal client power and quality of education among schools under the decentralization policy. Socio-economic and geographical inequality tend to result in disparities between the available resources and the level of academic achievement among schools in different countries (Cuéllar-Marchelli, 2003; Kristiansen & Pratikno, 2006; Ogawa & Nishimura, 2015). There are numerous cases where the heavy economic burden of education on community resulted in disparity in the quality of education among schools and regions in SSA countries in the 1980s and 1990s (Bray, 1996; Bray & Lillis, 1988). In the post-conflict situation in El Salvador, access to primary education expanded rapidly, while unequal financial capacity of parents, region, and Association for Community Education was reported to result in disparity of school education and learning performance of students (Cuéllar-Marchelli, 2003). Kristiansen and Pratikno (2006) also note that decentralization in Indonesia brought an increase of education expenditure of parents and socio-geographical disparities.

Abolition of school fees, often called universal primary education policy or free primary education policy, attempts to ensure equal educational opportunity, while this policy minimizes local decision making power by enhancing central control over school finance (i.e., a flat rate of capitation grant set by the central government replaced the various levels of tuition fees and parental contribution) and thus contradicts the decentralization policy (Sasaoka & Nishimura, 2010). In reality, however, parents and community members bear the cost of education in forms other than tuition fees (e.g., contribution, exam fees, development fees, compensatory or remedial lesson fees, etc.), and it is likely that disparities in client power will perpetuate in an unequal society (Ogawa & Nishimura, 2015).

Individual Attitude and Organizational Culture

The second major challenge is more to do with behavioral patterns of people, such as attitude and culture. To change one’s attitude and to build capacity take time, with various kinds of confusion in the process, albeit with the legal and administrative systems in place. For instance, in India, local administrators and community members are used to following directives and could not adjust to the “guidelines,” based on which they could have initiated independent action (Varghese, 1996).

Numerous cases at the school level also showed that organizational culture and conservative attitudes of teachers and administrators did not exercise the devolved power in reality. For instance, in Nicaragua, the organizational culture of schools influenced the ways in which schools handled the devolved power differently and widened the disparity in quality of education among schools (Rivarola & Fuller, 1999). Where obedience to authority is a social norm, local district officers and community members do not seem to practice devolved decision making (Chapman, 1998; Varghese, 1996). In Asian countries, it was reported that parents, teachers, and principals preferred maintenance of the status quo to taking a risk of undertaking a reform, and thus the devolved power did not result in education reforms for improvement at the school level (Chapman, 1998). Case studies from Ghana and Indonesia have revealed that the hierarchical behavior of head teachers and teachers could not change the teachers’ attitudes to be more independent and spontaneous during reform to the local curriculum, and the existing pedagogical practices persisted (Bjork, 2003; Pryor, 2005; Yeom, Acedo, & Utomo, 2002). Other literatures suggest that a school culture that encourages parental and community participation seems critical if such participation is to occur (Rivarola & Fuller, 1999; Shoraku, 2008). In Cambodia, for example, it is reported that parents’ norm, as being obedient to teachers and community leaders, as well as teachers’ perceptions that regard parents as passive, with no interest in the learning environment of schools, jointly led to the limited degree of parental involvement in school management (Shoraku, 2008).

Attitudinal issues are also indicated at the community level. For instance, the decentralization policy, planned and led by the central government, weakened school management due to a lack of consensus building among community members, that they are the ones who would manage schools and create a new learning environments under the new policy in the Philippines (Chapman, 1998). Furthermore, as community members lacked the willingness to change the situation, and lacked as well the understanding and confidence necessary to discuss the quality of education, community participation did not lead to an improvement in the quality of education in Ghana and the Philippines (Chapman, 1998; Chapman et al., 2002; Mfum-Mensah & Friedson-Ridenour, 2014). In Nicaragua, parents were unprepared, with insufficient understanding of the meaning of autonomy, leading to no action and passive attitudes towards school management (Rivarola & Fuller, 1999).

In more decentralized forms of school management, tension theoretically exists between teachers’ professionalism and political legitimacy as represented by community participation (McGinn & Welsh, 1999). In Latin American countries such as Guatemala, where power to hire and dismiss teachers was devolved to community, tensions occurred between teachers and community members over personnel management and school policy (Tamura, 2012). However, most of the existing literature on developing countries does not reveal such tension. Rather, the degree of participation is fairly limited due to the top-down nature of policy formation and implementation of devolution and the difficulty of attitudinal and behavioral changes of people.

Socio-Cultural and Political Aspect of Participation

The socio-cultural aspect of each society determines the form and degree of participation. In Ghana and Tanzania, the higher general level of parental education was reported to be a contributing factor to the higher level of participation in school management (Mfum-Mensah & Friedson-Ridenour, 2014; Phillips, 2013). Based on the case study of Ethiopia, Yamada (2012) indicates that the SBM-type school management structure and institutionalization of School Management Committee (SMC) itself tends to favor educated males conversant with the logic and formalities of the school management committee’s work, while excluding others.

Political influence on the way participation takes place is also evident from some qualitative studies. For instance, a case study in Nepal illustrates that participation in legitimate spaces for community participation in school is taking a form of tokenism whereby school management represents only a small number of political elites (Khanal, 2013). In Guatemala and Honduras, a case study suggests that hiring of teachers was based on partisan loyalties rather than teaching qualifications and trust of broader community members in the community-managed schools due to the intervention of the patronage politics in community participation (Altschuler, 2013).

McGinn and Welsh (1999) note that one of the important conditions for smooth democratic decentralization is a highly uniform citizen in terms of levels and distribution of education and training. Needless to say, many developing countries do not meet this condition, and yet various types of decentralization and SBM are being implemented in a mostly top-down manner, leaving individual attitude and organizational culture as remaining challenges for improvement of accountability of school education.

Driving Forces of Community Participation

Although central government plays the primary role in providing public education, community plays a complementary role to the government in fragile states that suffer from political turmoil and stagnant economy. El Salvador’s Community Managed Schools Program (EDUCO) is a typical example. The EDUCO Program devolved power to recruit and retain teachers to school management committees that consisted of parents and community members when the governments had not recovered administrative functions in the post-conflict situation. In Maasai communities in Kenya, where public education has recently spread and became popular, parents and community members are hiring teachers on behalf of the government, which froze teacher deployment due to financial constraints. The high demand for alternative education also promotes community participation in school management. In Afghanistan, for instance, teachers and community members offered home schooling for girls who had been excluded from public schooling under the Taliban regime.

In any role that community plays, be it substitute, complementary, or critical, the most important driving force is the demand for education from the side of a wider community (the school community). Also important are information sharing within the community and between community and school, collaboration and coordination among actors within the community and administrative institutions, critical thinking abilities of community members for analyzing government policy and their own needs to initiate action, attitudes of trust and mutual respect among people over school management, untiring efforts to improve, and a spirit of voluntary contribution (Nishimura, 2014).


This article discusses the role of community in school management from historical, theoretical, and empirical perspectives. It is important to note that community plays a substitute, complementary, and critical roles in educational development and that the role of community and its impacts varies by country, region, and actor. To understand the role of community, it is imperative to grasp the social context and needs of the community in which community participation is promoted in school management. In-depth analysis of cases is required to carefully investigate the process of producing or not producing the impact.

Community participation in school management has great potential for removing mistrust and distance between people and schools through nurturing transparency of information and culture of mutual respect and for jointly pursuing improvement of schools by sharing vision, process, and results. It should also be noted that individual and organizational behavioral changes are critical to increase the levels of participation. In countries where administrative structures are weak, the bottom-up approach to expanding educational opportunity and quality learning may be the only option. On the other hand, when community participation is implemented with a top-down manner without wider consultation on its aims, processes, and expected results, the consequences are likely to be conflicts between actors, a strong sense of overwhelming obligation, fatigue, and sabotage, disparity in the degree of participation and its results between communities, and political interference. School management body will also become a mere name without substances or activities, and people will feel helpless if the range and degree of devolved power is limited to the minimum scale.

Finally, although this article did not discuss the issue of exclusiveness and the politics of community, a community may not be able to agree to one goal and may face multiple vested interests and intensions. Community participation in school management will result in a long-term impact only if it involves a wide range of actors in the discussion and application of its possible methods, including revisiting the definition of community and the way it should be.


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  • 1. Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a triennial international survey that tests the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students, conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).