Why do education reform strategies often fail?

April 01, 2024
Naif Al-Roumi.
Naif Al-Roumi.

Naif Al-Roumi

Education is a fundamental factor in enhancing the quality of life and serves as a crucial tool for full societal integration, especially in culturally diverse societies. The demand for education has surged, driven by the quest for high-quality education that equips students with advanced skills and up-to-date knowledge.

A major driver behind the push for education reform is the evolving labor market, accelerated technological advancements, and the rise of artificial intelligence. Consequently, countries worldwide are initiating medium- and long-term strategic projects aimed at developing, reforming, or enhancing education. Despite varying nomenclatures, the underlying goal remains consistent: to provide high-quality teaching and learning experiences.

Specialists and followers of educational development and reform reports globally, particularly since the seminal 1983 "A Nation at Risk" report by the US National Commission on Excellence in Education, have observed that a significant portion of strategic plans for education reform have not successfully achieved their objectives. This is the case even though political leaders in these countries have prioritized education, allocating substantial budgets for reform efforts.

Jimmie Butler notes that approximately 60-90% of strategic plans either fail to achieve their goals or are not fully implemented. This high rate of strategy non-implementation underscores a general lack of commitment to management and periodic follow-up. Strategic planning, though time-consuming and effort-intensive, is relatively straightforward compared to the challenge of successful implementation. The quality and focus of the plan often suffer due to the organization's propensity to prioritize immediate concerns over strategic goals.

The importance of achieving quality education is universally acknowledged. However, the implementation of education reforms poses significant challenges. A key issue to recognize is that the tangible outcomes of education reform and development are long-term. It takes years to observe the impact of these strategies on all students. Furthermore, there is a tendency to focus on the successful execution of individual projects rather than the overarching strategy's success.

Research published in the Harvard Business Review revealed that 85% of a strategy's leadership team dedicates merely an hour a month to follow up on its implementation. Additionally, only 5% of employees are well-informed about the strategy. For many organizations, both governmental and private, strategies and visions are often sidelined, treated more as ceremonial artifacts than as practical tools for achieving organizational goals and growth.

The factors contributing to the failure of education development and reform strategies include: premature strategy modification due to changes in key officials, inadequate oversight by relevant authorities, and a lack of accountability and performance evaluation systems. Other issues include the pitfalls of both excessive centralization and decentralization, the latter leading to decision-making complexity and accountability challenges at various educational levels.

A strategy's failure can also stem from poor design, including a lack of a detailed and clear implementation mechanism, inadequate consideration of the implementing body's capabilities, poor strategy marketing, and a focus on minutiae at the expense of major issues.

To enhance the success rate of education reform strategies, it is crucial to establish general policies and specific standards that guide the strategy-building and implementation processes. Effective strategy implementation, which necessitates more time and effort, can be bolstered by regular follow-up meetings among the ministry's leadership and the activation of an accountability system.

‪— The write can be reached at: Nhalromi@gmail.com

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