Decentralizing Education in Jordan: Seizing the Opportunity to Improve the Quality and Equality of Jordanian Schools

E.J. Karmel, Ali al-Batran
Identity Center
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Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung (RLS)
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In accordance with His Majesty King Abdullah II’s vision of a decentralized state, the legislature is currently reviewing a draft decentralization law that would redefine the role of local authorities in governance. While the draft law’s implications for Jordan’s education system are negligible, the law will be succeeded by regulations and further legal amendments on relevant frameworks to complement and clarify implementation. Given that possible plans for education decentralization are already being discussed, education will likely be addressed in the follow-up process. This is not necessarily good news. With the draft law’s focus on governorate level authorities as well as the direction of current discussions on education decentralization, it is likely that education will be devolved to the governorate level through the empowerment of governorate directorates. This type of education decentralization in Jordan could yield negative effects on the quality of the Kingdom’s schools. Indeed, a survey of case studies concerning education decentralization initiatives in other countries reveals that devolution has produced little positive impact on school quality and that in many cases, particularly in developing countries, it has yielded negative effects. Case studies of projects that have delegated authority over education to the school level, however, have demonstrated much more encouraging effects on the quality of education. The Ministry of Education (MoE) is well aware of the potential benefits of school level decentralization and has started to work toward empowering Jordanian schools. In partnership with the Embassy of Canada in Jordan, the MoE is currently building the capacity of schools so that they can assume greater autonomy. Through its School and Directorate Improvement Project (SDIP), the MoE has built capacity for school based improvement in every public school in the Kingdom and has constructed inter and intra school mechanisms to increase the effectiveness and accountability of schools through the introduction of Jordan's School and Directorate Development Program (SDDP). Yet, despite these significant efforts by the MoE and the positive impact that the SDDP has had on the capacity of Jordanian schools, there remains a disconnect between the government’s legislative process of decentralization and the MoE’s work on building school capacity. Even though the SDDP reforms are helping to decentralize education in a very positive manner, they are not being linked with the administrative process of devolution. The legal reforms are being seen as an administrative process and the SDDP reforms as a component of an educational one. These efforts need to be connected. By building local capacity, the MoE has already taken the first and costliest step toward a more effective form of decentralization and improved student outcomes. Future policies pertaining to education decentralization need to move away from their focus on the governorate authorities and build upon the MoE’s work. They should capitalize on the capacity that has been built and take the next step toward decentralization by delegating greater human and financial resources to the schools along with responsibility for improved service delivery. This delegation of power, however, is a large step and many members of the central government remain unconvinced that schools are prepared to effectively take on greater responsibility. A transition period could, therefore, prove beneficial, for it would allow limited power to be transferred to schools so that bottom-up accountability can be fostered and school capacities can be further developed and proven adequate to support a larger decision-making role. As such, this paper proposes a low-risk and cost-effective plan to build upon the MoE’s work and transition from capacity building to school autonomy. Recommended Next Step • User Fees: The government should pass an administrative decree allowing schools to directly collect user fees (as they did until 2009). The collected fees would then go directly to schools’ budgets to complement the limited funds with which schools are already provided. Jordanian parents who participated in our research indicated that they would be willing to pay a small fee of approximately 10 JD per annum if they were also able to monitor how the money is spent. • School Councils: Oversight and accountability for spending would be ensured by transforming school councils and expanding their role. The councils would contain the principal, elected teachers, and community members. Together they would decide on school expenditures. Benefits of Proposal • Short-Term Benefits: With the council’s freedom to use their budgets as they see fit, the user fees would allow schools to start to address immediate concerns such as repairs, professional development, lack of school supplies, and specific needs of the school’s students. • Long-Term Benefits: The plan would not only enhance the capacitates of school principals and staff and help to increase the interest and input of parents and the wider community, but also demonstrate that schools are ready to take on increased responsibility.

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