Barriers to Shared Decision-making in
Egyptian Schools: Teachers’ Perceptions
EDU/DEV Public Seminar
26th November 2009
Presented by:
Waheed Hammad
Visiting Fellow
School of Education and Lifelong Learning,
University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK
This presentation includes four
I: Overview of Egypt's education system
II: Background information on SDM
III: The study and its context
IV: Main findings
Part I
Overview of Egypt’s education system
Egypt on the map
Egypt: Facts and Figures
Official name: Arab Republic of Egypt
Capital: Cairo
Population: 81,527,172 (2008)
Languages: Arabic (official), English and French
widely understood by educated classes
Religions: Muslim (mostly Sunni) 94%, Coptic
Christian and other 6%
The educational system: statistics
The largest education system in the MENA
(Middle-East and North Africa) region and
one of the largest systems in the world
Pupils: 15656954
Teachers: 796034 ( of which almost %49
Schools: 37614 ( of which 32666 public
schools) (MOE, 2008)
The structure of the education system
Source: World Data on Education, IBE, UNESCO, 2006-2007
The organisational structure of the
educational system
Ministry’s Headquarters
27 Educational Directorates
249 District Offices (Idaras)
Approximately 37 thousand schools
Director General
Head teacher
The organisational structure of general
secondary schools
Head Teacher
Deputy Heads
Heads of Departments
Centralised control as a feature of
Egypt’s education system
Rigid hierarchical authority structure maintained throughout
the system.
The MOE as a central decision-maker: curriculum,
educational budgets, teachers’ salaries and the selection of
Local authorities and their circumscribed powers.
Schools have minimal discretion: head teachers as “teacher
Attempts to decentralisation: Law 139/1981
Part II
Background Information on SDM
Shared Decision-making (SDM)
A dominant theme in the reform and restructuring
movements of the late 1980s.
“a process of making educational decisions in a
collaborative manner at the school level”
“a formal system for the representation of
teachers in a decision-making body” (Weiss, 1993)
The understood common goal of SDM is to
provide teachers and other members of the
school community with greater chances to
participate in the decision-making process at the
school level.
Assumptions underlying SDM
Those who are closest to the action are more able
to make the best educational decisions.
Members of the school community should be given
more say about policies that are likely to affect
their schools.
Those who are responsible for implementing
decisions should be involved in making those
There are more chances for change to be
successful when those implementing it feel a sense
of ownership for the implementation process.
SDM challenges as reported by the literature
Lack of time
Lack of
and skills
Heads’ reluctance to
hand over authority
Part III
The Context of the Study
The context
Recent decentralisation projects with SDM being
a key component
Secondary Education Enhancement Programme (SEEP), 1999
Alexandria Pilot Project, 2001
Training and Evaluation Units (TEUs), 2002
Boards of Trustees (BOTs), 2005
Barriers reported in other international contexts.
Paucity of research on SDM in the Egyptian
The study
•Qualitative research study.
•Main research question : what are the barriers to
SDM in Egypt's general secondary schools?
•Data were collected through interviews with 85
research participants in nine general secondary
schools. School documents were also analysed.
•Research participants: head teachers, deputy
heads, heads of department, BOT members and
newly-appointed teachers
Part IV
Findings: Barriers to SDM
Barriers to SDM
Institutional Barrier
Centralised Control
decisions are
How are
Cultural Barriers
Unwillingness to
engage with SDM
Lack of
with SDM
Fears of SDM
as a
for SDM
1- Centralised control as a barrier to SDM
The relationship between SDM and school-based
management (SBM): SDM follows SBM
School autonomy as a pre-requisite for SDM: SDM has little
Previous research indicates that SDM projects have
struggled in other countries due to central restrictions.
meaning in the absence of school autonomy (David, 1988)
Centralised control as a barrier to SDM (cont’d.)
Centralised control was perceived by many participants to
be a major challenge to SDM.
Consensus about the highly-centralised nature of the
system and the limited discretion given to schools.
“Decisions are dictated to us. The Undersecretary conveys the Minister’s instructions to
the district directors. Then the district directors convey the instructions to the head
teachers who, in turn, hold meetings to pass them on to the staff. Hence each level
conveys instructions to the other, and the lowest category in the hierarchy has only to
implement them.” (Senior deputy-head)
Cynicism over the MOE decentralisation plans.
“There is no such thing as decentralisation in schools. Rather, there is centralisation to
the extent that we receive the very details of our work inside the school from the
Ministry”. (BOT member)
Factors associated with centralised control
The nature of school decisions (what decisions are
“Routine”, “meaningless”, “insignificant”, “irrelevant to the educational
The nature of the decision-making process (How are
decisions made?
Top-down school decision-making approaches
Decision making bodies are being used by head teachers to dictate
instructions rather than share in decisions.
“ The head teacher is just a conveyor of decisions. When we attempt to dispute with her at
the meetings, she doesn’t recognize our argument, simply informing us of the
decisions she has already made. I don’t attend these meetings or I attend briefly
and then leave, because when I protest she says that she is not prepared to argue
with those above her.” (Senior teacher)
2- Cultural Barriers to SDM
School culture plays a crucial role in the success or failure of SDM.
SDM is a major change, and “culture plays a significant role as a
determinant of change” (Dalin et al., 1993).
SDM cannot be implemented by simply establishing mechanisms for
increased participation in decision-making.
SDM requires fundamental changes in the culture surrounding
decision-making in schools.
Trusting relationships, collegiality and mutual respect are
fundamental requirements for SDM to develop.
1- Unwillingness to engage with SDM
 Head teachers’ unwillingness.
Accountability concerns
“The head teacher does not provide such opportunities for participation to teachers,
because she is bound by the ministerial decrees. We might make decisions that lead to
mistakes, and then sanctions will apply to the whole of the administrative staff, including
the head teacher and the deputy heads. Hence sharing does not happen simply because
everybody is concerned about his own security.” (BOT member)
Hidden agendas
Autocratic personality
Teachers’ unwillingness
Deteriorated work conditions, especially low pay
“The teacher is exhausted, frustrated and has no motivation to participate. ... If you don’t
have faith in an idea you will neither make sacrifices nor take action to further it. I have no
faith in the educational process. Rather, I believe that I’m oppressed: I receive a few
pennies which suffice me for four days or a week and then I need to beg from my pupils
for the rest of the month. Where then is my faith in the educational process, so that I can
participate and make decisions? (Teacher)
Involvement in private tutoring
Not being listened to or valued
2- Lack of trust
A) Teachers’ mistrust of head teachers
B) Head teachers’ mistrust of teachers
“I don’t trust most of them as decision makers” (Head teacher 1)
“One of the reasons why a head teacher doesn’t involve teachers in the decision-
making process is his/her lack of trust in all the teachers in the school. From my
point of view, most teachers in the school are not trustworthy, especially the
young ones.” (Deputy-head)
C) School staff’s mistrust of central-level administrators
3- Lack of familiarity with SDM
It is extremely difficult to encourage teachers to participate when they
have been conditioned to compliance.
“Teachers haven’t been initially trained to express their opinions or
to make decisions. Rather, they have been conditioned to execute
instructions without any discussion.” (BOT member)
“The period for which teachers have not participated is quite long and they
have become habituated to this. Therefore if we ask them to do so now, it
will be a difficult process.” (Head of department)
Factors associated with unfamiliarity with SDM:
a) Centralised control over schools.
b) Lack of participation as a wider phenomenon.
c) Lack of training in SDM.
4- Concerns about potential involvement
A) Chaos
“If we seek teacher’s opinions about work hours there will be chaos, for each
teacher will look for his own interest. Most teachers here want to come to school at
8:15 am instead of 7:45 am!” (Teacher)
B) Conflict
“There are intense conflicts which develop during departmental meetings in which
we discuss our plan. And, in the end, we refer to the autocratic approach and we
call the inspector to come and set up the plan for us.” (Teacher)
“Widening the circle of participation may cause problems because there will be
conflicting opinions. If there are only a limited number of participants, the process
will be better.”
(Head of department)
5- Seniority as a pre-requisite for participation
 The sanctity of the notion of seniority in the
Egyptian education system.
 Participants’ conception of “experience”.
“Decision-making develops only through experience. When you make a decision,
this doesn’t happen haphazardly. Rather, it happens as a result of previous
experiences. So, one mustn’t participate in making decisions whilst still in his first
year in school.” (Head of department)
The contradiction between the notion of seniority
and SDM.

Barriers to Shared Decision-making in Egyptian Schools