Decagonal approach, a vehicle for school improvement
Decagonal Approach: A Vehicle for School Improvement
Muhammad Yusuf, Muhammad Ibrahim, Tanveerul Islam, Aziza Sultana
In recent years, school-reforms has been a catch-phrase for policymakers,
administrators, NGOs, researchers, parents and teachers in Pakistan. Most of the
government managed schools are in deplorable building conditions, lack basic amenities
including furniture, mats, and learning aids etc.. Students are taught by using talk and chalk
methods. Enrollment in government managed schools is declining day by day. Reasons are
that these schools are not fulfilling even primary responsibilities – reading, writing and
numerical skills. Sindh Education Foundation (2007) found that students at government
schools are struggling to demonstrate basic literacy and numeric skills. Many different
initiatives have been taken to improve the situation, but most of them move around
teachers’ training while initiators believing that schools can be reformed simply by
equipping teachers with modern teaching methods, Teachers’ development is only one
component of school improvement. School improvement is an organized and continuous
process which involves families, students, their parents, and communities as well. Only
then we can create environments where all students can learn. This paper will present a
reflective analysis of the decagonal approach of School Improvement Program (SIP) which
takes the “Whole School” as a unit of change rather than only teachers. The decagonal
approach of School Improvement Program (SIP) at present is being implemented in 30
schools of Chakwal district (Punjab). The paper will analyze each component of the
approach on the basis of working experience during the last two years.
School Improvement in MIED’s Perspective
‘School Improvement’ is another phrase which is frequently being used in the
educational reform processes in Pakistan. However, many consider it a product not a
process or series of processes. It is essential for educators and change agents to have a
proper understanding of the phrase “School improvement”. As we all know that
government managed schools are static units in isolation where there is hardly any
interaction between the forces outside and inside the schools.
But among those who demonstrate an understanding that schools are complex
interdependent social systems can move their schools forward. Unfortunately, many
educational leaders are not able to make the interconnectedness of the institutional
components. As such, well-planned reform activities often address symptoms, not the
underlying root causes of the problems, and therefore, significant school improvements do
not occur. So, it is essential for us to have knowledge of organizational communication
systems, power structures and the change process, which can help us to identify the
strengths and weaknesses of the school systems.
As Margaret Mead said, “A clear understanding of a problem prefigures its lines of
the solution.” Efforts or adjustments to address weaknesses do not bring systematic change.
Considerable educational change requires effective communication, coordination, time
management, optimum use of resources and expertise of all involved. In short, the “school
improvement program (SIP) is a systematic, sustained effort aimed to change the learning
condition in a school with the ultimate aim of accomplishing educational goals more
effectively.” (Van Velzen et al., 1985).
On the basis of above discussion, Mountain Institute for Educational Development
(MIED) developed the following model for school improvement and implemented it in her
project school and named it as Decagonal Approach for school improvement.
Capacity Building of Teachers
It is well known that teacher’s capacity building is central to school improvement
and change. Within SIP, teacher’s capacity building is main concern and teachers are
encouraged to learn from their day to day practices by reflecting upon what they say, do or
observe in their schools. For capacity building of teachers, MIED has developed a four-
phase model. In the first phase, the emphases are mostly on re-conceptualization of generic
notions like education, curriculum, teaching, and learning. The participants are provided
with opportunities to bring in knowledge by reflecting critically on their existing
perceptions and practices. Moreover, they are made familiar with the modern techniques
of teaching and learning through activity based, child-centered based and resources based
teaching and learning approaches. Keeping in view the high student-teacher ratio in
schools, multi-grade teaching technique is offered for application and experimentation in
their classroom situations. However, the main focus during training is on active
“participation” and “voice” of children in a school context with the accepted wisdom of
“teacher as a facilitator.”
After completion of the first phase, the learned theories and practices are
implemented, integrated and tested by teachers in accordance with the contextual realities
of their schools. Then during on job support educators observe classes of the course
participants and provide proper feedback for further development. Educators discuss with
the Course Participants to be aware of their needs making grounds for the next training.
In the third phase, based on field observations, actions are taken to address the dire
needs of the teachers according to their contextual realities. The main focus is on subject
matters, contents, and innovative teaching techniques.
In the fourth phase, with refined perceptions, pedagogical techniques, and
methodologies the participants are observed again in classroom and school situations.
Mentors provide support according to the upcoming concerns through ongoing on-job -
Leadership and Management
SIP develops leadership at the levels of teachers, head teachers, students and
system line supporters to bring about permanent and everlasting change inside the
schools. School heads guide teachers inside the classrooms and prepare teachers, parents,
and students for the process of change as well. Any change effort initiated by the school
leaders brings good results because they know their problems better than anyone else.
Schools are based in communities comprising different people. These people have
different beliefs and priorities, which influence a school’s learning environment. But a
school in its own place hardly leaves its impact on the community norms, as the studies
reveal. MIED wants a balance between these rates of influence. So a school should be a
place where everyone of the community is able to learn. A school’s learning zone should
include students, their parents and the grand-partners within itself.
Children’s learning is the end product of an effective school improvement
program. So children must participate actively in their own learning process. Children
learn best when they are exposed to situations where they act as leaders. In a school, they
can play their role in issues related to cleanliness, homework, class work, absenteeism,
and relationship but, lending. They play their roles not haphazardly but in an organized
and systematic way at the forum of Students Representative Councils (SRCs)
Developing Physical Environment in Schools
In a country like Pakistan, schools do not have suitable learning environments.
School buildings in some rural areas are turned into stores to keep the broken furniture.
At places, they are turned into the bedroom of the school’s watchman. In some cases,
local influential use them as their guesthouses. School improvement efforts aim to
improve such physical environments so that they could be used as conducive learning
Nowadays almost all teachers and education officers take textbooks as a
curriculum document. Therefore, the teachers strictly follow the textbooks thinking it
their professional obligation. They do not change, modify or improve any material given
in the books. Such stereotype teaching has caused a great damage to students, who have
different needs and styles of learning. School improvement program aims to enrich the
curriculum in a way where it suits the different needs and learning styles of the students.
Research, Documentation & Dissemination
Almost all schools are passing through a change process. The process may be
slow or drastic. Somewhere the change may be well managed, but at places teachers and
school, leaders are still thinking how to find ways to improve their children’s learning.
These achievements and efforts need to be documented and disseminated among the
schools and communities.
School Governance, Ownership and Advocacy
Although parents, teachers and system line leaders all play their roles they do not
own their schools. They do not know how to manage even the small issues. They hardly
discuss their problems with one another. The result is that the problems do not only
persist but continues to be complicated. MIED involves all stakeholders in the process of
school improvement so that schools’ governance can be made effective along with
improving ownership and advocacy.
Treating all schools alike would be misleading. Each and every school has its own
reality; a successful intervention in one school might be a disaster in another school.
Therefore, MIED takes each school as a unit of change. Besides, teachers development
MIED provides follow up support to suit it to the varying needs of different schools,
teachers, and students inside them.
Local Resource Generation
Human potential is fundamental to the process of teaching and learning but it is
the resources that also make the achievements sustainable. Resources are found
everywhere. Schools should be able to identify both material and human resources
present all around. Like village mason along with volunteers can render useful services to
the building improvements. Local resources generation leads the communities to own
During the implementation of the decagonal approach for school improvement,
MIED has learned following lessons.
SIP… Whose responsibility?
Theoretically, MIED started SIP implementation in consonance of Fullan (2001,
pp 1-2)), “deep and sustained reform [SIP] depends upon many of us, not just the very
few who are destined to be extraordinary.” From the initial days of SIP implementation,
MIED tried to assure mobilizing and involving every stakeholder, from the Executive
District Officer (EDO) Education down to one grader, in the process of school
improvement. Through awareness sessions, MIED was able to communicate to them their
roles and responsibilities in the school and by involving them in SIP activities. MIED
provided an opportunity to them to practice those roles in SIP. With the passage of time,
became teams comprising UC councilors, teachers, parents, and students. For example, in
Thatti Jammun, the community was encouraged by the rehabilitation work, Teachers’
Development Courses (TDCs) and formation of Students’ Representative Councils
(SRCs) by MIED and they structured two classrooms on self-help basis. They have also
taken the responsibility of paying the electricity bill of the school. Similarly, in Natural
community members and school council has taken the responsibility of rehabilitation
work and requested MIED to focus on academic excellence in their school.
Change is a Process, not an Event
During the period of SIP, MIED educators conceptually have understood that
school improvement is a process and not an event. Activities take time and require
continuous effort to move from intervention to Institutionalization.
Individuals Need to Change
It is necessary for change to happen, and desires to occur in individuals. MIED
learned it in two years of SIP implementation that initially, understanding of the need for
change was a critical part of the whole process of school improvement. One has to change
oneself before trying challenging others. MIED also found that in their moving schools it
is the teacher who plays a major role in institutionalizing SIP intervention in their schools.
Change Needs Team Effort
For positive change in schools, all stakeholders need to work together for positive
change. As without creating the spirit of the team the process of change cannot take root
in the schools.
Shard understanding among all partners is necessary to implement a project like a
school improvement. Hence, MIED considers it an blessing that the project partners (Plan-
Pakistan and SSO) who continuously support SIP activities either it is in the project
proposal or not, either it is budgeted or not. For the time being MIED developed
understanding through presentations and monthly coordination meetings that school
improvement is a process, not a product and every school is unique and requires a separate
action plan to move from sinking school to moving school (Stoll and Find 1998).
Change in Teacher Attitude – a Process
During field support program, teacher and students friendly attitude are one of the
keys for MIED. MIED believes that learning can be accelerated when teachers become
friendly with students and engage them in meaningful activities rather than explaining the
concept by sitting on their chairs. In the first visit, after formal introduction, MIED’s
educators first meet with children where they are sitting either on mud or under the tree.
They discuss with them about their learning and the challenges they face. Then they try to
fulfill their immediate needs and then move to the teachers and discuss them about several
ways to implement their learning during face to face teacher development component. Due
to this attitude to sitting with students, discussion and questioning in a friendly manner,
MIED find that teachers have started teaching sitting with students rather than standing in
front of a whiteboard or sitting on their chairs. Moving teacher form their chair to children
mat, MIED succeeded to create a friendly environment among teachers and students, where
students can learn freely and able to share their difficulties and success with their teachers
and colleagues. In short, active learning strategies and child-friendly behaviors help
children to strengthen their coping mechanism.
Conducive Environment Contributes to Learning.
When MIED started to implement SIP in Chakwal, they found empty walls of the
schools. First MIED started to decorate them with students drawing works. With the
passage of time filled the classroom walls with students writing, timetable, content-based
charts. It shows that students have an opportunity to share their work and creativity with
their classmates rather than teachers only. They interact with different learning units
whenever they see in the classroom.
Coordination with Communities Provide better Opportunity to use Local wisdom in
Creating more opportunities
MIED provides a platform through joint meeting sessions with community, school
council and teachers to discuss school-related issues. They come up with a lot of ideas and
local solutions to problems. In such situations, MIED works as a facilitator and use the
expertise in SIP such as managing and monitoring of rehabilitation of school. MIED
developed their linkages with the Education Department and other development
organizations in Chakwal, from where the community can get the benefit for their schools
through this linkage. For instances, in Miami GGPS’s School Council got approval for the
use of classroom which is actually the part of GBPS. For use of maximum human resources
academic excellence, Dhokh Bair community got the approval of merging two primary
schools and now the school is running as a unit under one management.
Implementers need to act as role models first of all. Whatever the level, be it classroom,
school councils or education department change processes need to be not only shared and
disseminated but demonstrated differently and patiently according to the context of the
Fullan, M. (2001). Leading in a culture of change. San Francisco: Jossey Bass
Sindh Education Foundation (2007). Educational for All: A Critical Review.
Sindh Education Foundation: Karachi
Stoll, L. and Find, D. (1998) The cruising school: the unidentified ineffective
school, in L. Stoll and K. Myers (Eds) No Quick Fixes: Perspectives on Schools in
Difficulty. London: Falmer Press.
Van Velzen, W., Miles, M., Ekholm, M., Hameyer, U. & Robin, D. (1985).
Making School Improvement Work: a Conceptual Guide to Practice. Leuven, Belgium,