Leadership and context
Leadership and context

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Leadership and context

3 Societal culture

Culture, in the sense we are using it here, is an anthropological term that, in essence, defines the individuality or uniqueness of a society, organisation or social group. It is to be distinguished from the common western usage of the term, in which a ‘cultured’ person is well-educated and knowledgeable about the arts, literature, music, and history, and (perhaps slightly less so) about science and geography.

The following activity will help you to focus on societal culture more closely.

Activity 3

Watch the video clip below, which is commenting on aspects of education in Singapore. As you watch, make notes on what it says about the societal culture in Singapore.

Download this video clip.Video player: Education in Singapore
Skip transcript: Education in Singapore

Transcript: Education in Singapore

In Singapore there’s a very different set of cultural influences affecting school leadership.
The style of leadership tends to be authoritarian reflecting wider trends in Singaporean society, but school leaders are also expected to adhere strictly to government policy.
In Singapore the degree of centralisation is so strong that school principals, for example, are line managers, line agents, in the whole political educational system. So in fact every principal of, I think there are 360 schools in Singapore. So there are 360 principals, which is another big difference with the UK, with the comparison of size of course.
Every principal in Singapore is a government officer, so they have a very clear duty to fall in line with government policy on education. They’re provided with a big, with a very big thick handbook of rules and regulations which they’re expected to adhere to. Now that doesn’t mean to say that within their schools, they have less power, I’ve only been talking about the relationship between the principal and the, and the government. When it comes inside an individual school then the Singapore principal exerts very, very strong hierarchical authority even more so I would argue than say the UK principal.
So as a group pick one.
However, in private schools like this one school leaders are now making an effort to break with tradition and behave in a more collegiate way.
We believe training is very important. And we pride ourselves as being a group of people who are fairly, sounds quite boasting coming from me because I’m part of the team here. We hope to think that we are quite visionary and we are prepared to listen to people. Although it’s not entirely top down, it’s not entirely collaborative. It’s a combination of two. We listen and we have meetings. We listen to people, we discuss the issues. Then we make decisions and that’s how we do it.
The loops are aligned along the respective edge in white.
In Singapore as in all countries there is a distinct societal culture which is a central concept in understanding different styles of school leadership.
Some assumption. What’s the assumption, in this diagram here?
I think societal culture is best defined by saying that it’s an enduring set of values, beliefs, practices that distinguishes one group of people from another group of people. And there are various definitions by the way and it’s a contested concept. But that definition I’ve just given you I would argue tends to be generally agreed by most.
In Singapore the government has now taken the view that the future lies with more collegial styles of leadership. And it’s encouraging this change to take place.
A continuing theme of leadership here is its centralisation. That the principal is very strongly in control in his or her own school. But increasingly the Ministry of Education is keen to look at how principals might begin to share or distribute leadership through the school particularly down to Heads of Departments and middle level leaders. And so this is going to be a big challenge because while government policy is beginning to look at this and to advocate it, societal culture, the thing that we’ve been talking about actually acts against it.
End transcript: Education in Singapore
Education in Singapore
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Between the commentary and the interview with Clive Dimmock there are several points made about the societal culture. The overwhelming one is the centralisation of education policy, and the rules and regulations the school leaders are expected to follow. The point is made that the exact way that the rules are followed in a particular school is very much for the leader to decide, but nonetheless, as government employees, they are part of a very hierarchical system.


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