Decentralised centralism: insights from a Malaysian cluster school of excellence

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Huan Yik Lee
Moses Samuel


Currently, in many developing countries, there have been intensified efforts by policymakers to push for decentralisation of education as part of a neo-liberal reform agenda to improve school management efficiency and cater to localised needs. In the Malaysian context, the government has attempted further decentralisation of autonomy in selected public schools, marking a shift from the post-independence centralised education structure. This has led to the development of Cluster Schools of Excellence, practising some form of school-based management and accorded autonomy in the selection of niche areas, programme planning and programme implementation. Drawing primarily on the interview narratives from school administrators as key policy actors, this study examines how autonomy is manifested at the micro-level and how the school administrators exercise their agency when they are accorded autonomy. Using a decentralised centralism framework, the tensions and complexities in education policy implementation are highlighted in this study. Findings reveal that agency and autonomy are held by both macro and micro-level policy actors in varying degrees, and that school administrators have fundamental agency in school-level policy implementation. The study also explores the dynamics of the decentralisation process and raises the issue of re-centralisation of authority through decentralisation of education.


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