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How does the new emphasis on managerialism in education redefine

teacher professionalism? A case study in Guangdong Province of China

Jocelyn L.N. Wong*
Department of Educational Administration and Policy, Faculty of Education, The Chinese
University of Hong Kong
China, the same as her Western counterpart countries, has been experiencing
educational decentralization over the last two decades. Such a policy shift,
however, brings with it issues of managerialism, accountability and
competition, all of which are becoming part of the common language in the
educational lexicon. These newly imposed strictures have been theorized to
influence teachers daily practice in certain ways and also their views about their
roles and responsibilities. It is said teachers have had to redefine their
professionalism due to the invasion of this audit culture in education.
However, research on this particular area has not devoted significant attention
to the voices of teachers. This paper uses interview data from 75 teachers in
Guangdong Province of China to find out whether policy changes have
necessitated teachers to develop strategies to cope with new educational demands
and challenges.
Keywords: professionalism; China; educational decentralization; managerialism
Decentralization has been described as a process in which power is delegated from
the central to the subordinate levels of an organization (Hanson 1997; Bray 2003 ). It
can also be seen as a process which involves tasks and power being transmitted from
the centre to the periphery (Karlsen 2000). In line with this, an educational
decentralization policy triggers off a redistribution of power (Ta 1985; Datnow 2000;
Ingersoll 2003) which alters power relationships among different educational
stakeholders within the education sector (Jeffrey 2002; Smyth 2002; Ball 2003).
Proponents of educational decentralization generally believe that such a policy
direction can offer a working environment in which teachers have more say on what
they intend to teach in their classrooms, drawing on their professional discretion
which is considered the foundation of their professional authority as teachers. It is
also said to help teachers to develop a technical culture shared with colleagues and to
resolve problems of individualism and isolation in teaching by developing a
collaborative workforce. Perhaps more importantly, decentralization is expected to
result in teachers taking an initiative not only to work with colleagues, but also to
liaise with other educational stakeholders (Hargreaves 2000; George, Mohammed
and Quamina-Aiyejina 2003; Smith and Rowley 2005). In this context, teachers
should be able to develop their professionalism in a broader social context. In other
words, teacher professionalism can be invigorated when responsibility and power is
devolved to schools and teachers.
*Email: jocelyn@fed.cuhk.edu.hk
Educational Review
Vol. 60, No. 3, August 2008, 267282
ISSN 0013-1911 print/ISSN 1465-3397 online
# 2008 Educational Review
DOI: 10.1080/00131910802195869
This claim, however, has been called into question. Research conducted by Ball
(1994, 1999, 2003), Halsey et al. (1997), Helsby (1999), Whitty, Power and Halpin
(1998) and Whitty (2002) has cast doubts on these projected effects of decentraliza-
tion. They view decentralization as simply a way for the state to curtail its
responsibility for public spending by decentralizing decision-making power to the
community level or the private sector. Such a policy change, they believe, encourages
the introduction of market principles and values in education, shifting the style of
education towards notions of performativity and competition (Ball 1999, 2003;
Jeffrey 2002). Meanwhile, the state still maintains control of education and teachers
in various indirect ways even though it has less fiscal responsibility in the sector
(e.g. Helsby and McCulloch 1997; Apple 2001). Despite the devolution of responsibi-
lity, it still uses goal setting for goal achievement through the school-based
management system as its way of maintaining control (Ball 1994; Helsby 1999).
Controversy aside, most scholars agree this new managerialism brings along an
audit culture to the education sector (Stronach et al. 2002; Woods and Jeffrey
2002) that is capable of reshaping the professional identity of teachers and their sense
of professionalism (Halford and Leonard 1999). They are expected to accommodate
to their new roles and responsibilities, and to forge new relationships with other
educational participants. Bullock and Thomas (1997), for example, use the
educational decentralization experiences of different countries to argue that such a
policy change has had important consequences, positive and negative, for teacher
Most previous studies of educational decentralization, however, have focussed
on the macro policy level. Views from teachers regarding such a policy shift, who are
identified as key educational participants, have seldom been discussed. It is
important for policy-makers to take teachers views on this issue into consideration
not only in order to achieve a sense of consensus, which is one way to achieve the
success of educational reforms, but also to make any necessary adjustments to policy
after getting first-hand feedback on how it works at the grass-roots level.
China has been implementing educational decentralization for the last two
decades, consequently it is a good time to review how such a policy shift has
influenced professional practices of teachers. This study is an attempt to provide an
insider view on how teachers in China react to and encounter the new challenges and
demands brought by educational decentralization in order to help policy-makers
understand the impacts of their policies on those very important members of the
educational fraternity. The results may also be interesting for teachers throughout
China to see their colleagues experiences of reconstructing their professionalism.
Two research questions of this study are put forward:
(1) To what extent do teachers feel that their professionalism has been changed
as a result of the policy shift?
(2) Do public and private school teachers view their new professionalism
differently, and if so, how?
It is expected the answers to these two questions will give us information about how
some teachers in China have adjusted their working pattern to fit the context of
policy shift and help understand the actual impact of educational decentralization on
teachers perceptions towards their professionalism.
268 J.L.N. Wong
Background: educational decentralization policy in China
Educational decentralization in China is not new. Hawkins (2000) and Shen (1994)
argue that education in China has been struggling with the issue of centralization
and decentralization since 1949. The chief motive for decentralization in Chinas
educational system in 1985 was to address the financial straits of the central
government which had been struggling to provide adequate educational funding for
the whole country (see also Bray 2003; Hawkins 2000). For this reason, transferring
the fiscal burden from the central government to the local, which includes various
levels of local governments, communities, individuals or even the private sector, was
a plausible solution to extricate the whole system from its plight.
In Zhonggong zhongyang guanyu tizhi gaige de jueding (Decisions on the reform
of the educational system) (Zhonggong Zhongyang 1985), the Central Committee of
the Chinese Communist Party emphasized allowing local initiatives to improve
education development and to give local communities more responsibility to develop
their own specific educational systems than previously. This policy re-orientation
means local governments and communities have to be more responsive in shaping,
delivering and financing educational services. There is a clear indication that the
education system in China is shifting from a state monopoly to a mixed economy
in the education sector (Mok 2003). Given this, schools have changed in the
following ways:
(1) more freedom to generate extra funding, called creation of income;
(2) more choice in recruiting high-fee paying students;
(3) more freedom in deciding matters related to staffing and personnel under
the Teacher Employment System (schools are eligible to recruit staff
from the market and no longer have to rely on the state arrangement) and
the Position Responsibility System (performance-led payment);
(4) less restrictions in restructuring school management arrangements
(Wong 2004).
All of these make schools more market-oriented and provide a context in which
teachers can reconstruct their sense of professionalism.
However, such a change does not completely erode the decision-making of the
state, in favour of market driven forces alone. Although marketization and
privatization of the Chinese education system have occurred to some extent, there
is still a strong top-down state-determined approach to deliver educational services
to students. Matters of educational goals are still tightly controlled by the state. The
government has its hands on curriculum matters through a standard assessment
system. Chinas education system, the same as her Western counterpart countries,
brings an interesting paradox, the devolution of financial and managerial control to
more local levels, or even to individual schools, alongside centrally defined
educational goals for schools to teach towards and standardized assessment for
schools to evaluate their performance (Wong 2004).
At this point, teachers in China increasingly are caught between competing and
conflicting pressures of the market and the state. The state, as the major educational
service supplier, is determined to improve the intellectual capabilities of school
graduates so that the nation will be more competitive in the global marketplace. This
is one objective that provoked the state to promote the educational decentralization
Educational Review 269
policy, which is deemed a kind of competitiveness-driven educational reform
(Carnoy 1999). Proponents of educational decentralization take the view that such a
policy shift can provide a working context in which teachers can be more responsive
to students needs, develop a sense of ownership of their work and create a sense of
personal accountability (Desimone 2002; Goldring and Ogwa 2002). However, this
policy change does not mean that the state completely washes its hands of
educational issues and releases all decision-making power to local groups. The state,
to a significant extent, still exercises its ruling power in a number of indirect
ways. The present situation is definitively re-shaping teachers professionalism.
Consequently, it is interesting to find out how teachers in China, with its unique
cultural background, are redefining their professionalism in an era of educational
change. The next section presents some studies that have looked at how educational
decentralization in Western countries impinges on and reshapes teacher daily
Theoretical context
Decentralization introduces an idea of service to teachers through managerialism
Recent studies in the West show that teachers have been experiencing intensification
rather than increased professionalization in their work and lives (e.g. Smyth and
Shacklock 1998; Whitty, Power and Halpin 1998; Helsby 1999; Apple 2000, 2004;
Bottery and Wright 2000; McCulloch, Helsby and Knight 2000; Osborn et al. 2000).
This may be due to the fact that educational decentralization generally involves the
establishment of a new work order and new public management through the
importation of business philosophy and practice into the public service arena
(Helsby 1999). Schools have been rationalized, cut-back, made more economically
efficient, less of a tax burden and set in competition against one another for clients
(Hargreaves 2000, 168). Education is treated as a commodity (Ball 2003; Luke 2004).
Within this context, teachers work is tightly controlled by notions of account-
ability, effectiveness, performance and efficiency, key features of the
culture of performativity which has significant impacts on teachers working
patterns. Teachers now have growing pressure to do more for their schools with
the aim of attracting more students, so that their schools can be more competitive in
the local educational market. Their workloads have increased remarkably as a result
of schools moving towards a market mentality. As Apple (2000) argues, such a
change provides fertile ground for teachers to experience overload rather than an
increase of professional autonomy.
More importantly, the imposition of a national curriculum, centrally imposed
and defined, results in further diminution of teachers individual freedom. The
responsibility for curriculum design is moving away from the hands of teachers, to
control by a few outside experts who are not conversant with the problems that
teachers are daily encountering (Ball 2003). This situation has been eroding
professional competency of teachers (McCulloch, Helsby and Knight 2000).
Furthermore, a centralized curriculum is always associated with a series of
standardized test scores or assessment criteria, recognized as performance
indicators, to evaluate teaching effectiveness and students learning outcomes.
Such measures are perceived as a control mechanism, designed to ensure
accountability and consistency in the performance of teachers and the content of
270 J.L.N. Wong
teaching. Both have now become a threat to the professional autonomy of teachers
and their sense of professionalism as they lose control over what to teach and
ways to assess their students performance (Ingersoll 2003; NcNeil 2000). The loss of
creativity in curriculum design has been eroding professional autonomy and
personal fulfilment of teachers (Osborn et al. 2000) which makes teachers lack a
sense of ownership of their work (Easthope and Easthope 2000). Teachers work
context has moved from direct visible imposition and surveillance to an invisible
strategy of control (Grace 1985, 1997; Ozga 1995, 2000). Their professionalism seems
to have been replaced by accountability, their collegiality by costing and
surveillance (Ball 1994, 64). Educational decentralization has resulted in making
teachers feel they are now working in low-trust workplaces (Sullivan 1994; Troman
1996, 2000; Furlong et al. 2000; Ball 2003). Given this, it is unlikely for teachers to
enhance their professionalism within such a working context.
Developing professionalism within the context of managerialism
Professionalism refers to the quality of practice and the manner of conduct within an
occupation (e.g. Hickson and Thomas 1969; Strike 1993; Sockett 1993; Hoyle 1994).
It generally consists of two elements: commitment to practice knowledge and skills
with the objective of maintaining a fiduciary relationship with clients and an
expectation that professionals will put clients needs and benefits as their first
priority (Freidson 1994, 2001). More importantly, present day professionalism
should be able to respond to constantly changing social and political requirements
(Hargreaves 1994).
A number of studies discuss ways for teachers to redefine their new
professionalism. Hargreaves (1998), for example, suggests that creative profession-
alism can emerge by using knowledge creation in school-based contexts to cope
with new educational demands. Hargreaves and Goodson (1996) suggest the term
post-modern professionalism within which teachers can make discretionary
judgement to fit in with the constantly changing requirements in the era of reform.
Hargreaves (2000) further suggests that teachers should work collaboratively among
colleagues and liaise with other educational stakeholders, such as parents, to react to
and resolve the problem of deprofessionalization which is derived from an increase
of centralized control of curriculum and assessment. In contrast, Goodson (2000)
develops the idea of principled professionalism, which puts emphasis on the social
and moral responsibilities of the teaching profession and values of teaching, to help
teachers to counter the problem of technicized teaching. Sachs (2003) incorporates
Hargreavess idea and the concept of community of practice to argue that
developing teacher professionalism is a political project. She claims that teachers can
achieve transformative professionalism by developing their professional knowl-
edge and standards both individually and collectively.
In Australia, a concept of managerial professionalism has been developing in
the education sector. The performance of schools and teachers is measured by a
series of indicators. This makes teachers have increasing concerns about achieving
goals set by the government (Sachs 2003; Whitty, Power and Halpin 1998). In the
UK education system, professionalism is seen as a kind of control mechanism and
teacher professionalism is referred to as legitimated professionalism (Grace 1985,
1987). The state attempts to produce non-political teachers who have specific
Educational Review 271
characteristics such as relative autonomy, particular expertise, white collar status
and security, keeping a distance from the political and the economic issues and
behaving as an agency of the state. The goal is to prevent an increase of teacher
militancy which has resulted from cutbacks of educational expenditures and has
been accompanied by the states tighter control over teachers and curriculum. In this
way, teachers still seem to be controlled by the state moving from direct rules to
indirect control or ideological control (Ozga and Lawn 1981; Carnoy 1993; Ozga
1995; Helsby and McCulloch 1996; Smyth et al. 2000). However, Welmond (2002)
argues that although the state is a crucial factor in reshaping teachers work and their
identity, it still does not have entire control of the teaching occupation. Teachers
expectations of their work are shaped by and come to an accommodation with the
demands associated with the states specific education goals (Welmond 2002, 43).
New teacher professionalism thus, can be seen as a product of the negotiation
between the states needs and teachers expectations of their work.
All of the earlier studies are based on the Western experience which can provide
background information to help understand the effect of the educational
decentralization policy on teacher professionalism in China.
This small-scale study consists of 75 interviewees who teach in seven schools located
at Guangzhou, Panyu, Shenzhen and Conghua, all of which are in urban areas of
Guangdong Province in China.
The seven schools studied included two key point (elite) grammar schools
(schools K1 and K2), one vocational school (school V), one normal grammar school
(school N), and three high-fee paying private schools (schools P1, P2 and P3). All
public schools studied were recommended by different local Education Bureaux and
the three private schools were from personal contact. A random selection of various
types of schools was chosen to investigate how their teachers in various contexts
encounter new challenges and demands brought by the policy shift differently.
Theoretically, private schools will have less restrictions and control from the state
than public schools do. Through comparing teachers experiences in different public
and private schools we get a broader sense of the impact of educational
decentralization on teachers daily practice.
Of the 75 interviewees, 37 were responsible for school administration, such as
managing subject panels, handling student affairs, organizing teaching and research
and dealing with external affairs. Sixty-five of the interviewees were from inland
China. Forty-two interviewees were from public schools and 33 were from private
schools. Most interviewees were chosen from a pool of teachers recommended by
school administrators.
Semi-structured interviews were used during the data collection process. The
interview protocols focused on three issues: (1) teachers views on how the imposed
curriculum content and examination system influence their work, (2) ways for
teachers to deal with new educational demands, and (3) teachers perceptions
towards their roles and responsibilities in this context. Each semi-structured
interview was recorded and generally lasted for 30 minutes. When all the interviews
were transcribed, synthesis and organization of the preliminary information into
several categories was done as a reference point for further analysis. Analysis of the
272 J.L.N. Wong
data source included reading and re-reading interview transcripts while giving the
data initial codes. The coding process involved three steps: open coding, axial coding
and selective coding (Strauss and Corbin 1990). The researcher then further grouped
different interviewees views into different themes. However, there is no attempt to
claim that these perspectives are the only possible interpretation of events.
For the purpose of confidentiality, pseudonyms are used for all schools and
teachers in this study. Interviewees were given a number in accordance with the
chronological order of their interviews in each school. Each quotation used is
identified by school (letter) and then by interviewee (number).
Teachers lack control of curriculum matters
This study clearly shows that state intervention through experts control of
curriculum setting is unequivocal and the content is out of teachers control. For
example, one teacher stated that the textbooks are edited by experts of the
education department it clearly states the kind of knowledge that our students
should know, the kind of concepts that they should learn (Interview K1-8).
Teachers have no say in this matter and only follow the states instructions on
teaching: we can only use the teaching materials designed and chosen by the top
[government] to teach (Interview K2-7). Moreover, the power of curriculum design
is left in the hands of educational experts rather than with local education
stakeholders, in particular teachers. Given these working conditions, teachers in
both public and private schools are unable to define their own educational goals.
However, the academic content of a centrally defined curriculum cannot entirely
meet the current needs of all students. For example, one teacher argued that there
was a mismatching between the cognitive process of students and the pre-packaged
teaching tasks (Interview P1-12). Despite this, teachers have to maintain the
prescribed teaching routine and teach within the boundary of the teaching materials
and curriculum framework. As one teacher explained, Our teaching has to meet the
requirements of our country. Even though in our hearts, we dont want to do this, we
still have to do so (Interview P3-12).
More importantly, the standardization of the examination system limits teacher
professionalism as teaching has to ignore the real needs of students when teaching
content is so highly influenced by the examination system, We are all trapped by the
examination system. If some knowledge content is not included in the examination,
we know this should be taught, but we still cant teach it (Interview V-3). Teachers
studied often mentioned that their teaching and students learning were led by the
examination baton, a term frequently used to describe how teaching is controlled
by examinations. In this teaching to test atmosphere, students interests and needs
have not been fully considered. As one teacher said, We have to depend on the
instructions from the top because we cant endanger our students examination
results (Interview K1-10). Even though teachers wish they could have more voice in
curriculum matters, it is hard to put into practice, under the present system, it is
better to have the standardized textbooks and teaching materials. It is only a wish
to design our own curriculum, I think. As a teacher, our key responsibility is to
provide information to my students for examination purposes (Interview K1-5).
This further shows that daily practice of teachers in both public and private schools
Educational Review 273
and their sense of professionalism seem to be eroded by examination requirements.
Teachers can only decide how to teach, but not what to teach, for example, we
cant change the content, but we can change the format. We cant change the goals,
but we can change the method (Interview N3). These interviews show that other
scholars are right when they postulate that the current regime forces teachers to act
as technical implementationalists to incorporate and accomplish the predeter-
mined school organizational tasks with effectiveness and efficiency (Bottery and
Wright 2000).
Competition among schools intensifies teachers work
A decentralized system expects schools to compete and perform to gain recognition
and social position. In China, competition between schools became intensified after
the implementation of educational decentralization. As one teacher mentioned,
competition (between schools) is getting serious (Interview V-1). This is because
financial support of schools is highly dependent on the number of students.
Competition among private schools is fierce as their goal is to seek more consumers
students and parents as a financial scaffold to support their survival.
In this competitive environment, each private school needs to pursue academic
excellence and to promote its specific education features for the purpose of recruiting
more students. A wide range of strategies, such as establishing a private tertiary
language college, engaging with substantial overseas networks (Interview P3-9) and
setting learning centres for the Cambridge Examination (Interview P2-4), are
employed by private schools studied to recruit more students. Competition is also
taking place in key point schools with the objective of keeping their prestigious status
in society. Key school teachers stated that maintaining key school status is one of
their main job stresses: We can only be victorious, we cant fail. This is our main
stress (Interview K2-10), another said we have to maintain the ranking of our
school. We have to keep our name and cant lose our position and reputation in the
society. We need to be No.1 here (Interview K2-1). Another stated: Our students
can only be winners in the examination, they cant lose (Interview K1-3).
In order to enable students to achieve satisfactory examination results, the
teachers studied needed to arrange supplementary lessons for students as a way of
reinforcing their academic results. Such arrangements can make teachers working
schedule be as strenuous as follows:
I have sold my future to the school. Everyday, I arrive at school at 7:00a.m. and work
until 5:30p.m. I also have to teach during weekends. I have no private life at all.
(Interview K1-5)
At 6:50a.m., we arrive at our offices first and have breakfast at 7:20p.m. with students.
Afterwards, we have to work until 5:00p.m. After dinner, we have to work from
7:00p.m. to 10:00p.m. to help students to catch up their work. (Interview P3-3)
These examples show that teachers are encountering excessive workload and
extensive working hours as a consequence of the growing performativity culture.
Teachers are also aware of new demands: We have a more excessive administrative
workload and requirement than before. Therefore, we have to spend our own time to
handle extra administrative work (Interview N-10). Teachers are not only required
to act as administrators, but they now work within a high stress and great
demands context. Such a working context makes teachers feel they are simply
274 J.L.N. Wong
baby sitters (Interview P1-5) as they need to comply with the top-down
requirements and parental demands. One teacher even claimed that she acted like
the police I feel like a policeman to supervise their learning (Interview P2-2).
Another teacher also described teacher status as workers who had limited freedom
in their practice:
Our teaching is just like video and radio, to give the sound and figures to our students
ideally, we should teach our students to be positive and active learners But now, we
are just like factory workers to accomplish the handed down working tasks. (Interview
Indirect controls from the state coupled with market principles in education create a
competitive and performative school climate for teachers to work within.
Teachers, therefore, are expected to comply with and accomplish the educational
goals handed down from the state. This makes teachers describe their professional
position as a bird living in a cage (Interview V-8). These interviews confirm the
view of many scholars that teachers professionalism seems to be undermined
because teaching and learning are largely defined by needs from the state and the
market, not by professional planning or judgement (Ball 1994, 2003).
Redefining professional roles using interpersonal relationships
Since the implementation of the Teacher Employment System, teachers have been
keen to gain recognition from students and parents for the purpose of preserving
their positions. As one teacher in school K1 pointed out:
In the education sector, neither student nor parent is teachers God. However, if you
want to work here, parents and students comments have a great impact on a teachers
assessment. Those comments will influence the employment and work arrangement for
teachers here differently. (Interview K1-2)
Teachers interviewed seem to be encountering an authority crisis triggered by
imposed market principles in education. Teachers, in particular private school
teachers, feel that their authority has been gradually declining. Some private school
teachers even feel that they no longer have any authority at all; We never dare
mention teacher authority students here cannot lose face, thereby, you cannot
criticize them in front of the public, otherwise, we will get troubles (Interview P3-3).
This happens because the survival of private schools entirely depends on the number
of students. One teacher even depicted herself as a waitress who provides a service
for students needs (Interview P1-5). Teachers in this school were indoctrinated with
service ideas in their induction programme which was organized by the school
leaders (Interview P1-1 and P1-3). In school P3, for example, the slogan students
are our gods (Interview P3-1) was embedded into teachers souls. In such
circumstances, teachers have the feeling that their work is providing services that
our students need, this is a very business type of education (Interview P1-5). These
private school teachers believe that their professional authority has been eroded by
the marketization of education.
Although this situation is particularly serious in private schools, public school
teachers also have been facing a similar problem in having to deal with unreasonable
requests from parents. For example, some parents from school N demanded that the
academic results of their children were such as to be accepted by Beijing University
despite the fact that their childrens academic qualifications were below average.
Educational Review 275
Such a request was mission impossible. Furthermore, parents also verbally
harassed the principals, complaining that the teaching arrangements did not
provide any supplementary lessons, although undertaking after-school classes was
already banned by education departments (Interview N-5). In school K1, for
example, each class size originally consisted of not more than 30 students, however,
this had to be expanded to more than 35 students per class to accommodate requests
from parents who preferred to send their children to key point schools in the first
place. This arrangement, however, may possibly affect the quality of teaching
(Interview K1-7).
In order to keep their position and gain recognition, some private school teachers
adopted various interesting strategies. First of all, some teachers used material
rewards to motivate students to learn (Interview P2-2). This practice shifts teachers
professional authority away from being based on respect for their knowledge and
towards material encouragement.
Secondly, they have used interpersonal relationship strategies for keeping their
position. For example, If incompetent teachers do not want to leave, they will use
their interpersonal relationship to survive (Interview P1-4), or He put all his
energy in relationship building (Interview P3-7).
Thirdly, some teachers have even attempted to build up connections with parents
for securing their positions, Here, whoever gets along with parents and makes their
children happy can survive (Interview P1-5). It seems that private school teachers
authority is not only based on their knowledge and abilities, but also on their
interpersonal relationships with others.
Interestingly, using relationship building for the purpose of securing their
teaching position was not often found in the public school teachers studied. This may
be because the execution of the Teacher Employment System in public schools is
still far from achieving its goals:
We are still far from achieving the situation that teachers will be laid off if their
performance is unsatisfactory. However, the first time we heard about this, we were all
scared. Now, we are feeling better because the situation is not as bad as we have
expected. (Interview N-8)
Even though the current Education Laws encourage the implementation of the
Teacher Employment System, public school teachers still enjoy a kind of life
long employment (Hong 1995). The different employment system of public and
private schools may explain why public schools teachers tend to be less market-
oriented and relationship-driven than private school ones even though both are
encountering an increase of parental influences. This idea will be further discussed in
the next section.
This study shows that state control and market mentality have had significant
impact on teachers workplace practice and their sense of professionalism.
Interestingly, however, these two influential factors have been shaping teacher
professionalism of public and private school teachers in quite different ways. The
following section attempts to explain the dissimilar types of teacher professionalism
currently found in public and private schools. Following that, the possible factor
contributing to such a distinction will be discussed.
276 J.L.N. Wong
Developing different types of teacher professionalism: managerial professionalism
and commercialized professionalism
One general assumption underlying educational decentralization is that professional
accountability for teachers can be achieved if teachers balance their clients, parents
and students needs according to their professional discretion. In practice, however,
teachers in China are having their ideas of professionalism gradually eclipsed.
Teachers make concerted efforts to help their students gain the exams required
by the state even though they always question these goals deep in their souls. In
doing so, the teachers studied, in particular the public school teachers, develop a
sense of managerial professionalism. Teachers studied strive to pursue the
academic excellence required by parents and to manage the handed down
educational goals of the state, all of which become their key concerns rather than
the needs and interests of their students.
Comparatively, the private schools studied are more market-oriented. Their
teachers appear to be developing a commercialized professionalism (Hanlon 1998)
in which teachers and teaching act in an entrepreneurial way. They face profound
competition which stems from parents choices of education and they are expected to
be more accountable to parents than before and, consequently, their roles have
shifted. They rely on interpersonal relationships to maintain their employment
rather than equipping themselves to encounter new educational demands.
At the current stage, it is mainly private schools that have to deal more with
increasing demands from outsiders in the education sector, but as time goes by,
this kind of commercialized professionalism may also have an impact on public
school teachers as well.
Patronclient relationships differentiate teacher professionalism in public and private
As mentioned earlier, all teachers studied are influenced by the strong state
apparatus accompanied by market mechanisms. However, public and private
school teachers shape their professionalism quite differently. The variable patron
client relationship (Walder 1986) may provide an explanation for such a
Historically the patronclient relationship is deeply embedded in Chinese
industry. From Walders observation, factory workers in China are highly dependent
on their supervisor personally for the satisfaction of their needs; workers commonly
cultivate connections with factory officials in a position to bend rules in their favour
or give them preference in the distribution of housing or other goods (Walder 1986,
26). In return, workers have high reliance on their organizations and a dependency
culture has been institutionalized. This kind of organizational climate still impinges
on the dynamic relationship between public organizations and individuals in a
socialist society. Delany and Paine (1991) sought to discover whether Walders
observations were also evident in the education sector. They found similar networks
of interpersonal relations to those of Walders in schools. The Chinese paternalistic
attitude (Pye 1995) shapes the role of school leaders in public schools to act as clan
leaders of schools. They are expected to take care of every single member, including
family members, of their schools. This cultural trait has been deeply embedded in
principals minds and shapes their attitudes towards their roles and ways to deal with
Educational Review 277
school matters. They are expected to offer comprehensive support to the employees
they oversee.
Staffing of public schools offers an example to prove that this dependency
culture is still rooted deeply in public schools. The Teacher Laws (Zhongguo Renmin
Daibiao Dehui 1993) clearly state that schools and other educational institutions are
permitted to dismiss incompetent staff. In practice, however, it is unlikely for a
public school principal to lay off an underperforming employee because, as clan
leaders, they need to take teachers family financial issues into consideration. Given
this context, the relationship between principals and teachers is very much based on
patronclient dependency. Because of this cultural trait, teacher professionalism in
public schools is not as market-oriented as the private school ones.
By contrast, this dependency culture does not exist in private schools. Their
survival is entirely dependent on market principles through competition. Instead,
business philosophy and concepts, such as scientific management, client-based
service, effectiveness and efficiency, are becoming part of the common
language in the private educational lexicons. With these business concepts in mind,
private school teachers studied tend to develop themselves in line with commercia-
lized professionalism.
To sum up, the patronclient dependency organizational climate seems to be an
influential factor that shapes teacher professionalism in public and private schools
studied in quite different ways. This cultural trait may be the significant factor that
makes the educational decentralization policy in China unique from the West.
As Lo (2000) argues, teachers professional authority in China is generally weak.
Educational reform measures are imposed on teachers in a top-down manner. This
weak professional autonomy of teachers forms a blockage for them to invigorate
their professionalism in the era of educational change. As this study has shown, the
state still provides the ultimate educational guidelines. Teachers feel they have to
adopt a type of managerial professionalism rather than a professionalism based
on subject knowledge and student needs in order to accomplish the laid down
educational goals and curriculum content.
More importantly, this study reveals that teachers professional authority is
gradually being threatened and eroded by imposed market principles, especially
when parents have a strong voice in educational matters. Because of this, teachers
are using a number of ways to re-establish their authority, such as networking and
using interpersonal relationship to secure their jobs rather than improving their
knowledge and skills. Ultimately, the educational system then ends up with a
situation described as the business of education rather than education as business
(Ball 1994, 69), and private school teachers end up with an unfortunate sense of
commercialized professionalism in their work.
While Western discussions on educational decentralization policy have as their
key focus on state control and the imposition of market principles in education, the
effects of cultural traits have seldom been discussed. However, as this study has
pointed out, the reconstruction of teacher professionalism in China is a complex
interplay of not only a strong state apparatus and market mechanisms but also
a patronclient dependency culture which rules the organizational climate in
278 J.L.N. Wong
public schools. The study clearly shows that this dependency organizational climate
can be an influential factor that shapes teacher professionalism in different ways.
Both private and public school teachers studied generally admit the fact that their
professionalism has been influenced by state control and market mechanisms to a
larger and lesser extent. However, the strong influence of market rationale alongside
with the lack of dependency culture causes private school teachers to face more
serious competition and to develop commercialized professionalism. In contrast,
public school teachers who are classified as a bureaucratic profession develop a
managerial professionalism in order to complete the hand down tasks from the
state. Market forces have much less influence on them compared to their private
Notes on contributor
Jocelyn Wong is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Administration and
Policy, Faculty of Education of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Her research interests
are decentralization policy and teacher education in China.
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