The formation of a new social and cognitive identity in the Portuguese Ministry of Education

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The recomposition of the techno-structure within the Portuguese Ministry of Education affects the organization of different services, the profile of their lead-ers, the type of knowledge that is produced and the means by which it is circu-lated.

In Portugal, the central departments of the Ministry of Education played a decisive role throughout the 20th century as the techno-structure [1] of the Ministry’s bureaucratic organization. Their job was to produce and apply the knowledge needed to make educational policies operational, namely with regard to the organization and functioning of the educational system, research plans and programs, and the management and training of the teaching staff. The continued prevalence over the years of routine procedures led to the crystallization of these structures and the reduction of the specific competencies, thus rendering them, in most cases, inoperative in response to changes that those in power tried to introduce. This was particularly the case during the period of large-scale reforms that first began in the 1970s. It is therefore not surprising that government rep-resentatives, on such occasions, sought to compensate for this competency deficit within the administration by employing experienced teachers (or those on whom they could rely). They were entrusted with the task of designing reforms with greater or lesser in-volvement from ministry services personnel, whose role was normally limited to the im-plementation of these reforms. The progressive decline in the influence of the central administration accelerated after the 1980s (as part of the process for the decentralisation of government), due to the creation of the Regional Education Boards. The reason for this is that these boards, in many cases, ended up assuming the responsibility for many of the functions that had hitherto belonged to the central techno-structure of the administration. The present government (since 2005), has attempted to introduce “new public management”. What this amounts to is the composition of a management team whose profile is more technical and less bureaucratic, drawn from outside the world of “education” and its specific areas of knowledge (“educational sciences”). This “modernization” led to the emergence of forms of post-bureaucratic organization (frequently in the form of a matrix), particularly in areas that were less involved in the “traditional” functions of government.

It is in this context that one should attempt to understand the coexistence of two types of knowledge within the bodies that have been studied up to this point [2]. The first may be characterized as “old” knowledge, that is, the tacit knowledge generated by the organizational process and related to the executive dimension of the policy-making process. The second type may be termed, predictably, “new” knowledge and is characterized as explicit knowledge, which is generated internally by good practices and externally by the processes of transnational regulation; this form of knowledge is geared more towards providing the basis for the policy-making process. The use of this “new” knowledge and the forms existing for its reception, production and circulation, suggests that the central services (at least those that are linked to the new methods of regulation) are gradually trying to occupy the space previously held by external specialists in the policy-making process. And in so doing, the central administration and its professionals are contributing to the formation of a new social and cognitive identity. In this particular regard, it should also be noted that new ways of dealing with this knowledge developed in some of the bodies. In particular this was the case with regards to the use of knowledge as a process for introducing the capacity for regulation into other spaces as well as to other actors involved in the administration of education and educational activities. These new relationships with formal knowledge (and its use) may signal a change in the way of thinking about the place and role of these bodies within the central government. Henceforth, they might be less involved in thinking about (and determining) the work of others and instead involve themselves more in the construction of mechanisms that, on the contrary, by guaranteeing remote coordination will encourage other actors at regional and local levels to think about (and determine) both their own work and that of others.

[1] Our use of technostructure is in line with Mintzberg’s definition (1990): “a body of specialists, not of the hierarchical line, whose main function is to analyze, plan and control the other members of the organization.”

[2] We have studied the following bodies: central services of the Ministry of Education - DGRHE (General Board of Human Resources for Education), GAVE (Educational Evaluation Office), GEPE (Statistics and Educational Planning Office), IGE (General Inspection of Education); two teacher unions - FENPROF (National Federation of Teachers); FNE (National Federation of Education Workers).

  • MINTZBERG Henry (1990), Le management. Voyage au centre des organisations, Paris : Les Editions d’organisation.

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