Background of the Study
Since 1842, when the early missionaries established the first school in Nigeria, education has grown into a large and complex social organization. Most school systems like other social systems, now experience conflict. Conflict refers to perceived or experienced incompatible differences within the individual or between two or more individuals, which may lead to some or other form of opposition (Kroon, 1991). Gilman (2002) on the other hand states that conflict is the natural tension that arises from differences. Furthermore a conflict exists whenever people are in disagreement and opposition (Lussier, 2000). Similarly, Griffin (1990) views conflict as a disagreement between two or more individuals or groups. Moran (2001) sees conflict as an expression of hostility, antagonism and misunderstanding between the staff members. Conflict is inevitable and often good, for example, good teams always go through a “form, storm, norm and perform” period. Getting the most out of diversity means often-contradictory values, perspectives and opinions. However, one can define conflict as all forms of opposition, disagreement, friction between two or more parties and it manifests in the forms of arguments, protests, demonstration, aggression and other destructive behaviours.
Conflict is a recurring decimal in all human relationships, be it in the family, institution or organization. The school, like any other modern institution is not without negative features, incompatible behaviours and conflicts which might be counter-productive and give rise to inefficiency, ineffectiveness or dysfunctional consequences in the achievement of goals and objectives (Adeola 2003). The researcher further states that school as a bureaucratic organization with division of labour, line of authority in terms of teacher-principal, subordinate-super ordinate relationships, rules and regulations, communication flow – upward, downward, horizontal, is bound to have conflicts. In view of this, Albert (2001) states that the conflict may be between staff and staff, staff and student or staff and the school administrator resulting in teacher-teacher conflict (TTC), teacher-student conflict (TSC) and principal-teacher conflict (PTC). Albert stated further that conflict in schools takes different forms; for example teachers seem reluctant to obey the principals, they do not seem to follow rules or accept extra work, they do not easily get along with their principals; principals too adopt an authoritative approach, for example they pressurize teachers for an uninterrupted working of the school activities; while students/learners may accuse teachers of sexual abuse and harassment, corporal punishment as well as being unprepared and uncaring. It therefore, becomes common that conflict between teachers, the school principal and students occur frequently at any time in the school. Conflict in schools occurs between various individuals because of their frequent interaction with each other. Conflict in academic settings is a daily occurrence because a consensus of opinion concerning rules governing the secondary schools among the participants — principals, teachers, students, and parents. These parties, particularly Principals and teachers, see one another as adversaries, not as those working toward a common goal, as is generally the case in other organizations (Adeola, 2003).
The word conflict brings to mind situations such as antagonism, struggles between parties, opposition processes and threats to cooperation. But not all conflicts come in these forms especially in the school system. They come in form of needs to be met or desires to be satisfied, disagreements to be settled and ideas to be shared that eventually lead to change of attitudes, feelings and perceptions (Fadipe, 2000). Determinants of school organizational conflict have been traced to leadership styles of principals, structural variation in school organization, employee unionism and a host of other factors (Yakubu, 2006). The foregoing information indicates that managing conflict in secondary schools has been an age long challenge for educators. If there has to be a positive culture of teaching and learning in the schools, the learning environment must be safe, orderly and conducive to learning. Learning to constructively deal with conflict is a life skill that secondary school community members need. When members learn to manage their own conflicts, the atmosphere in school becomes more pleasant for everyone (Adeyemi, 2009). However, Albert (2001) stated that conflicts may be caused by competition for inadequate resources, contradicting value system, psychological needs of group and individuals, manipulation of information and perception. Conflict if not well managed, becomes counter-productive, disruptive and unnatural and produces a deviation from the free flow of events. There are other factors that can contribute to the creation of conflict in organizations like task interdependence, scarce resources, goal incompatibility, communication failures, individual differences and poorly designed reward system (Bartol & Martine in Mgbekem, 2004).
Conflict is necessary and useful part of organizational life. It is inevitable and an integral part of the process of change. Indeed, it is an aid to cooperation, not an obstacle. There are two sides to conflict, one is destructive and unhealthy and the other has a problem-solving base where those involved are willing to transform personality differences, to listen to others’ views and to be open and truthful to each other, to be supportive and helpful whereas the former defeats cooperation. Albert (2001) declared that there are productive and destructive conflicts. Albert further stated that conflict is said to be positive when it is constructively discussed by the parties and amicable terms for settlement reached”. Constructively managed conflict induces a positive performance while poorly managed conflict heats up the environment to bring about ‘dislocation and division of the entire group, reduces productivity on job performance, psychological and physical injury, emotional distress and inability to sleep, escalation of differences into antagonistic position and malice and increases hostility (Akanji, 2005). The researcher emphasized that through conflict management, a cooperative atmosphere is created for promoting opportunities and movement directed towards non-violent and reconciliation. However, no matter how one looks at conflict, it is important to realize that conflict is one of the best ways in the world to turn the tide and improve unsatisfactory conditions. As a matter of fact, sometimes there may be no real dispute to be managed, but there may be need for greater understanding, cooperation and team work to promote interpersonal harmony and good organizational climate for teaching and learning (Bondesio, 2000). Therefore, conflict should not always be seen as something undesirable but rather as a necessary instrument that can bring positive consequences if properly managed.
Conflict is inevitable in any organization and the school is not an exception, the crucial issue is, how to react to, respond to and manage conflicts so that positive changes will be realized and negative effects minimized. Poor management of conflict in school administration may result to deficiencies in the performance of the school. Conflict management refers to programs that teach individuals concepts and skills for preventing, managing and peacefully resolving conflicts (Jones, 1994). According to Johannsen and Page (1996), conflict management refers to the identifying of divergences of interest between groups or individuals and the constructive reconciling or balancing of these divergences so that they are acknowledged and expressed. Robbins (2000) stipulated that conflict management entails maintaining the optimum level of conflict in a group. Too little conflict creates stagnation; too much conflict creates disruption and indigestion. Both are dysfunctional because they undermine group performance.
Moran (2001) stated that conflict management is “a philosophy and a set of skills that assist individuals and groups in better understanding and dealing with conflict as it arises in all aspects of their lives”. Conflict as a concept never remains positive or negative but it has always been seen as a basic and result oriented part of school life. Conflicts offer competitive as well as cooperative contexts in the organization but it varies according to the situation. Problems exist in managing conflicts when the context is competitive/individualistic. The effectiveness of a conflict resolution and peer mediation program may be limited when the classroom and school context is competitive. Healthy, effective schools, which are characterised by well-developed problem solving mechanisms and collaborative decision making, are able to identify it and deal with it in a co-operative manner. Unfortunately there is no best way of managing conflict in schools, although there are different ways to manage conflict in schools depending on the particular situation. The basic principle in choosing the way of managing conflict is to use the approach most likely to minimise the destructive aspects and to maximise the opportunities for growth and development of the school organisation (Van der Bank, 1994).
Thus it is expedient to devise appropriate strategies for effective management of school conflict to enhance school effectiveness. But developing an effective strategy for conflict management in the school requires major actors in the education enterprise working in harmony, unity and with some measurable similarities in patterns of conflict management strategy. According to Lombard (1991) strategy is an action which involves two or more individuals coordinating, planning, implementing and evaluating an activity in pursuit of a goal. It can also be viewed as a plan aimed at achieving something. Jeong (2000) defined strategy as a predetermined comprehensive course of action which can be taken in order to attain a specific goal or aim. A strategy is therefore a well-planned action which has been identified and developed as most effective in reducing a phenomenon. However, strategy according to Fildler (2002) is the broad or overall direction that an organization wishes to move in, so as to bring about positive improvement. Additionally, one can define Strategy as a direction set for an organisation and its various components to achieve a desired state in the future. Thus, principals, proprietors of educational institutions, members of the board of education as well as teachers, who are proximal stakeholders in the education industry, should have a common purpose and focus on strategies for conflict management in the school. Dissonance between and among these groups of school administrators on how to manage school conflict, could retard effective management and resolution of school conflict (Taiye, 2003).
The aim of conflict management strategies is facilitating a process of conflict self-reflection and commutation, where participants can take part. Taking responsibility before blaming others is an important part of the management process (Davidoff and Lazarus, 2002). Rahim (2002) defined conflict management strategy as a set of options or plans designed to minimize the dysfunctions of conflict and enhancing the constructive functions of conflict in order to enhance learning and effectiveness in an organization. Additionally, Conflict management strategy refers to the internal mechanisms used by the various authorities in resolving conflict. However, the researcher further stated that the principals of secondary schools need to adapt various conflict management strategies in order to achieve the objectives of secondary education. Education is an indispensable tool for personal and social development. According to Aluwong (2010), education is the key to national development. This is because it unlocks the economic potentials of the people; empowers and equips individuals in society to participate in, and benefit from their national economy; facilitates economic development and provides the basis for transformation. Education forms the basis upon which economic, social and political development of any nation is founded. Investment in education can help to foster economic growth, enhance productivity, contribute to national and social development, and reduce social inequality (World Bank, 1998). However Secondary education according to the Federal Republic of Nigeria (2004) in her National Policy on Education is the form of education children receive after primary education and before the tertiary stage. According to Albert (2001) secondary education refers to education in high school between the primary and the collegiate level. Education at this stage has two broad aims: Preparation for useful living within the society and Preparation for higher education (FRN, 2004). Consequently, for the objectives of this level of education to be accomplished, the principal is expected to learn how to manage conflict within the context of his school. This is based on the fact that unresolved conflict can be a significant barrier to learning. An environment, in which conflict is resolved effectively, facilitates the learning process, thus contributing to the achievement of educational goals and objectives (Sayed, 2005).
The head of every secondary school in Nigeria is the Principal, who is regarded as the chief executive and responsible for all that happens in the school (Oyedeji and Fasasi, 2006). As the chief executive, the principal assigns duties to those who could perform the duties, though all responsibilities still reside in him/her as the accounting officer. Similarly, Sasa (1996) defines a principal as an educator appointed as the head of the school. The principal plays a cardinal role in the management of any school. However, it can be deduced that the school Principal is an educational leader, responsible for managing the policies, regulations, and procedures to ensure that all students are supervised in a safe learning environment that meets the approved curricula and mission of the school; the principal is also the educational leader and manager of the school and has relevant teaching skills. The principal is the most important and influential individual in the school. This decisive position encompasses a wide spectrum of complex functions pertaining to management and conflict management (Lemmer and Squelch, 1997).
The management of conflict in schools can be either destructive or productive depending on the skills of those managing the context (Tomlinson, 2004). Preedy, Glatter and Wise (2004) supported this by saying that this is evidenced by the nature of school principal and the position, role, and power that differ between schools and between systems. This influences the way in which the principal handles conflict in the school. In managing conflicts, it is pertinent to know the causes of such conflicts and the influence it will have on the school system. Methods of resolving conflict include compromising, accommodating, collaborating, avoiding and competing. Conflict resolution helps to promote both the individual behavioural change necessary for responsible citizenship and systematic change necessary for changing the entire society for better (Fisher and Patton, 1991).
Statement of the Problem
The ultimate goal of secondary school is to develop the individual’s mental capacity and character building for higher education and useful living within the society. In spite of the societal demand for this goal in schools, there is a growing concern about the realization of secondary education objectives due to doubt that many secondary school principals give little attention to the causes and management of conflicts in schools. Schools frequently appear to be centres of tension; in secondary schools, principals, teachers and students/learners may be in conflict on issues pertaining to the school. For example, each group may blame the other for the breakdown in the culture of teaching and learning. Principals may claim that teachers are failing to do their jobs. Teachers on the other hand may complain that principals are incompetent and authoritarian, while students/learners may accuse teachers of sexual abuse and harassment, corporal punishment as well as being unprepared and uncaring. These instances result in conflicting situations.
Nevertheless, there seems to be insufficient empirical evidence on the proper management of conflict resolution strategies by the principals of secondary schools in Ebonyi State. Could it be that the principals are ignorant of conflict management strategies to adopt in resolving their school conflicts? It is in view of this that this study intends to determine the conflict management strategies of secondary school principals in Ebonyi State.
Purpose of the Study
The general purpose of the study is to determine the conflict management strategies of secondary school principals in Ebonyi State. Specifically, the study seeks to:
- Determine the nature of conflicts in secondary schools.
- Ascertain the causes of conflicts in the secondary schools.
- Determine the extent principals of secondary schools apply the conflict management strategies.
- Determine the preventive measure to apply to avoid conflict.
Significance of the Study
Theoretically, this study anchored its significance on contingency theory of management. Contingency theory assumes or proposes that the nature of school conflict determines the management strategy to be used by the principals for the effective teaching and learning.
However, the contingency theory is based on the premises that situations dictate managerial action and that; there is no single best way of solving problems in situations. This is true since conflict is of different types in the school system and therefore demands different strategies for its management for effectiveness and efficiency in the school system.
Practically, this study will be of a great significance to the following set of people: the secondary school principals, state secondary education board, teachers, educational administrators and planners and the community. For secondary school principals, the findings of this study will educate the principals to appreciate and apply the varieties of conflict management strategies to different types of school conflict and aiming towards a state where by conflict can be a useful tool in stimulating creative solutions to problems, and become a bridge that will move the school to a greater height.
To the educational administrators and planners, the findings of this study will be of good significance as it will enable them to understand and appreciate the causes of school conflict and put them into consideration when planning educational programmes for schools. However, the findings of the study will be of a great help to teachers who are sometimes involved in the school conflict. Through the findings of this study, they will know the causes of school conflict and the strategies to be used in order to avoid the destructive side of it, thereby creating enabling environment for teaching and learning.
Finally, the state secondary education boards will know through the findings of this study the nature of conflict in the secondary schools and finding means of assisting school principals and subject head teachers to constructively deal with conflict when it occurs for improvement in the standard of secondary education.
Scope of the Study
The study is delimited to all the public secondary schools in Ebonyi state, Nigeria. The study will focus on the conflict management strategies of secondary school principals in Ebonyi State, considering the nature of conflicts in secondary schools; causes of conflicts, the extent secondary school principals apply the conflict management strategies and preventive measures to apply to avoid conflict in secondary schools for effective