Ensuring accountability in education

S. M. Rayhanul Islam | Published: May 03, 2018 20:50:56 | Updated: May 03, 2018 20:57:00

Education is a shared responsibility; and accountability is obviously a major concern when it comes to ensuring an inclusive, equitable and quality education for all. Despite enormous progress in education, there are still 264 million children and youths who are not going to school. Many others have not achieved the minimum school-level skills. It is apparent that education systems may not fully achieve the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The marginalised currently bear the most consequences but also stand to benefit the most if policy-makers pay adequate attention to their needs. Faced with these challenges, along with tight budgets and increased emphasis on results-oriented value for money, countries are searching for solutions. Increased accountability often tops the list.

The 2017/8 Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report presents the latest evidence on global progress towards the education targets of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. It also investigates accountability in education, analysing how all relevant stakeholders can provide education more effectively, efficiently and equitably. The report emphasises that education is a shared responsibility. While governments have primary responsibility, all other actors - schools, teachers, parents, students, international organisations, private sector providers, civil society and the media - have a crucial role in improving education systems. Equally important, no accountability approach can succeed if actors lack an enabling environment or are ill-equipped to meet their responsibilities.  The report emphasises the importance of transparency and availability of information, but urges caution in how data are used. In an era of multiple accountability tools, the report provides clear evidence on those that are working and those that are not. By analysing which policies make accountability work or lead to failure, and which external factors impact on their success, the 2017/8 GEM Report concludes with concrete recommendations that will help build stronger education systems.

The GEM Report is divided into two major parts: the thematic part and the monitoring part. The thematic part of the report, Chapters 2 to 7, focuses on the main education actors and how they are held to account. All of them play a role, with varying degrees of responsibility. Government, schools and teachers are most central, but parents and students, international organisations and the private sector also have distinct roles to play here to meet the ambitions of the Sustainable Development Goal on education (SDG-4). Each chapter asks some general questions: i) What is the actor responsible for? ii) What approaches have been used to hold the actor accountable for their responsibilities? iii) Are these approaches effective, and why? iv) What is necessary in the enabling environment to help the actor fulfil their responsibilities?

The monitoring part of the report, Chapters 8 to 20, serves double purposes. First, it reviews performance against the international education targets. Second, as monitoring is a key tool for accountability, this part complements the thematic part through targeted policy focus sections in most chapters, addressing specific related issues. For example, corruption in education is addressed in Policy focus (20.1). Following an introduction (Chapter 8), the subsequent ten chapters (Chapters 9 to 18) address the seven targets and three means of SDG-4 implementation. Chapter 19 reviews the role of education in three other SDGs: those on nutrition, health and water. Skilled professionals are needed to achieve the targets of SDG-3, the goal on improving health. The World Health Organization projected a global shortage of 14.5 million health care workers in 2030. Achieving SDG-6 requires increased expertise in improving water and sanitation services.

Of the 94 countries surveyed, less than 15 per cent reviewed their strategies at least every two years. To achieve SDG-2 on food security, education and capacity building are essential. More educated farmers are more productive; they take more measures to mitigate climate change risks and adopt more new technology. The health, agriculture, water and sanitation sectors must emphasise education completion as a key strategy for achieving their objectives.

Chapter-20 looks into the three main sources of financing education: public (i.e. governments), external (i.e. donors) and household. All international declarations stress the importance of increasing financing to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including in education. There is consensus that the current education funding levels are inadequate to meet the ambitious SDG-4 goals. In 2015, the median global public education expenditure was 4.7 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), within the range of 4 per cent to 6 per cent proposed by the Education 2030 Framework for Action. However, public education expenditure was 14.1 per cent of total public expenditure in 2014, below the framework's proposed 15 per cent to 20 per cent. At least 33 countries - both poorer and richer - do not meet either of these education financing benchmarks. Donors are shifting their priorities away from education. Their share in total aid (excluding debt relief) fell for six years in a row, from 10 per cent in 2009 to 6.9 per cent in 2015. Humanitarian aid to education increased by more than 50 per cent in 2016 to US$ 303 million, but funding for education in emergencies remains insufficient at 2.7 per cent of the total.

The cost of education, which represents a major barrier to participation for households in low and middle income countries, is insufficiently considered. Among countries with data, the share of households in total education expenditure ranges from 15 per cent in high income countries, to 25 per cent in middle income countries and 32 per cent in low income countries.

The last chapter of this well-documented publication synthesises the key evidence and offers recommendations primarily targeted at governments- but also other actors with a stake in education - to design and implement robust accountability systems. 1) Governments need to create space for meaningful and representative engagement to build trust and a shared understanding of respective responsibilities with all education actors - all government tiers and departments, legislative and judicial authorities, autonomous institutions, schools, teachers, parents, students, civil society, teachers' unions, the private sector and international organisations. 2) Governments should develop credible and efficient regulations and monitoring mechanisms and adhere to follow-up actions and sanctions when standards are not met. Processes, such as registration and accreditation or bidding and contracting, should be clear and transparent. But regulations should also address equity and quality aspects of education. 3) Governments should design school and teacher accountability mechanisms that are supportive and formative, and avoid punitive mechanisms, especially the types based on narrow performance measures. Using student test scores to sanction schools or evaluate teachers can promote an unhealthy competition-based environment, narrow the curriculum, encourage teaching to the test, de-motivate teachers and disadvantage weaker students, all of which undermine overall education quality and student learning. 4) Governments need to allow for a democratic voice, protect media freedom to scrutinise education and set up independent institutions for citizens to voice complaints.

The media can provide a valuable source of easily comprehensible information, particularly for population groups that have limited access to it. 5) Transparent, relevant and timely data should be made available to decision-makers. It is essential for governments to invest in information that improves understanding of the education system's strengths and weaknesses, and helps build an effective accountability system. 6) Adequate financial resources should be provided to fund the education system. Governments should fulfil their commitment of spending at least 4 per cent of GDP on education or allocating 15 per cent of total government expenditure. Donor countries should keep to their pledge to provide 0.7 per cent of their national income to aid. Of that, 10 per cent should be allocated to basic and secondary education. 7) Actors should be equipped with the skills and training needed to fulfil their responsibilities.

Governments should treat teachers as professionals. They should help build their professionalism by investing in the necessary initial and in-service education programmes and providing them with autonomy. Governments should increase the capacity of their representatives to participate actively in the education programmes and monitor the work of international organisations. In turn, international organisations should be inclusive and transparent.

S. M. Rayhanul Islam is an independent researcher.


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