25 Mar 2011

Who (and what) is Tanzania's public education system for?

If the goal is simply to get children into schools, Tanzania's education sector deserves (and receives) full credit. But if we want those children to actually learn something, getting them into school is only the first (and easiest) step. Unless that is followed up with well-trained and fairly paid teachers and money for text books and other teaching equipment, those children aren't going to learn much. And if they're not learning, what's the point of the children being there?

A few weeks ago on this blog we shared Kwanza Jamii Njombe's investigation on the Primary Education Capitation Grant - a grant to each school of 10,000/- per pupil per year, for spending by the schools on text books, teaching materials, etc. Our report revealed some shocking findings - and which has provoked a stern response from the Council Education Department (of which more will be posted here as the story develops). Schools were found to be receiving only around 10% of the amount specified in policy.

Now a group of organisations has done a similar (and more detailed) study of the Secondary Education Capitation Grant, a similar fund of 25,000/- per student per year. Twaweza (a donor to Daraja), HakiElimu and Policy Forum have collected data from 50 schools in 14 regions, producing some even more shocking results - released earlier today, published by Twaweza's Uwazi programme. Among their findings:
  • 93% of schools surveyed did not receive any capitation grant funds in January 2011 as promised
  • The few schools that did receive funds got much less than specified in policy - between 146/- and 916/- per student, rather than 10,000/- for the first payment (see chart)
  • National government released only 390/- per student to LGAs in January, rather than 10,000/-
In Kwanza Jamii's case, one of the Njombe Town Council Education Department's responses to our investigation was that they hadn't received enough funding from national government. This tallies with the third point above - that national government isn't disbursing enough. 

But that's not a great defence for the council. A student, parent or teacher here in Njombe should be able to expect their school to receive the amount specified in policy from local government. If they don't get it, where should they register their complaint? Surely they should register it with local government here in Njombe, they can't be expected to go all the way to Dar es Salaam to demand this money. If the council doesn't get enough from central government, it's the council's job to find out why and to ask for the rest of the money to be transferred.

The key issue here is accountability. Who is accountable for what, and to whom? The council should be accountable to the local community for transferring capitation grant funds to schools. National government should be accountable to citizens for putting in place an education system that meets their needs.

Instead, the council acts like it's more accountable to national government. They accept whatever they're given and account for it upwards. If they were truly accountable to the community, they would not be so quick to accept such reduced transfers from national government. 

And national government acts like it's more accountable to the donors. The capitation grant was put in place and the donors are kept happy, actually getting the funds out to schools isn't treated with the same importance. Similarly, a simple indicator was set internationally - school enrollment - and so that became the priority of government. What matters to Tanzanian citizens - quality of education - is allowed to slide. How hard can it be to get money out to every school as promised?

One of the best definitions I know of accountability is a song lyric: I say "jump", you say "how high"? Donors say "jump", national government asks how high. National government says "jump", local government says "how high?". Citizens say "jump", nobody replies. 

When my three-year-old daughter is misbehaving (drawing on the wall, say), she tells me to stop watching her and watch TV instead. She knows instinctively how accountability is related to scrutiny. I'm sure Daraja and Kwanza Jamii, HakiElimu, Policy Forum and Twaweza are going to keep watching. Let's hope and that it will have the same effect on future capitation grant disbursements as when I keep an eye on my daughter trying to paint all over the wall.