Funding Models: the key to reviving primary education?

by Milou Vanmulken

  • Posted on August 22, 2016

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  • Education / News

Universal primary education – a legacy of the Millennium Development Goals – has become the norm in many African countries today. More children than ever before are enrolled in primary education. Yet, the worsening experience of pupils should by now have taught us that schooling for all is no guarantee for less income inequality or for a bright future. Thinking beyond universality is of key importance when trying to reinvigorate primary education across the African continent. The question we should be asking is: How to turn overcrowded classrooms into schools that successfully nurture the leaders, teachers and engineers of tomorrow?

First we need to understand the heart of the problem. The introduction of free primary education involved a drastic change of education funding models. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that ‘Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages’. At public schools, this usually means that instead of parents paying teacher salaries and school fees, the state is now paying for these expenses. What human rights activists and politicians did not foresee, however, was how this policy design would compromise quality in public schools. Public Schools could not cope with the vast increases in Funding Models: the key to reviving primary education?

Universal primary education – a legacy of the Millennium Development Goals – has become the norm in many African countries today. More children than ever before are enrolled in primary education. Yet, the worsening experience of pupils should by now have taught us that schooling for all is no guarantee for less income inequality or for a bright future. Thinking beyond universality is of key importance when trying to reinvigorate primary education across the African continent. The question we should be asking is: How to turn overcrowded classrooms into schools that successfully nurture the leaders, teachers and engineers of tomorrow?

First we need to understand the heart of the problem. The introduction of free primary education involved a drastic change of education funding models. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that ‘Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages’. At public schools, this usually means that instead of parents paying teacher salaries and school fees, the state is now paying for these expenses. What human rights activists and politicians did not foresee, however, was how this policy design would compromise quality in public schools. Public Schools could not cope with the vast increases in enrollment, with teacher shortages, crowded classrooms and parents taking their children to private schools as a result. Private schools – despite their diversity in funding levels and funding sources – have suffered less and perform better than public schools according to evidence from both Kenya and Nigeria.

Abolishing school fees changed the relationship between public schools and parents. This, in turn, had a negative effect on teachers, whose presence and motivation are of key importance for quality education. This policy removed funding as a tool for short-route accountability. Short-route accountability refers to clients – e.g. teachers or school boards – who hold service providers accountable without going through intermediaries. For instance, in schools where parents pay teacher salaries they can use this as a tool to hold teachers accountable for providing quality education, minimizing teacher absence or avoiding bad test results. Parents can simply withhold or threaten to withhold teacher salaries if the quality of education is unsatisfactory. They are no longer on the side-line, but are turned into key players who demand quality education for their children.

Alternatively, clients can hold service providers accountable by means of long-route accountability. This means that they voice their complaints in protests, strikes or in parliament to reach the state. Since the introduction of free primary education in Kenya there has been a rise in teacher strikes and teacher absences. The state is then supposed to respond by holding service providers responsible. The responsiveness of the state, however, differs between African countries. In Uganda, many argue that rise of teacher salaries in 2015 was mainly triggered by vote seeking in anticipation of the 2016 elections. Despite the pay rise, teachers still frequently strike against delayed payments meaning that they are not in class to teach. Field staff at Bussi Primary School, a school I work with in Uganda, recently reported that teacher’s motivation had gotten to a low because they waited for their salaries for over 2 months. These issues indicate the need for an effective accountability model whereby both the state and teachers are being held responsible.

So far, this may be misunderstood as a plead for reversing the role of the state or as a critique of the idea of Universal Primary Education. On the contrary, I am pointing out the need to rethink education funding models so African countries can start capitalizing on their youth bulge. To conclude, the above understanding of the problem leads to four requirements that need to guide any attempt to innovate:

1- The focus should lie on harmonizing accessibility and quality, not on compromising one for the other.
2- The model must be tailored to the capacity of a country’s education sector. Policy impact needs to be manageable with the available teachers, classrooms and books and professional expertise in schools.
3- For the long term, funding for primary education in Africa has to come from sustainable sources.
4- Innovative funding models need to be tailored to the characteristics of education sectors in African countries. They need to go beyond the public-private dichotomy.

The next item in this Education blog series will engage with first guideline: harmonizing quality and access. Keep on checking the NIAS blog for more resources on Primary Education.

Written by Milou Vanmulken

 

Milou Vanmulken is a research intern at NIAS. She is also a post-graduate student in Development Management at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).


About the Author


Milou Vanmulken

Research Associate