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CheckMySchool (CMS) Initiative: Open Governance through Stories of Change

Athena Gabrielle Abanto |

This blog is part of a series on how open government can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The series came out of a collaboration between the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Bangkok Regional Hub and the Open Government Partnership (OGP) to find practical examples of how open government is helping countries achieve the SDGs in the Asia-Pacific region. For more details on the competition, the blog series, and how open government can help achieve the SDGs, please see our introductory blog post.

In March 2011, waist-deep floodwaters inundated the Sta. Fe Central School in Leyte, an island in the Western Visayas region of the Philippines. The flood compounded the school’s perennial problem of textbook shortages, soaking many books and rendering them unfit for use. Worse, the few books saved from the flood either had missing sections or pages chewed off by termites and rats. Students had to settle for a less-than-ideal learning environment, while educators struggled with difficult teaching conditions.

CheckMySchool (CMS) organized key stakeholders—citizen volunteers, parents, teachers, the principal and the local government—who worked together to facilitate the monitoring of the Sta. Fe Central School’s facilities. Prompted by such collaboration, the Department of Education’s Central Office eventually provided the school with new textbooks.

The Sta. Fe Central School story is just one of the many stories that CMS shares to show the challenges faced by Philippine public schools in delivering quality education and how open collaboration helps address them.

CMS is a participatory monitoring initiative for the education sector in the Philippines. It started in 2011 as an experimental partnership project with the Department of Education along the advocacy for access to information and social accountability. This initiative contributes to achieving SDG Goal 4 to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all,” and Goal 16, to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all, and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.” By diagnosing school problems in a participatory manner, and by constructively engaging government and community stakeholders to pursue their resolution, the goal of education becomes a shared responsibility. It also builds trust, which helps strengthen institutions.

CMS responds to to three issues in the country’s public education sector: inaccuracy and inaccessibility of school information, weak community involvement in education governance, and poor coordination between community and government in resolving school issues. In addressing these issues, CMS operates in three stages: data access, feedback and issue resolution. All stages require training for volunteers and linkaging with various stakeholders. The process takes three to six months to accomplish.

For five years now, CMS has been using this model of open government partnership to continuously improve educational services for public schools. It features significant change stories to document and share experiences and lessons from this initiative.

Data accessing and issue resolution are particularly challenging stages for volunteers. “Many teachers did not permit us to check the school’s classrooms and facilities. Some even got upset at us,” says CMS volunteer Mayderlyn Eduria, a college student in Cagayan de Oro City. Driven by her passion to improve the quality of public education in her beloved city, Mayderlyn was unfazed by the initial setback. “Through our volunteer work, I knew I could help a lot of Filipino students receive better education.”

Many CMS volunteers share Mayderlyn’s passion and idealism. One of them is CMS Area Coordinator Ramel Palapo, who has made it his mission to help schools in conflict-stricken areas. There has been an ongoing conflict between militants, military and armed civilians within the area surrounding Malingao Elementary School. As a result, enrollment and attendance rates have dropped dramatically.

At great risk to his life, Ramel repeatedly visited Malingao Elementary School to assess the safety and security of teachers and students. During a roundtable discussion with local stakeholders, Ramel requested the local government unit (LGU) to provide police presence within the school grounds. Within a week, police personnel patrolled the school campus. Teachers and students started returning to the school. Enrollment and attendance began to normalize.

In Guimaras, CMS successfully brought the situation of a typhoon Yolanda-stricken island school to the attention of the local government. In Rizal, another island school ended several years of waiting for government action after CMS intervention.

Other stories show how community engagement can convince local legislative bodies to act on school issues identified by CMS. The Provincial Board of Aklan (a province in Western Visayas) recently issued a resolution urging the Department of Education to take action on school issues identified in a May 2016 report submitted by the board’s Committee on Education, Culture, Science and Technology. The committee report was drafted based on data and feedback gathered by CMS Aklan.

Local schools participating in CMS responded favorably to the initiative, as the monitoring approach was participatory and consultative, encouraging openness and cooperation in a non-threatening way. Although changes have yet to be instituted, stakeholder awareness has significantly increased. Provincial and municipal legislators are now more actively involved in the fiscal management of education funds.

CMS originally focused on providing open data on public schools. However, CMS realized that stories like those of the Sta. Fe Central School, Mayderlyn, Ramel, Guimaras, Rizal and Aklan are tangible results of how the initiative is helping create positive change not only in physical services, but also in the personal and community levels. This is why CMS shifted its focus from just promoting transparency to sharing Stories of Change—a shift that in itself is a Story of Change.

The focus on storytelling has been going on for less than a year, and therefore CMS has yet to fully determine its impact. However, through these stories of change, CMS looks forward to inspiring and empowering more individuals and communities to demand better access to quality public education.