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The Case for Accountability in Education

Argumentos a favor de la rendición de cuentas en educación

Les arguments pour la responsabilité dans l’éducation

Traditional Ndebele hut at Botshabelo near Mpumalanga, South Africa

Lessons from Reformers

This case study was originally posted in the OGP Global Report.

Education systems work better when the public has access to information, the opportunity to participate and influence decision-making, and the ability to seek answers and response from governments. To best understand this, it is helpful to look more closely at recent research from South Africa.

The Politics of Governance of Basic Education1 makes the case for better public involvement in decision-making and monitoring. Despite considerably higher education funding levels, classrooms in the Western Cape Province of South Africa had worse outcomes relative to schools with lower funding levels. In high performing schools, much of this was due to leadership of school principals. When those principals left, performance often fell. Yet, in some schools, change in leadership did not result in similar declines. Why? At a fundamental level, there was greater parent-educator participation and mutual accountability, with regular rewards for high performance and sanctions for weaker accountability. This contrast is further evident in comparing Kenya with South Africa. Kenya has a fraction of the school funding and facilities, yet has higher overall outcomes on internationally comparable tests. Again, this is due in part to the involvement of parents in educational outcomes, rewarding high-performing schools with parades and becoming concerned when schools struggle2.

It is worth dissecting the building blocks for improving learning outcomes, as well as where open government approaches can make the most difference. Individual elements include:

  • Collection of data outcomes and inputs: Where possible, this data is standardized. Many countries are using the Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA, which allows within- and cross-country comparison. While PISA has been accepted in many places, SDG4 calls for measuring learning at grades 2 and 3 which allows educators to address learning gaps earlier. This is an area still under development.
  • Timely, regular publication of that data: This should be done in a way that the community can understand. Kenya, as an example, publishes and delivers all standardized data through its open data portal. In 2013, Code4Kenya re-used this data and now delivers it to schools. More recently, the Kenyan National Examinations Council adopted this system, and parents can now check school performance. (See below.)
  • Participatory governance and accountability: It is important that this be done at the school level. Mongolia is in the process of adopting parent-teacher associations in collaboration with the Global Partnership for Social Development and Partnership for Transparency Fund.
  • Measurement of participation in assessment, dissemination, and engagement systems. India maintains a regular accounting of parental awareness and participation in such organizations available on its PTA website. Of course, the functioning of these areas varies widely by location, but a future step might be comparing these different functions across localities. Such work is being carried out in India and other countries through bottom-up approaches pioneered by the People’s Action Learning Network, where communities independently assess and disseminate the results of monitoring learning in poorer areas.
  • These same elements can be carried out at the policy, budgetary, and administrative levels as well.

The Kenyan National Examinations Council provides school-by-school reporting on examination performance

1,2:  Brian Levy et al. (ed.s). The Politics and Governance of Basic Education (Oxford Univ. Press, Nov. 2018).


Photo Credit: homocosmicos, Adobe Stock

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