Enhancing Governance in Education
Shailey Tucker, Accountability Initiative
Over the past few months, observations during several field-visits to our PAISA states have led me to consider more deeply the quality of governance in our education system. At the school-level, we found problems of pervasive teacher absence and lack of motivation, with teachers not only being called away on other official duties or taking casual leaves, but teachers also busy with other non-teaching jobs, such as running their own hotels or holding their own private tuitions (to cite but two examples). Another major reason for teacher absence observed was inaccessibility, especially during the monsoon – lack of all-weather roads in a number of backward, remote areas rendered many schools shut as teachers didn’t show up. At the block-level, we’ve met officials who feel as if they are being bypassed or overlooked, as principals and the district administrations oftentimes interact directly. Community participation and management, long recognised as a mechanism to enhance the quality of education, was negligible in the majority of schools I’ve visited. At the same time, however, I also came across schools where the confidence and performance of students was a joy to see; where teachers made optimal use of constrained resources; and, of their own initiative, ensured regular involvement of parents and the community at large. Such schools were unfortunately few and far in between. This throws up the question, how best can we create a well-governed education delivery system that facilitates an enabling environment for teachers and administration officials alike - motivating them, holding them accountable for their actions (or rather, inaction), and ensuring that the interests of all stakeholders are aligned?
Before delving further into governance in education, it’s useful to have better sense of what is meant by “good governance”? A widely-accepted definition was proposed by Kaufmann, Kraay and Mastruzzi (2003), who define it as “the traditions and institutions by which authority in a country is exercised” for the common good of all. Since 1996, they have been measuring governance with the following aggregate indicators: voice and accountability; political stability and absence of violence; government effectiveness; regulatory quality; rule of law; and control of corruption. However, such indicators are not sufficient to properly evaluate governance in education. Rather, education governance entails an assessment of performance; of the interactions and incentives of policymakers and service providers, as well as their relationships with the beneficiaries and other stakeholders; and of fiscal performance – that is, how resources are allocated, managed, and actually used. For gauging education governance, Lewis and Pettersson (2009) suggest a framework that encompasses performance indicators based on four pillars: standards, incentives, information and accountability. According to the authors, each of these pillars, outlined below, is necessary to improve performance in the education sector:
- “Standards - transparent and publically recognised criteria or benchmarks which inform education policy, provision and performance
- Incentives – financial or non-financial factors that motivate a specific type of behaviour or action, and can be positive or negative, i.e., encourage a certain behaviour or deter it
- Information – in the form of clear definitions of outputs and outcomes combined with accurate data on performance and results collected at regular intervals, enables sanctions to be imposed when specified standards are not met
- Accountability – refers to the act of holding public officials/service providers answerable for processes and outcomes, and imposing sanctions if specified outputs and outcomes are not delivered.”
As the authors rightly state, “[a]ccountability requires that public servants have clear responsibilities and are held answerable in exercising those responsibilities, and if they do not, face predetermined sanctions.” This statement has resonance especially concerning our disgruntled block officials. As the elementary education institutional structures have merged into one in several districts – combining the previously-separated roles and responsibilities of officials from the parallel systems of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and the Education Line Department – it is imperative that at each level (school, cluster, block, district), responsibilities are clearly delineated and that chains of interaction/command are not unnecessarily broken. To illustrate, in Bihar, we have often found teachers approaching the district administration directly, whether it is to submit utilisation certificates or to share bank account information. This ambiguity in processes leads to confusion while implementing the SSA. It is thus important that the administration enforces a system, where officials at each level are enabled to carry out their duties properly and in the desired manner; and where they do not, holds them accountable. Knowledge of benchmarks to be maintained, timely information and sound incentives for better performance would also be equally important to ensure effective governance of the system.
Drawing on the work of Kauffman, Kraay and Mastruzzi, the authors have four broad dimensions with which they measure education sector performance: (i) budget and resource management; (ii) human resources; (iii) household payments; and (iv) corruption perceptions. While the first two dimensions relate to fund flows and teacher absence, the third dimension includes indicators on illegal payments for publicly provided education services and charges to teachers for private tuition. The fourth dimension relates to the percentage of households reporting corruption in the education sector as well as an assessment of institutional quality.
A framework such as this, coupled with an evaluation of learning outcomes, would help to analyse the overall effectiveness of education service delivery. In particular, as funds are tracked, as teachers are monitored, there should also be greater effort to provide incentives for teachers and officials, which would complement their intrinsic motivation to work; for example, through a combination of wider professional recognition and career development prospects, better-designed performance pay, and greater empowerment to impose sanctions (where relevant). Chaudhary et al (2006) document how non-monetary returns to teaching, such as the work environment and level of school infrastructure, can induce teachers to be more actively present in their schools. In fact, even after controlling for other factors, they found that schools with the highest levels of infrastructure and other teaching learning equipment had a lower teacher absence rate than those with the lowest levels. It therefore becomes crucial for administrations to ensure that all basic infrastructure requirements are met in both schools and Department offices, to ensure that lack of infrastructure (especially lack of proper access in the case of schools) doesn’t become an excuse for absence. Finally, wider spaces should be created for teachers and officials that enable them to take initiative and innovate within their domains – even if it is in small steps – such as appointing those who perform well as local resource persons and thus allowing others to learn from their examples.
 Largely, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh.
Chaudhury, N., J. Hammer, M. Kremer, K. Muralidharan, and F. H. Rogers, 2006, “Missing in Action: Teacher and Health Worker Absence in Developing Countries,” Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 20, No. 1, pp. 91–116. Available here.