This is the second blog in our series coming from the Mwananchi national coordinators across the six countries where we work. Last week, Glowen Kyei-Mensah looked at how drama is influencing attitudes in Ghana. This week, Andrew Kawooya examines how interlocutors like civil society organisations can help citizens engage with local service delivery.
Recently, Uganda’s education system has been in the spotlight over deteriorating quality, particularly in public schools. Reports show that lack of accountability, shoddy construction works, inadequate funding and teachers’ absenteeism are some of the key challenges affecting the system. Communities frequently feel unable to challenge poor standards, and rely on weak government monitoring systems to check up on individual schools. Masindi district, in mid-western Uganda, is all too familiar with these challenges, but a new intervention to empower local people to participate in monitoring and improving education, is starting to change this.
School supervision and monitoring processes have been challenged by poor or low facilitation from government institutions. District inspectors are overstretched and the absence of an effective monitoring system has allowed shoddy school construction works and teacher absenteeism. These challenges are exacerbated by scare resources for both educational facilities and teacher salaries, in the face of which communities may feel there is little they can do to tackle falling standards. However, a new intervention by Masindi District Education Network (MADEN) has started to engage with the community to oversee and follow up on education funding.
Working with a group of 30 Community Reflect Circle (CRCs) members, MADEN initiated school monitoring visits to identify gaps in educational service delivery. The team includes community leaders, head teachers, religious leaders, parents and opinion leaders. The CRC contributes to keeping a check on school quality issues which the district inspectors are not picking up on, due to low incentives to engage or lack of time. For example, in Kigulya Primary School, the team discovered the school latrine was on the verge of collapsing. MADEN organised an interface meeting, attended by the District Secretary for Education, members of the school management committee and the community, in which a resolution was taken to permanently close the latrine.
In the meeting, the District Secretary for Education pledged to link the school to the Northern Uganda Social Action Fund [NUSAF] to fund construction of a new latrine. He also promised to work in partnership with MADEN to see that the district council black lists the company which constructed the latrine in 2009. The closure of the latrine, however, meant that the school now had access to one six-stance latrine: not enough for the 620 pupils who attend the school. To address this problem, MADEN engaged Masindi Municipal council in discussions to construct a new latrine, and funds have been allocated for the financial year 2012-13.
This group of stakeholders, who would not normally be brought together in one room, were able to find a solution to a seemingly minor problem that had a big impact on school service delivery. By playing the role of an interlocutor between parents, inspectors, teachers and pupils, MADEN’s actions demonstrates how civil society organisations can facilitate social accountability on issues of local service delivery. An extension to this intervention might see MADEN engaging with other types of interlocutors, such as a community radio station or the local MP, to consider how improvements to the school can be made more sustainable, or to formalize the interaction between school inspectors and the CRC.
According to Joyce Katussime, a reflect facilitator of Kigulya Community Reflect Circle, before the intervention school governance issues were frequently only known to the chairman of the school management committee, who failed to provide feedback to the committee’s other members: “We have witnessed a series of shoddy construction work done by contractors because parents and the community are not involved in supervision. But through the community reflect circle, a new tracking system has been introduced.”
Although the project relies on willing volunteers to form the CRCs and engage with the schools and authorities, a broader side effect has been on local attitudes among parents. Prior to the intervention, parents felt unable to influence or improve their children’s schooling. By taking part in discussions about the schools their children attend, parents were able to appreciate the importance of engaging with schools, for example by contributing to provide for their children’s lunch while they were at school. By asking parents’ opinions, they were empowered to talk about the educational and social injustices which lead to poor education outcomes for their children. Although the project is still in its early years, there has been some improvement in school leaving exams.
The model has the potential to work in many districts in Uganda, as it is cost effective and harnesses community engagement with something they all believe in: their children’s education. How to scale the project up is the next challenge facing MADEN, which they will be exploring with the final phase of their Mwananchi grant. One idea may be to learn from the teacher attendance monitoring used by their sister project in Lira, Uganda (read more about this project).