Open government in education: school management committees in Sub-Saharan Africa

This study demonstrates the coexistence of a liberal approach, by opening up school governance to the community and a more regulated approach enabling a balance between the players. It highlights difficulties in coordinating school management committees (SMCs) with parents' associations, the lack of expertise of their members, the absence of representation of the most disadvantaged and a lack of accountability of the SMCs themselves.

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SMCs are interesting open governance tools that have demonstrated their usefulness, particularly in supporting the development of a transparent dialogue between the teaching staff, parents and the community and in encouraging community mobilisation in schools. The ways in which they are set up and the forms they take are varied and, at times, flexible. They are the result of both the countries’ institutional culture and the orientations and practices promoted by international partners.

SMCs represent a major break in the functioning of the education service in sub-Saharan Africa/ in how the education service functions in sub-Saharan Africa; introducing a new paradigm, according to which, school governance is shared between all stakeholders (including parents), they disrupt the established legitimacies of professionals who may be a minority.

However, there are significant challenges to ensure that these entities deliver on their promise, and do not become channels for dominant individuals and groups at the local level to capture power and resources. The investment needed to support and monitor them is therefore not to be overlooked, and cannot be achieved without a strong and active public education administration, especially at a local level. The author also points out the difficulties in coordinating with SMCs and Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs).

Moreover, although SMCs offer real opportunities for parents to play a role in school governance, their willingness to participate in these committees’ activities may remain limited for various reasons:

  • fear of being asked to contribute financially and of experiencing conflictual exchanges of a conflictual nature
  • feeling of not truly participating in governance decisions
  • perception that the activities or duties may be too demanding, time-consuming or not compensated.

This may create a representational bias against the poorest, the least educated, women and younger people. This is particularly the case in a context wherein SMCs become a complex arena of power and decision-making where mediation with stakeholders requires more and more political and participative ingenuity.

Selected recommendations

  1. Favour structured SMCs and simplify their structure
  2. Clarify that SMCs are not a means for mobilising additional resources for government funding
  3. Refocus the functions of SMCs on monitoring the use of financial resources and material allocations for the school including the design and monitoring of the school's development plan
  4. Consolidate the circulation of intelligible information through different channels to SMC members and the community
  5. Design capacity building for SMCs, by supporting peer learning and the development of local SMC federations.

Want to learn more?

To share these recommendations and discuss the main findings of the study with relevant stakeholders, including researchers, policymakers, civil servants and civil society representatives, IIEP has organised a launch webinar on 3 November 2021 with the Federative Association of International Cooperation Consultants and Experts (AFECTI). You may download the flyer in French and watch the video of the event.

About the author

Jonathan Dupain, Jonathan Dupain, a development economist, has been supporting various Ministries of Education and technical and financial partners in their interventions for the past fifteen years, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. His professional career has led him to work in various development aid institutions, French in particular, and as an international consultant

This case study is one of seven case studies on open government initiatives commissioned by the IIEP in Colombia, Ukraine, India, Madagascar, Peru, Portugal, and the USA. It forms part of the IIEP’s overarching research on ‘Open government: Learning from experience’.

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