How do school grants impact equity?
Over the past six years, IIEP and its partners are carrying out a major study looking at the use and usefulness of school grants.
March 16, 2016 by Candy Lugaz, UNESCO’s International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP)
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7 minutes read
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Students from a school visit in Madagascar in October 2015.  Credit: IIEP

In recent years, a growing number of developing countries have implemented school grant policies that allow schools to receive funding directly from the central authorities. The result: schools have more autonomy and unprecedented say in how their finances are managed.

The fundamental objective of these policies is to improve equity: by delegating resources at the school level, the intent is to ensure that all children – even the poorest and most marginalized – are able to go to school and learn.

But the existence of school grant policies does not guarantee that equity will be achieved. This is why, over the past six years, IIEP and its partners are carrying out a major study looking at the use and usefulness of school grants.

From small pilot to large-scale project

The research project first started as a pilot study in Lesotho in 2010, with just seven schools. It has since grown progressively and now covers 14 countries in four regions – Honduras, Haiti, Democratic Republic of Congo, Togo, Lesotho, Malawi, Madagascar, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Mongolia, Indonesia, Timor-Leste, and Vanuatu –reaching nearly 200 schools.

Coordinated by IIEP, the project has been implemented in collaboration with key partners such as UNICEF, the Global Partnership for Education, ministries of education and national research institutes. Such collaboration is a cornerstone of its success.

Partners’ interest, which has allowed the project to develop, is explained by the fact that school grant policies could help achieve the goal of education for all, leading many countries to implement these policies to support free education and empower schools.

However, several challenges can arise in the design and implementation of school grant policies, which can block the full realization of their objectives. The research was meant to help identify and understand these barriers, and help countries find the right technical and political solutions.

School grants empower schools to make their own decisions

School grant policies have the potential to play a role in realizing the objectives of the Education 2030 agenda. To compensate for the abolition of school fees and the influx of new students to schools, school grants have contributed to increasing school access in most countries surveyed.

School grants can also help set an appropriate funding formula, in which more resources are transferred to schools most in need (such as remote schools in rural areas) and students with special needs (orphans, students with disabilities). This can help resolve disparities between schools and between students. The research shows that the simpler the funding formula, the easier it is for all stakeholders to monitor the school grant.

School grants can also give schools the opportunity to make their own decisions on how to use the subsidies, which can enable more informed choices based on actual needs, and increased participation from everyone involved in the decision process. This can in turn stimulate school-community partnerships.

On the positive side, there is likely less leakage in the transfer of funds directly to schools. However, for a school grant scheme to be effective, a country must have a functioning banking system, even in the most remote areas, which limits its use in some countries.

Similar research tool to allow for comparisons

In all countries, the same analytical framework and tools were used and discussed with each country team to ensure their validity in each country context.

The research looked at key aspects of school grants: their objectives, the policy’s formulation and dissemination process, funding formulas, distribution methods to the schools, the use of grants by the schools, decision-making mechanisms within schools, the management and monitoring of the use of grants, and the grant’s impact on access, quality, and school management.

This allowed for an in-depth analysis of these complex policies, to identify similarities and differences.

Using research to support improved school grant policies

School grants are complex policies. Many problems can arise during implementation and can hinder the full realization of their objectives. Particular attention must be paid to the design process in particular. Based on the past six years of research, we are preparing a technical guide aimed at ministries of education and development partners, which identifies the key points to consider when designing, implementing and reforming school grant policies.

Also as next steps, research is currently taking place in Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Togo and Madagascar in collaboration with GPE, as part of the Global and Regional Activities program.

In the summer of 2016, we will discuss the results of this research during a seminar, and we plan to publish several products, including a comparative analysis of policies, national reports and guidance notes designed with various audiences in mind: decision makers, technical and financial partners, administrators, researchers, schools and the community at large.  The hope is to ensure that the school grant policies of tomorrow will rely on the lessons from the ones we analyzed and be better able to reach their objectives: make schools more inclusive and effective.

Credit: IIEP UNESCO

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Thanks for this timely and highly relevant blog on improving education equity through school grants. Quite frankly, there is no better way to give a chance to children in most remote and deprived regions of the world. Without school grants, the elementary school in my native village in northern Cote d'Ivoire cannot function. Yes, there may be leakages in benefits. But the question is what is worse? Never give a chance to a better life to millions of children because a few "well-off" would also benefit; or give that opportunity and try to reduce the leakages as much as possible. Clearly the second option would be better, I think.

In reply to by Kouassi Soman,…

I agree with you Kouassi Soman, we must consider what is the better of the two options. We cannot decide not to provide grants to schools simply based on the fact that there may be leakages. The answer must be to provide the funds and to increase transparency so that the majority of the funds reach the students for whom they are intended. Of course wastage minimizes the advantages of providing funding but the cost to society is greater without this intervention. Hence since we are aware that wastage happens, put steps in place to bring these to zero.

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