“Children have a right to their education” – Tanzanian communities engage government to provide quality education service delivery

Firelight is humbled to support our community-based organization (CBO) grantee-partners in strengthening the critical role that they play navigating and influencing the systems around them, especially in engaging with government stakeholders to ensure quality education provision for young children. “Social accountability” refers to actions initiated by communities to hold public officials, politicians, and service providers accountable for their performance in terms of delivering services, improving welfare, and protecting human rights. In our early learning initiative in Tanzania, we supported the social accountability capacity of our five grantee-partners to strengthen the critical role that they play navigating and influencing the government systems around them.

What educational challenges do children face in Tanzania?

While Tanzania has made impressive strides to increase enrollment at the primary school level through its mandate for “fee-free” primary education across the country, the rapid increase has not included sufficient investments to improve education quality. As a result, children leave school without age-appropriate reading, writing, or arithmetic skills. A national assessment conducted by the Uwezo initiative in 2012 found that by class 7, the last year of primary school, more than half of the students could not read a class 2 level story in English. This severely limits the number of students who can advance to secondary school and puts into question the quality of education children actually receive in primary school when enrolled.

What can community-based organizations do about these challenges?

Community-based organizations (CBOs) are uniquely positioned to work with the key actors in a child’s life – family, school, local institutions, and government agencies. As such, supporting community-based solutions for early learning leads to long-term, sustainable, positive impact on the children and the communities where they live.

Our five CBO grantee-partners in Tanzania, including one Community Grantmaker that supports five additional youth groups, have been piloting and iterating on a variety of innovative models to effectively improve children’s learning outcomes at the early primary level that set them up for long-term success. Each partner takes a holistic and innovative approach to address key challenges that limit children’s success in school – including child vulnerabilities, family vulnerabilities, and poor learning environments at home and at school. They work to increase community involvement in children’s early learning and to develop community-led solutions that could be replicated or scaled by other civil society organizations or government.


How does Firelight build CBO capacity to engage with government?

Along with long-term programmatic and organizational capacity building, frequent learning meetings to bring partners together, and tailored training in monitoring and evaluation, we support our partners to think deeply about systems and the role they might play in engaging with government to ensure quality educational service delivery. After a mutual scoping process, HakiElimu – a national education advocacy institution in Tanzania – was brought onboard in 2016 to provide collective and individualized capacity building support in social accountability over an 18-month period. Through this intensive process, CBOs were trained in conducting social accountability activities within the space of early education. These activities covered five central domains:

  1. Planning and resource allocation – understanding whether and how teachers’, students’, and communities’ needs and challenges have been considered in government education sector planning

  2. Public expenditure tracking – understanding where government funds have been allocated and spent (e.g. capitation grants that allocate funds to each student enrolled in a school)

  3. Government performance management – understanding the performance and outcomes of government spending (e.g. how educational outcomes have improved as a result of funding)

  4. Public integrity – understanding what mechanisms exist to prevent, and what corrective action is taken in response to, the misuse of public resources

  5. Government oversight and advocacy – engaging community members to hold government accountable for plans, budgets, and implementation and to advocate for change where necessary

During the capacity building phase, CBO partners spoke about their increased understanding of a rights-based approach to service delivery. As one partner even noted:

We thought the government was doing “good” and trying to help people, but we know the government is responsible for providing children with their quality education…it’s a human right. After the training, we realize that the government should be active in social accountability, so they can be accountable for public resources. CBOs can help with the social accountability system.”

CBO partners came to believe that within the social accountability ecosystem, CBOs can and should play an essential role in demand creation, noting that community ownership and engagement is essential and that CBOs must help community members speak for themselves and demand more for their children.

How did the CBOs engage with government around education service delivery?

CBO partners generally took a community mobilization approach in which they raised community members’ awareness about their rights, facilitated community members’ access to and engagement with policy and budget documents, and supported community members as right holders to engage directly with government stakeholders as duty bearers. Partners deployed social accountability strategies in different ways – from training community volunteers to continuously monitor expenditure and performance of school capitation grants to engaging community members to help renovate school kitchen facilities.

What were the results?

Our CBO grantee-partner in Morogoro has deployed volunteer “Social Accountability Monitors” to empower community leaders and structures to advocate for increased resource allocation to their early education programs. Communities have already submitted proposals to the local council for, and will continue monitoring expenditure and performance from, the government’s capitation grant – which allocates resources to each child in pre-primary and primary school. This CBO also facilitated the sharing and discussion of findings from the social accountability monitoring process, as a result of which community members are now partnering directly with government officials to develop, implement, and monitor a joint action plan to improve education service delivery.

Our CBO grantee-partner in Kilimanjaro worked with their communities to explore reasons for low student performance at two of the schools they support. One of the key reasons discovered for low performance was the lack of clean, hygienic kitchen facilities – children were becoming ill and thus staying away from school. At a feedback session facilitated with key stakeholders, a joint action plan was developed, focusing first on improving the hygiene and safety of kitchen facilities at schools, in order to improve children’s health and nutrition status. A committee consisting of key stakeholders mobilized community engagement in carrying out the joint action plan. As a result, a clean and safe kitchen now serves both schools, and the schools report improved attendance and performance.


What did we learn?

Despite many successes, CBOs also faced challenges in implementing social accountability processes. The lack of funds to support social accountability, monitoring, and advocacy was described as a key limitation. In addition, CBOs noted the delicate balance they and community members struggled to strike between establishing and maintaining relationships of trust and alliance with government officials, while also being able to engage them in delivering proper education services to children.

Our major lessons learned were:

  1. Social accountability and monitoring can serve as strong catalyzing tools to bring about significant improvements in education service delivery. These processes raise awareness among communities about their rights, and mobilize them to engage with government officials as ‘duty bearers’ – in ensuring education services are delivered effectively.

  2. Involved CBO and community stakeholders were receptive and accepting of the values and concepts involved in the notion of social accountability. They appreciated that the capacity building provided them with skills to engage diplomatically and collaboratively with government officials.

  3. Government officials were receptive to CBOs’ and communities’ engagement in social accountability. Good relationships with district officials facilitated access to documents such as strategic plans, expenditure frameworks, and audited and unaudited reports. District officials noted that community involvement can improve the quality and relevance of services provided.

Overall, our CBO partners found social accountability and monitoring to provide a powerful approach and set of tools to mobilize community-driven advocacy for improvements in government education delivery. The ways in which CBOs, communities, and governments engage with each other will continue to require thoughtfulness, respect, and accountability, in order to achieve the best education services and outcomes for young children. With CBO partners’ commitment to social accountability, we hope to see communities that continue to mobilize to demand more from their governments and more from their education system.

Last month, we shared these learnings at the Comparative and International Education Society’s (CIES) 2019 Annual Conference, where our Learning and Evaluation Officer, Ronald Kimambo, presented the findings to an audience of academics and peer organizations. To learn more about our presentation at CIES, please e-mail learning@firelightfoundation.org.