Dr. Mukirae Njihia (left) and Dr. John Nderitu (right), from Kenyatta University

IIEP’s research on school grants in Eastern and Southern Africa

Two Kenyan researchers discuss their experience and the challenges they faced

As part of IIEP’s 2011–2012 research on school grants in Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, and Uganda, the Institute interviewed Dr Mukirae Njihia and Dr John Nderitu, from Kenyatta University, who conducted the research in Kenya. They share their experiences below, giving some useful tips to the researchers in East Asia and the Pacific region who recently started a similar programme in their own countries.

1. What are the main lessons you learned from this research?

The fact that the research was regional, involving several countries,* enabled us to appreciate that each country, though having unique characteristics, can learn from others. Another lesson is that there is still a lot to be done to ensure successful policy formulation and implementation. Although the Free Primary Education (FPE) policy is welcomed by many Kenyans, most school actors were never involved in designing the policy. A final lesson could be that there is no one perfect criterion when allocating school grants. We observed both simple and complex criteria, depending on the country, and each has its own merits and flaws. What is perhaps more crucial is effective and efficient monitoring of the use and implementation of the grant policies.

2.    Were there unexpected results?

Yes, there were. One of the major unexpected results was that the Free Primary Education per pupil grant had gone down rather than up since its introduction in 2003. According to the FPE policy, each pupil is entitled to an annual amount of 1,020 Kenyan shillings (about $12). Although this was achieved in the first few years, the grant had taken a downward trend, reaching an all-time low of Kshs 600 ($7) in 2009. This is despite the annual rise in inflation.  Furthermore, it was interesting to note that a majority of stakeholders at the school level did not realize that the per capita grant was declining. Most thought that it was constant, at Kshs 1,020.

Another unexpected result was the strong support, by a majority of the school actors, of the Ministry of Education guidelines that govern the use of the grant. We expected opposition to the strict guidelines, as it can be argued that they limit a school’s autonomy to spend the FPE grant based on their individual priorities and needs. However, a majority of the actors at the school level, including the head teachers, were in favour of the guidelines.

3.    How did you disseminate the results in Kenya? How did the national authorities and other stakeholders receive these results?

After the regional dissemination seminar held in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) in March 2012, we prepared a summary of the key results, which we submitted to the Ministry of Education. Another copy was sent to UNICEF (Nairobi). The idea was that they would organize together a national dissemination seminar where major educational stakeholders, including top Ministry of Education officials, would be present. It was interesting to note that some ministry officials who were part of the research team were surprised by some of the study’s findings. For example, they did not expect to find that schools had kept charging certain fees despite the government policy on FPE.

The results were disseminated to about 15,000 primary school head teachers during their annual conference held in Mombasa in September 2012. In attendance were a large number of stakeholders. The results of the study were well received and were not disputed. The head teachers were particularly happy with the findings, as they had been making requests for an increase of the grant to reflect current market realities.

4.    Did you find there were benefits from participating in a regional research programme, and, if so, what were those benefits as compared to a purely national one?

Yes, there were benefits from participating in a regional study compared to a purely national one. The regional research enables the comparison of experiences from the different countries. The study revealed that there were several grant-disbursing mechanisms adopted by the different countries with different degrees of efficiency. For example, it was established that direct cash transfers to schools from the Ministry of Education without passing through any intermediate level were efficient and also reduced any loss of funds. The study also meant we could compare the amount by the different countries. In addition, researchers themselves were provided with an opportunity to network with colleagues from other countries. It was clear that researchers from different countries were willing to share experiences from their countries more openly than if the research had been wholly national.

5.    A similar research programme is about to be launched in several countries in East Asia and the Pacific. What would be your advice be to these new research teams?

We would advise the research teams to be diligent in their work. They should gather as many details as they can during data collection. The data collection is going to be a very intense activity which may take close to two months and it would be best if this is done in one go. Therefore, good planning is paramount before beginning the study. We, further, recommend that before hitting the road, the teams develop a detailed schedule of activities showing the different steps of the data collection. So, there is a need to agree on the schools to be visited and a data collection timetable. Since the research is a collaborative activity between IIEP–UNICEF and the Ministries of Education, it is imperative to get assistance from the Ministry officials during the planning stage.

On the other hand, at the school level, it is important to emphasize the IIEP–UNICEF role and ‘downplay’ the government one so as not to be mistaken for ‘government inspectors’. Once data collection has commenced, it is advisable that the notes for each school be captured in a monograph – preferably the same day, when the issues discussed are still fresh. This also avoids any work piling up, which can become stressful.

All in all, for it to succeed, the study requires that the research teams give the programme their undivided attention. Of equal importance is the need for the team members to share responsibilities to ensure each member understands fully the objectives of the project. If possible, the researchers should take some time off from their normal duties.

6.    A national policy seminar was just held in Kenya to share both the results of the study on the District Education Office and on the school grants. What has been discussed?

We discussed three main topics: first, the challenges faced by the District Education Office in a decentralized set-up; secondly, the challenges hampering effective implementation of the school grants; and thirdly, the policy options to improve effective decentralization reform in education.

These discussions were fruitful, and we could identify two important impacts. Firstly, the employees from the DEOs who participated in the policy seminar shared that they had learned some crucial lessons which they would implement at district level, even without waiting for instructions from the Ministry headquarters. Secondly, the Director in charge of policy and regional integration at the Ministry of Education who opened the policy seminar on behalf of the Permanent Secretary requested that his office be provided with information on the outcomes of the seminar so he could potentially follow up on certain recommendations. To this end, a policy brief to be presented to the Ministry has been finalized.

>> Learn more about the national policy Seminar

LINKS:

  • Learn more about IIEP’s research programmes on decentralization