The Vanuatu Research team

School grants could be used more effectively

New research results

School grants are not always being used as effectively as they might be, in some countries in East Asia and the Pacific, according to new research on improving school financing and engaging communities in school management.

An increasingly popular option in countries which have abolished school fees, school grants are designed to allow more children to attend school, in particular girls and marginalized groups, while they should also impact positively on the quality and relevance of education provision. The idea is that schools receive funds directly from governments, which in turn allows them more say in spending to meet the needs of students, to ensure they receive the best possible education.

While school grants have become an important tool of educational management, little is known about their use or their impact on quality and equity.

A new study by IIEP – in collaboration with the UNICEF Regional Office for East Asia and the Pacific, and UNICEF country offices in the region – focused on the situation in Indonesia, Mongolia, Timor-Leste and Vanuatu. The findings show that the grants contributed to increasing access to school for children, particularly those who had never been to school. They also contributed to improving the school environment, through the greater availability of teaching and learning materials such as textbooks.

“School grants can be a powerful tool to enhance access and equity, and to improve quality, for children’s learning. Yet a key condition for success is having the right design and implementation,” Candy Lugaz, IIEP Research Project Manager said.

In other words, merely the fact of having school grants is no guarantee of success. Indeed, the study showed that, too often, grants were not allocated according to pupils’ and schools’ needs, and in some cases this even led to increased disparities. A lack of autonomy and delays in grant allocation were among the factors having a negative impact on improving education quality. Overall, teachers, parents and students were found to have had little participation in planning the use and implementation of the grants.

The research took place in 56 schools, over a period of 20 months, and was collated from different sources, including interviews with head teachers, school accountants, teachers, parents, students and the communities they live in, as well as tapping into other available data.

One recommendation of the study was that school grant policies should be guided by clear and focused objectives, and supported by an effective communication plan. Another was that the roles and responsibilities of everyone involved – school management, teachers, parents, students and community leaders – should be clarified and supported through a comprehensive capacity development programme.
As a follow-up to the new findings, IIEP and UNICEF organized a regional policy seminar in Bangkok from 7th to 9th of May of May, with decision-makers from Ministries of Education from Asia and the Pacific, as well as leading experts and development partners, to discuss how they can implement the recommendations in the research.

“Sharing and discussing the results of this new research allowed decision-makers from all over the region to have exchange experiences, learn from each other and return home with clear and concrete ideas to improve policies and practices in their countries in the short and long-term”, said Jim Ackers, Regional Education Adviser, East Asia and the Pacific.

The research carried out in East Asia is a continuation of a first phase of studies on the same topic, which was carried out in five countries in Eastern and southern Africa. Among the key findings of those previous studies were that the impact of school grants on quality would be maximized if all actors at school-level – including teachers, parents and children – were involved in the decision-making and monitoring process.

We will finalize and disseminate the research later this year, as well as policy guidelines for all countries engaged with, or intending to engage with school grants.