By Christine Emeran, IIPE-UNESCO


New research on school grants can help guide countries on how to use these policies to improve educational quality – a key component of the new education agenda. 

Over the past six years, IIEP-UNESCO and UNICEF have coordinated a research project covering over 200 schools in 14 countries across Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and East Asia and the Pacific to unearth the impact of school grants. These policies, rooted in the idea that schools can better meet needs by receiving funds directly from the government, have grown in popularity in countries that have abolished school fees. They are intended to broaden access to quality education for more children, especially girls and marginalized groups. But is this the reality?

During the fourth phase (2015-2016) of the research project, IIEP – with the financial support of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) – investigated this question during school visits in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Madagascar, Togo and Haiti. A second pressing question emerged during this time – do these policies improve the quality of teaching? 

An answer to this surfaced more often in two countries, Madagascar and the DRC. While many schools in the study did not see a direct effect between school grants and improved teaching quality, the examples below show how these policies can be used to thebenefit of learning outcomes.

New materials help motivate students 

In Madagascar, education is generally not fee-free and grants only cover a small portion of school budgets. Still, at a primary school in the urban Fianarantsoa district, which has a 90 per cent poverty rate, a range of interviewees – from teachers to directors – said school grants have helped spur educational improvement.

“The students are motivated to do their homework and come to school because the lessons are easier to understand. They are more prepared to follow the class,” said one teacher. This was linked to the purchase of teaching and learning materials, a contributing factor to improved student test results in national exams. The school’s parent association, FRAM, also said that “the quality of education has improved since the teachers have enough materials, thanks to the school grants and this has motivated them in their work and improved the way they teach to their class.” At another primary school in the same district, teachers used the grant money to purchase testing exam booklets to prepare their students for the national exams. Overall, student improvement in test-taking in these examples may be connected to the teacher’s ability to purchase – and use – high-quality teaching and learning materials.

School grants help fund text books, chalk, erasers and building infrastructure 

In the DRC, where the first three years of primary school have been free for all since 2011, school personnel at one school located in the semi-rural agricultural Kwango district, resoundingly agreed that school grants have had an impact on quality. Interviewees said school grants improved the learning environment by freeing resources to purchase items such as text books, chalk, and erasers. “In the past, the school did not have any geography or history books,” one teacher said. “With this school grant, the school bought these books and the children learned normally.” In another primary school, in a semi-urban setting in the central Congo district, the school’s director said, “The quality of teaching has improved because the school grant permitted [the school] to buy many teaching and learning materials. When we have the documents [we need] the teachers are more committed.” And for one parent, the effect was palpable on his son’s learning. “Before he was not able to read a book, now he reads and writes well,” he said.

School grants matter 

The impact of school grants on the primary schools visited across the four countries garnered mixed results. But as these experiences highlight, grants can have a positive impact on teaching quality and learning outcomes when they are used with a specific intention, such as investing in the professional developmentof teachers or purchasing teaching and learning materials. Giving schools more autonomy in making purchases and encouraging the active participation of parents, parent associations, and teachers in the decision-making process can also help foster the necessary conditions to ensure that these policies have an impact on quality. 


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