Live from CIES 2016: How do school grants impact equity?

07 March 2016


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

While the fundamental objective of these policies is to improve equity so all children – even the poorest – are able to attend and learn in school, the mere existence of school grant policies does not guarantee that this will be achieved. Over the past six years, IIEP and its partners have been engaged in a major study looking at the use and usefulness of school grant policies.

During the 60th annual Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) conference in Vancouver, Canada, from 6-10 March 2016, a panel was dedicated to the project’s latest findings and key suggestions for making these policies stronger. IIEP school grants project coordinator, Candy Lugaz, provides insight from CIES.

IIEP first began studying school grant policies in 2010. Can you speak to the evolution of this project since the first countries were selected?

Candy Lugaz: The project first started as a pilot study in Lesotho in 2010, with just a small number of schools (seven!). It has since grown progressively to cover more countries and different regions. We have now worked in four regions (Southern and Eastern Africa, Francophone Africa, East Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean), 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.

The interest of these partners, which allowed the project to develop, is certainly explained by the fact that school grant policies are promising ones to achieve the goals of education for all, as part of the Dakar agenda and Education 2030, which covers access to education, reducing disparities, and improving quality, school management, and more. Many countries implemented these policies to support free education and empower schools.

However, there are a number of challenges that can arise out of their design and implementation, which can block the full realization of these objectives. This research program is designed to specifically identify and understand these barriers and to deliver technical and political solutions.

Today, a total of 14 countries and 200 schools have been studied. How have the research questions evolved during this time?

Candy Lugaz: Our research aims to examine the design and implementation of school grants policies by examining several key aspects: their objectives, the policy’s formulation and dissemination process, funding formulas and distribution methods to the schools, as well as the use of grants by the schools, decision-making mechanisms within schools, the management and monitoring of the use of grants, and lastly, the contribution subsidies can make to access, quality, and school management.

We intentionally used the same analytical framework during our research in different countries, which was used as a grid of comparative policy analysis. This allowed us to analyze these complex policies in depth and look at its implementation in different contexts and to identify the similarities and differences that arise in terms of design and implementation. This framework and associated research tools were discussed with each country team to ensure their validity according to each national context.

It’s the million dollar question perhaps, but to what extent did you find from this panel – and the research at large – that school grant policies can play a positive role in achieving Education 2030?

Candy Lugaz: As mentioned earlier, school grant policies are promising policies to achieve the objectives of the Education 2030 agenda. To compensate for the abolition of school fees, they can contribute to increasing school access, as was the case in most countries surveyed. They can also help set an appropriate funding formula, in which more resources are transferred to schools and students with special needs (such as small schools in rural areas, orphans, or students with special needs) and can help resolve disparities between both schools and students. Finally, it can give schools the opportunity to decide for themselves how to use these subsidies, which can enable more informed choices based on their actual needs, increased participation from everyone involved in the decision process, and can stimulate school-community partnerships.

But they are complex policies. Many problems can arise in their implementation and can hinder the full realization of these objectives. Particular attention must be paid to the design process and implementation in order to ensure the success of these policies.

What are the next steps in further studying and refining school grant policies?

Candy Lugaz: Research is currently taking place in four French-speaking countries (Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Togo and Madagascar), in collaboration with the Global Partnership for Education, as part of the Global and Regional Activities Programme. A policy seminar will be organized during the summer of 2016 to discuss the results of this research. We will publish several products, including a comparative analysis of policies developed in the four countries, national reports and guidance notes in different formats to meet the information needs on this issue for different audiences (decision makers, technical and financial partners, administrators, researchers, schools and the community at large). We are also finalizing a film on this subject, which will illustrate in another media, the rich lessons from this research and disseminate it to a wider audience.

Furthermore, we are preparing a technical guide for the ministries of education and development partners, which identifies, based on the results of extensive research conducted over the past six years, the key points to consider to ensure success when designing, implementing and reforming school grant policies.

View Candy Lugaz's presentation from CIES 2016